Texas VegFest and Vida Vegan Con!

I had a moment this past weekend where I realized that Monday was April 1st, and I almost fell over from disbelief. Honestly, it felt to me as if the fact that it was almost April was the biggest April Fool’s joke of all time.

But here we are, in April, which means that two events which I have been looking forward to for almost a year are now right around the corner.

Holy awesomeness, Texas VegFest is this Saturday! Reading Lazy Smurf and Molly’s chat about VegFest this year only amped up my excitement. (Thank goodness Lazy Smurf asked about tacos; she can be counted on to address the most important questions. Not being facetious. I was totally all: “What is the taco situation?”)

Milo and I will be taking the commuter rail down the fest this year. He is most looking forward to the kids yoga. I am most looking forward to the samples (duh) and hugging a whole lot of people. Will we see you there?

I am also super excited about speaking (again!) at the second Vida Vegan Con in late May, especially since it will be my first time back in Portland since we moved last Spring, and double especially because I will get to see—and in some cases, plan classes with—some of my favorite people in the world. Hot damn!

If you want to attend the conference but have been dragging your feet, I highly recommend locking down that registration now, because there are only a handful of spaces left. The first VVC was such an inspirational event for me. It was my first con, in general, and I had no idea how invigorating it could be to be surrounded by my people for a few days, you know? It made me want to attend conventions for all of my passions, pursuits, and niche interests!

Have you already registered? Let’s meet up!

What classes are you taking? You don’t have to say mine, but you are attending mine, right? They’re going to be a lot of fun. On Saturday, I will be doing a zine class  with my ladies Kittee and Amey (many a Google chat session have already taken place planning this one). Immediately after the zine class, I will be a panelist on the  “Privacy Lines & Oversharing” panel with Sayward, Dreena, and Susan. I spoke on a panel about oversharing at the first blogger conference I ever attended…in 1999.

And for those of you who aren’t planning to attend—this year, at least—I plan to write posts after the conference which go into more detail on those topics.

Hooray for community and hooray for spring. See you soon!

Skillet Biscuits

On Sunday afternoon, after several hours of intense yard work, I staggered into the kitchen, low blood sugar and ravenous, and there was only one I wanted to eat. Biscuits. Specifically, I wanted biscuits which were crunchy on the bottom but pillowy-soft and flaky inside; biscuits which would hold up under a layer of almond milk gravy, but would be just as good as is, straight out of the oven.

In under an hour, I was blissed out on the couch, freshly showered and savoring the biscuit of my dream.

How did I get there? If you’ve read the title of this post, you already know how I got that crunchy layer: I baked my biscuits in a pre-heated cast iron skillet.

Skillet Biscuits
makes 8 biscuits

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegan shortening
1 cup vegan milk
juice of 1/2 medium-sized lemon
optional: vegan margarine and agave nectar

Preheat oven to 350. Heat a well-seasoned cast iron skillet over medium-low heat on the stove and add 1 teaspoon of shortening to skillet to melt. As it starts to melt, give the skillet a little swirl so that the shortening covers the entire bottom surface. Reduce heat to low.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, cream of tartar, and salt. Cut in the shortening using a pastry blender or a fork or two knives, whichever method you like. This doesn’t need to be a crumb; I just do it enough to break the shortening into the flour and evenly distribute.

In a bowl, mix lemon juice into your vegan milk. Then add this mixture to your dry ingredients and stir to incorporate.

Flour your surface liberally and dump the biscuit dough out on it. If your dough is tacky at all, sprinkle it generously with flour.

Flour your hands generously, too, and get your hands in there to start folding. Form the dough into a rectangle; fold in half; flatten out to a rectangle; fold in half again; repeat many times. If dough gets tacky, add more flour. No big whoop. If you’ve never done this before, it’s a lot easier than it sounds. Here is a video of me doing it:

So yeah, after you’ve done that a bunch—I usually do it about 20 times—flatten out to a rectangly shape and then get a drinking glass, dip it in flour, and cut out your biscuits and transfer them to the warm skillet.

Right here is where the eagle-eyed biscuit maker is going to zero in to see if I include a little biscuit secret, and I will, because I’m not one to keep culinary secrets to myself: As much as possible, don’t “wiggle” the glass around, just push it straight down and through the dough. A lot of biscuit pros feel like this is the key to flaky biscuits, so I do it!

With the leftover dough, form a rectangly shape again, do the foldovers a few more times, and then cut some more biscuits. Repeat until all the dough is gone.

Bake for 20 minutes, then remove from oven and place a small dab of margarine on the top of each biscuit, and then drizzle a tiny amount of agave nectar over each biscuit.

Return to the oven and bake for 10 more minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for about five minutes before eating.

Check out this beautiful crunchy bottom! Thanks, cast iron skillet!

Who Loves The Sun?

Paper Bird at Spider House, Austin, TX

Paper Bird at Spider House, Austin, TX

All pictures in this post are from a very lovely, sunny afternoon that Milo and I recently spent at Spider House with our friends the Shmananie clan, seeing his bestest pal Jude’s uncle do an acoustic set with his band Paper Bird. It was glorious and Paper Bird are so great, and they’re on tour right now! Check them out if they come through your town.

Last month, I had a wellness visit with a new doctor. We discussed some symptoms I’ve been having (exhaustion, increased appetite, difficulty keeping weight off) and the potential causes. I suspected hormonal imbalance. She agreed with hormonal imbalance, but added to the list anemia and B12 deficiency, and sent me off to have extensive lab tests done to find out what we could find out.

Milo at Spider House

Yesterday, I met with her to discuss the results. Hormonal imbalance? Not so much. My iron and B12 numbers were also fine. Really there was only one huge lab result that stuck out:

I was Vitamin D deficient. “Severely deficient,” emphasized my doctor. The healthy range is 50-80. My number? 15. Oof.

pals at Spider House

“But I take a Vitamin D supplement!” I protested.

My doctor explained that only 20% of the necessary Vitamin D can come from a dietary source, and the other 80% needs to come from sunshine.

“But I spend time outside every day!” I said. Every day! In Texas! How much more sun can you possibly need? ITALICS!

My doctor said that with a number as low as mine, I would have needed to be sun-deprived for years.

“I lived in Portland, Oregon for seven years,” I offered.

My doctor raised her eyebrows significantly at this and said: “There you go.”

After sitting there completely dumbfounded for a few seconds, I asked: “How is it possible that no doctor has ever tested my Vitamin D levels before?”

My doctor explained that she graduated med school in 1995, and in the entirety of her med school classes, Vitamin D deficiency was discussed for maybe a total of 10 minutes. Most doctors don’t know to test for it, even though most Americans are at least a little—if not a lot—Vitamin D deficient, due to skin care awareness and the American lifestyle of being “too busy” to get outdoors every day.

friends

She wrote me a prescription for dietary Vitamin D, but she also gave me a more serious prescription: “Sunshine, every day, 15 minutes, no sunscreen. And not just your face and hands. As much of your body as possible…without being scandalous,” she teased. (I love my doctor.) She also pointed me to the website Vitamin D Council as a resource for educating myself. (I really love my doctor.)

When I got home from the appointment, the first thing I did was post this on Facebook. I couldn’t believe that I was just finding out about this now. I urged my Portland friends to learn from my mistake and get out there and get as much sun as possible. I heard from friends and family living all over the country that they were in the same boat as me, and were also climbing their way back to optimal health with heavy doses of sunshine and supplements.

Since my appointment, I keep singing the Velvet Underground song, “Who Loves the Sun?” to myself, in which my brother-in-pastiness Lou Reed sings: “Who loves the sun? / Not everyone.” I’m a hater no more, Lou Reed. Get me some sunshine. Right now.

Monkey Mind

meditating woman

I wish this were me…but it is so not.
(image found on Google images, was unable to find source, let me know if this is yours and I’ll credit you)

Matt and I have been looking for a church in Austin. We have it narrowed down to two which most closely align with our belief systems: the Unitarian Universalist church and the Quaker church.

I prefer the UU service, because I grew up attending a Protestant church every week, and I find the traditional aspects of of the service (call-and-response, hymns, sermon) comforting, but I really like that Unitarians don’t stick to tradition for tradition’s sake. For instance, at the Superbowl Sunday service, the congregation did a call-response of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” Including the electric guitar solo. It was awesome.

Matt is leaning towards the Quaker church. He went to a Quaker high school and is used to the format of their service, which is to sit in silence together for an hour unless someone is moved to speak. I think this service is beautiful, really. I love the idea of sharing space with people and meditating together every week.

There’s just one little problem: I super suck at free form meditation. I’ve been trying off and on since I was 15 and started reading the Beats and Tom Robbins and decided Zen Buddhism was right for me. (Cringe.) I have never managed to meditate for more than 15 minutes. My Western monkey mind just will not be silenced. I try the practice of having a thought, labeling it “thought,” and moving on, but my thoughts never stop coming, and they never slow down.

For now, Matt and I have decided that rather than choosing one church hastily, we’ll trade off, going to one church one week and another church the other. Yesterday we went to the Quaker church.

Here are some of the the things I remember thinking about during the hour-long service:

  • certain scenes in the movie Ruby Sparks
  • was Paul Dano growing into his looks or did he just look much better when he wasn’t dying his hair black
  • how I felt The Twelve compared to The Passage
  • I can’t read The Twelve before bed anymore because then I have vampire nightmares
  • the song El Shaddai, because we’d passed the El Shaddai temple on the way to church
  • how it would be freeing to have a persona which was you-but-not-you, like Billy Eichner’s in Billy on the Street, because you would be able to give life and voice to this real part of yourself which you weren’t able to on a daily basis
  • but would having a persona eventually lead you to pull more of those characteristics into your daily life, anyway? How do professionals maintain a delineation between person and persona?
  • We Didn’t Start the Fire lyrics
  • this one issue at work
  • which snacks I was going to make when friends came over later
  • totchos?
  • how one of the reasons that bikram didn’t work for me is because the instructor kept telling us that our focal point should be our own eyes in the mirror ahead of us, and staring intently into my own eyes felt masturbatory rather than centering
  • just kidding, the real reason that bikram didn’t work for me was because it was so fucking hot in there
  • how do you figure out which are the pursuits in your life which are challenging and not enjoyable at first, but which may eventually pay off, versus which are just not for you
  • can I think of anything in my adult life which I didn’t like at first but eventually came to love?
  • or is the major benefit of growing older that you come to understand yourself more thoroughly and you can identify much earlier which things are going to be “your things,” whereas when you’re a child, you don’t know yourself yet, so you’re just throwing things at the wall, desperate to find something that will stick
  • for instance, I loved roller derby right away and came home glowing and totally obsessed with it right after the first practice
  • AYATOLLAH’S IN IRAN, RUSSIANS IN AFGHANISTAN
  • but I do want to restart my yoga practice, because I miss yoga, just not bikram
  • Is Milo doing okay in the children’s classroom?
  • Is this going to be over soon?
  • What is Matt thinking about?
  • are we going to play Settlers of Catan
  • various strategies of gameplay for Settlers
  • how that one part of that Parks and Recreation episode was just the best
  • I could make different popcorns for snacks
  • an email from Melissa the day before
  • a conversation I had with Melissa last week
  • another issue at work
  • what do I think they’re doing at the UU service this week
  • Mirah’s The Garden
  • that one dance on So You Think You Can Dance that was choreographed to The Garden, how hot was that?
  • I hope that led to a million record sales for Mirah
  • how most of the bands and musicians I got into last year had female vocalists
  • First Aid Kit
  • Lucius
  • Hospitality
  • Shovels and Rope
  • whether I am more into female vocalists in general than I used to be or whether there is just a surge of female vocalists recording the kind of music I like, or some combination of the two
  • which bands I’m going to see during SXSW
  • how much time, if any, I’ll be able to take off work during SXSW
  • another issue at work
  • “Look what you’ve done to me, oh oh”
  • when Mia Michaels was in Step Up: Revolution and it was tragic
  • Chinese New Year
  • I need to reply to that one email
  • whether or not I took the wet clothes out of the washer and put them in the dryer
  • how I need to catch up with Call The Midwife
  • that Man Experiencing Childbirth video we watched on Saturday
  • IS THIS ALMOST OVER?
  • I definitely prefer the UU church.

Change Something

Have you seen this poster?

It’s been making the rounds on Pinterest, and as soon as I saw it, I right-click-saved that sucker quick as anything, and then printed it out and now it hangs in my cube at work, right above my desk. (A search tells me it’s now available to buy!)

It really doesn’t get any simpler than this, does it?

I spent most of 2010 and 2011 feeling profoundly unhappy, for reasons too myriad to delve into here. There were highlights, for sure! But most of the time, I was so desperate to fix the situation that I was throwing anything at it that I possibly could, hoping something would do the trick. I know: I’ll cook my way through the largest cookbook I own! I’ll start a vegetable garden! I’ll redecorate Milo’s bedroom! The Year of Distraction? Yes, please! Distract me, distract me, distract me.

I didn’t want to believe that the change that I needed the most were the most fundamental details: where I lived and what I was doing. No way.

In retrospect, I feel like I was a stereotypical woman in a loveless marriage. Except that I was head over heels in love with my husband and son. What I wasn’t in love with was my life.

When the real change came, I wasn’t seeking it out. I did not come quietly. It dragged me along with it, kicking and screaming.

Then, when my life was completely flipped on its head, and I no longer had all of the things which I had been so convinced that I wanted, and instead I had what I thought I would never want again, no way…I was happy.

I am happy.

Keep doing whatever you’re doing.

Gezelligheid

game night

Gezelligheid. Do you know this Dutch word? (You might if you’re a fan of Andrew Bird.)

It’s one of those rare foreign language words for which there is simply no equivalent word in English, but the closest translation would be: conviviality, coziness, intimacy, that feeling of togetherness you have when you spend time with loved ones.

In a Slate article, the Dutch pursuit of gezellig is described this way:

They carve out cozy, delightful moments anywhere they can find them. They bring their families on candlelit, nighttime boat rides through the canals. They chat with their friends at outdoor cafes as the sun sets. They leave work by 6 every evening. And these are not special, once-in-a-blue-moon treats. This is how they live, all the time.

When so many others are making resolutions—pledging to do more, more, more—I resolve to choose, as often as possible, the gezellig over the busy trap.

2012 Favorites

Milo wishes you a happy new year

Happy New Year!

It would be a titanic understatement to say that 2012 was a big year for me and my family. Any year which includes a cross-country relocation and a new job is bound to be.

Now that we are settled in Austin, I hope to be posting over here with a bit more regularity. But, like, let’s not get crazy. I will be proud of myself if I can manage twice a month.

For now, I wanted to share just a few of my favorites from 2012:

favorite Miloism: A few weeks ago at the grocery store, when Milo saw a man with a shopping cart full of wine (presumably shopping for a holiday party) and he loudly commented to me and every shopper in earshot: “That man is buying a lot of wine. He must love it even more than you do!” (Thanks, dude.)

favorite refrigerator staple: HEB’s Smoky Citrus salsa

favorite books: Patrick Rothruss’s Name of the Wind and A Wise Man’s Fear; Cheryl Strayed’s Wild

favorite movies: Wanderlust, Cabin the WoodsSubmarine and all the Hulk parts of Avengers

scene from a movie which makes me giggle every time I watch it: parts of Texas from Bernie

favorite television: Parks and Recreation, Girls, Homeland, Louie, Downton Abbey, New Girl, Call the Midwife, Bunheads

favorite podcasts: Comedy Bang Bang, Pod F Tompkast, If You’re Feeling, The JV Club, Jordan Jesse Go, Professor Blastoff, Judge John Hodgman

favorite albums: The Mountain Goats’ Transcendental Youth, David Byrne & St. Vincent’s Love This Giant, and Grizzly Bear’s Shields all got a lot of play at my house, but I’m still catching up! Thanks to end of year lists, I only just heard about some releases which might end up being favorites. I am old, you guys.

favorite bit of good timing: My best friend Melissa and I moved back to Austin within one month of each other after both living elsewhere for seven years. We didn’t plan it that way, but I couldn’t be happier about it.

Melissa

favorite surprise: Matt surprised me one night in December with tickets to see The Mountain Goats, one of our favorite bands, including conspiring with Melissa to babysit Milo! I was totally surprised, and it was a magical night. I might have cried. Four times.

favorite last new development of 2012: Matt recently took up yoga, and has become a fast devotee. I can’t tell you how nice it is to walk in on my husband and my son standing side by side in the living room doing triangle pose together. I never would have predicted that, and I love it so much.

favorite unexpected rekindling of an old romance: I have really and truly fallen back in love with Austin. I don’t think it was a secret that moving back to Texas was a complicated decision for us, to say the least, and now I feel like it might be the smartest choice we’ve made in a long time. Thanks for welcoming me back, old pal.

Vegan Christmas Cookies and Treats Roundup

my little dude, transformed into Santa

Whew.

There you have it, friends: 30 vegan Christmas cookies and treats, all with recipes. There is a little something for everybody here: drop cookies, cut-outs, bars, balls, no bake recipes, stocking stuffers, party food, cocktails, even Christmas breakfast recipes. There are gluten-free options, soy free options, and several recipes which are so easy that you can hand them over to your kids. Best of all, almost every single recipe has ingredients which can be bought at your local grocery store, and I know, because I made many of these while living in a tiny rural Texas town where it’s difficult to find tempeh, but you can be sure that there is plenty of Earth Balance to go around.

The next time that you are invited to a cookie exchange, you have no excuse not to show up with some delicious treats. No one has invited you to a vegan cookie exchange? Throw one yourself, and include this link in the invitation.

Here are all the recipes:

the christmas cookieThe Christmas Cookie

SnickerdoodlesSnickerdoodles

Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

grapefruit glittersGrapefruit Glitters

Mexican Hot Chocolate Snickerdoodles

peanut butter & jelly thumbprintsPeanut Butter & Jelly Thumbprints

caramel apple cookies
Caramel Apple Cookies

gingersnapsGingersnaps

eggnog cookies
Eggnog Cookies

gingerbreadGingerbread Boys

cookies and cookie booksCutout Sugar Cookies

Christmas Wreaths

SnowballsSnowballs

Coconut-Lemon Meltaways

Rum Balls

hazelnut shortbreadHazelnut Shortbread

Palmiers

Peanut Butter Fudge Pretzel Bars

Pumpkin Pecan Blondies

Chocolate Peppermint Cream Bars

buckeye barsBuckeye Bars

all time very best vegan browniesBrownies

Muddy Buddies

Caramel Corn

Five-Spice Pecans

Herbed Cashew Snack Mix

Spinach Artichoke Dip

Christmas Cocktails

Nog French Toast


Breakfast Sausages

As for me, I am going to give away the last few cookies from my freezer and have a sugar-free November. Well, except for Thanksgiving day, I guess. I’m not having a Thanksgiving without pie, that would be nuts.

Thanks for following along with me!

Breakfast Sausages

Breakfast Sausages on english muffin with almond butter

I almost always make these Breakfast Sausages when I have 2-3 recipes going at once, because while the prep work is minimal, they do involve a lot of waiting around: waiting around while the onions caramelize, waiting around while the sausages steam. That’s okay by me because they are totally worth it: savory, a teensy bit sweet from the caramelized onions and the maple syrup, and plenty of umami.

For Christmas morning, I make these a few days in advance so that they’re ready to go, and I can even fry them up in the same pan as the french toast, if I want!

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Breakfast Sausages
6-8 servings

caramelized onions:
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 cup yellow onion, sliced thinly into half-moons
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup water
1/2 cup cooked white beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon molasses (or more maple syrup)
1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
1 1/2 cups vital wheat gluten
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon rubbed sage
1/2-3/4 teaspoon fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Bring one tablespoon of olive oil to medium-low heat in a skillet and add the onions and garlic. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt, stir to coat, and cook, stirring every few minutes. They will begin to get golden after 10-15 minutes, but you want them to be really caramelized—a deep, dark brown—to bring out all those natural sugars. Let them go for 40 minutes or so if you can stand it. They should have reduced to about 1/4 cup.

In a food processor, process the caramelized onions, 1/2 cup water, white beans, and garlic just until the beans are broken down but still little chunky. If necessary, pulse rather than process to ensure that the mixture doesn’t get too smooth. Transfer the white bean and onion mixture to a medium bowl and add the other 1/2 cup of the water along with the olive oil, maple syrup, molasses, soy sauce, and liquid smoke, and stir to combine.

In a large bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients, the vital wheat gluten through the cayenne pepper. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and use a wooden spoon or spatula to combine all the ingredients really well, then get your hands in there and massage the dough to develop the gluten. Gently knead for a couple of minutes before dividing up the dough.

If you want to make links: Divide the dough into 8-10 portions. Shape each portion into a log roughly 8″ long and 1″ in diameter.

If you want to make patties: Divide the dough into 2 portions. Shape each portion into a log roughly 6″ long and 3 1/2″ in diameter.

Place a portion at the bottom of a 12×12″ sheet of aluminum foil, and then loosely wrap up the log with the foil, twisting the ends but leaving about 1/2″ between the end of the log and where you make the twist. The sausages will plump when you steam them, and leaving that space will prevent them from “exploding.” Repeat with the remaining dough.

When you’ve rolled up all the sausages, steam them for 30 minutes (40 minutes for the patties), using either a steaming pot or a regular pot with a steamer basket inside.

After 30 minutes, take the sausages off the heat and allow them to cool. You can use them right away, but they have a better texture if you let them cool completely and then transfer them in the foil to the refrigerator to firm up overnight.

When you’re ready to serve the sausage, unwrap the sausage from the foil. For the patties, slice the log into patties at your desired thickness. Brown the sausages in a pan with a thin layer of olive or peanut oil. Serve warm.

Variation: Replace the onion with a thinly sliced fennel bulb. Reduce fennel seed to 1/2 teaspoon and add 1 tablespoon of chopped fennel fronds.

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Nog French Toast

So Delicious Coconut Nog French Toast from The Vegan Version

Happy Halloween!

I can’t think of a better way to round up a month of vegan Christmas treats than with a couple of recipes for Christmas morning.

We make Nog French Toast every Christmas morning using a recipe not unlike the So Delicious Coconut Nog French Toast at The Vegan Version.

The bakery at our local Whole Foods sells a cranberry walnut loaf which I cannot wait to use for French toast. It’s like it was conceived especially for French toast, and I am merely the conduit who is bringing the two of them together at last, at last!