When the seductive sun returns and undresses you, leaving the Southern hemisphere on the sly and randomly, you make an occasion of it. It was Spring in February!

We had the plan to head to the Jersey Shore off-season for lunch before this forecast. Partly because going to the Jersey Shore during peak season is a total pain in the arse. But sure, a beautiful day in the bright blue sky can help overshadow that it was a bit more crowded than we’d prefer. Our destination: Talula’s and their Temple III vegan pizza option. Why? Housemade vegan sausage and housemade cashew cheese. That is quite the allure. It was delicious, in all those ways pizza can be.  Soft and wet and crispy at the same time. Regulating taste variance with each bite. The colors. The crust. The fraction lesson.

And an ice cream stop seemed appropriate. Cookman Creamery, though purple and pink and pretty, had more vegan toppings available at my last visit. Perhaps it’s a seasonal thing? 

I’ll stick with Vanilla.

See you soon, Spring.

The Canon G9X reminds me of my grandfather’s old camera, especially in this nifty case. It’s a great camera, but there’s no viewfinder… which kind of kills the whole nostalgic feel of it.  But it sure takes a pretty picture.

Another go at the Sprinkles red velvet for a work function. 

Red house on a Snow Day. 

And the Snow Moon.  I set the tripod out on the back porch, froze my butt off and this is the best I could do. The elusive moon never looks more beautiful than in your eye. 

A patient male cardinal in winter waiting for lunch.

Another male cardinal, all bright and vivid, probably gets more of the cardinal ladies.  

The posterize setting with the stud cardinal.  

I take the train at the crack of dawn and get to watch Brooklyn wake up.

Water and air in Asbury Park.

 

How exciting to have even more vegan Girl Scout cookie options this year!

That’s right, ABC Bakers–the Girl Scouts’ west coast cookie manufacturer–added a new 5th vegan cookie option to their repertoire. I reported on the first three options a couple of years back. The next year, the east coast (Little Brownie Bakers) got with the program, joining ABC Bakers in adding the new vegan Thin Mint to their line-up. This year, ABC Bakers adds the S’mores… not to be confused with the sandwich cookie S’mores that Little Brownie Bakers also launched this year: not vegan.

Though these cookies have that fantastic nostalgic taste, possible the result of processed ingredients and waxy, cheap chocolate, I am far more excited to use them as a base of a real s’mores around a fire some time in the summer. It’s the very thin encasement of vanilla cream that leaves a bit to be desired. It just isn’t enough to be s’mores-like. 

But c’mon, 5 types of vegan Girl Scout cookies?! Rejoice!

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The Tofu Scramble. It is becoming ubiquitous. Always a welcome sight on an omni-menu, I’ve had the dish all over the place–as many vegans have. From Anchorage, Alaska to Yellowstone National Park, I’ve appreciated the dish. (My favorite? Probably Wayward Cafe in Seattle, Washington?) But even with lackluster execution, I’m endeared and grateful that so many cafes are giving it a try. An attempt becomes almost “cute” in its intention. But there are many ways to make a bad tofu scramble, especially if you’re new to the game. I plan to detail some of those pitfalls here while reporting on two scramble options in Port Jefferson, New York.

Starting at Local’s Cafe in downtown Port Jefferson. With views of the Long Island Sound and the hullabaloo of the Connecticut ferry terminal, Port Jeff’s downtown is a model of what Long Island “best case scenario”: small shops that aren’t box stores, scenic views, eateries, artsy stuff, a place to walk, a friendly down-home feel… a feeling of a community. There is even a communal fire for free marshmallow roasting in a central parking lot, complete with sticks of jumbo marshmallows. It’s place where Local’s Cafe can thrive. And they are. When we arrived on a Saturday afternoon, the tables were completely full of patrons on their laptops.

We ordered the Scramble Our Way–tofu, onions, tomatoes, peppers, and arugula on pita bread. But first a few vegan mini cupcakes which had great frostings but whose cakes were inedibly dry unfortunately. It’s a shame to think of how many open-minded omnivores impulsively tried one of these only to have their prejudices validated. Vegan baked goods are weird; I knew it.  

Onward. You can often judge a tofu scramble “by its cover.” Tofu still white and glistening? You know it didn’t absorb much flavor. Or it wasn’t pressed enough to extract the water that renders a marinate useless. This is probably the most common offense committed by tofu scramble attempts. Local’s scramble was pleasant thanks to the accompanying vegetables’ flavor, but the tofu was just, well, wet and flavorless. Tofu can offer flavor and texture, but only under knowing hands.
Like most animal flesh, tofu needs you to impart flavor into it. It is your blank canvas. But it’s a canvas that is soaked and stored in water. So first, dry it off! Pressing the tofu is always step one. Once you get rid of a bunch of that water, you can marinade it with a flavorful concoction of your choosing. But abide by the rules of making a good marinade, please. You’re not just throwing some Bragg’s on it. You need saltiness, acidity, spices, sweetness, pungency, a fat. And you need time to let it absorb. Like how folks marinade meats for days and even weeks. Marinating tofu is time well spent. Getting the water out will not only improve flavor but it will improve the texture too. It will be less wet and sponge-like. And, especially if you crumble the tofu after pressing and before marinading, it won’t be white anymore.

This brings up “cubed” tofu scrambles. The crumbled tofu scramble is a strong preference for me. It’s about texture. It you cube tofu uniformly for a scramble you get less of an opportunity to offer coveted texture variance, the cornerstone of delicious scrambles. The center of your tofu cubes remain spongey, wettish, and often white. A crumbled tofu will cook out even more moisture. And will be even more flavorful because of it! Some little scramble pieces will brown really well; larger scramble bites with offer some chew. There will just be a heck of a lot more surface area to spend time on the pan and brown up. A marinade will also absorb into these smaller crumbles more thoroughly. These are the things that make a great tofu scramble. And the cubed scramble is not really a “scramble,” if you want to get technical.

Next scramble was a Corner Copia Cafe, a homey space in Port Jefferson Station. It is one of those places where you wonder where the vegan tie-in comes from. Like why is there a vegan breakfast platter offered here? Nowadays, with shifts in food awareness and healthy eating, vegan is simply easier to find. I guess one of the owners previous being a former Kosher caterer contributes. 

Corner Copia’s scramble presented more as a more traditional scramble. Its yellow hue, potatoes, toast… like a diner. But beyond first glances, attention to detail falls a bit short here. It’s pretty bare bones. And flavor-wise, the scramble was over-seasoned. One really strong note: salt! Like time, you can’t get it back. So use it wisely.

Though sometimes a tofu scramble is flavorful enough to be on its own, a pile of tofu can get boring. Just like many piles of just one thing can. This brings me to the next tip, accompanying vegetables within the scramble pile. A great scramble is scrambled with other vegetables–for texture variance, for aesthetic pleasure, for more and varied flavor. Charred broccoli pieces of varying sizes, asparagus, wilted greens, and finely chopped good quality mushrooms are my favorites. Then afterwards, great scrambles are garnished: avocado, herbs, green onion, a drizzle of sauce, etc. Unless they’re roasted or flavored assertively in some way (pico de gallo?), loose the tomatoes or vegetables that only offer moisture. Not a fan. Think it through and complement flavors.

I look forward to more scrambles sprouting up far and wide! And I look forward to offering constructive criticism for the propagation of better and more thoughtful plant-based options. Just one of the things worth fighting for in a time where the whole world’s standards seem to be declining.

As a recap, here are the rules of good tofu scrambles:

  1. Press the tofu. And not just for 5 minutes.
  2. Crumble the tofu.
  3. Also not for just 5 minutes, marinade the tofu. Marinade should be be complex in flavor.
  4. Pan-fry it with other vegetables, perhaps themed with your marinade. Attain browning and slight charring.
  5. Garnish it.
  6. Serve with a separate pile of some form of well-seasoned crispy potatoes and greens.

Click for source.

It is so wonderful to see social media swarmed with images from one of the many marches for women that took place yesterday, to see so many coming together to speak up for our human rights. I hope that this is a start of something… and the start of the end of a lot of things, too.

Me, I did not do much yesterday. I bought a bag at REI. I recharged, as introverts need to do. I also texted back and forth with a colleague in the morning. We had a loose plan of heading to Washington for the march and she was feeling badly about letting the logistical annoyances spoil our plan. I reminded her that as teachers we are activists everyday. That to teach is a protest. That we empower the most important people of all at a key moment in their development… everyday: the future. It was a impassioned and true, but also a bit of a rationalization. I did feel badly for not partaking. Feminism is an ideal I’ve held tight to since I was first learning what it meant for me to be a female. And I felt without many allies at this time. Perhaps it was my shaved head or vintage Girl Scout outfit that scared them away?

Inspired, I looked through my archives to relive the dawn of my womanhood, which is just a few clicks away on an external hard drive. Approaching womanhood immersed in musical and political counter-culture, my feminist ideals helped shape me into the the woman I am today. And as a zinester in the 90’s, it has a paper trail. My youth: written down (typed on a typewriter mostly) and then photocopied and distributed in indiscriminately. The pain and confusion of growing up as a girl captured in a kind of time capsule. Well, many time capsules. Cringe-worthy stuff, for the most part, laden with horrible grammatical offenses (like this blog often is!) However, when I reread through the lens of thematic interpretation, these little handmade magazines I “published” from my parents suburban home capture something comforting.

A page from my zine: Deeznuts, 1996

I see that the most important parts of who I am now were born then. Underneath all the cuss words and embarrassingly bawdy humor, was me. The critical thinker who takes action, the basketcase who wields her heightened emotional energy into a myriad of creative outputs, the introspective collector of observations, the critic who synthesizes all gleaned through those observations and those emotional experiences, the seeker of strict authenticity. That’s me–my favorite parts of me. Of course, I also saw some of what I am still challenged by–my flaws–which are related to and are extreme versions of my favorite attributes. Too harshly critical, the tendency to fall and remain within impractical emotional states, romantic rationalizations, self-righteousness, living in my head and nowhere else, etc.

Also striking but not so comforting is how I got it, like youth often does. (Though societal shifts have taken this from the millenials. And that’s another blog post.) I knew that the game was rigged. And in my youth, I vowed to not play. I knew that the distractions doled out to us [mass media and consumerism mostly; and in extremes, the social constructs of love, gender roles and related; and I agree with Marx about religion.] serve to further the agendas of those in power, those who benefit from a divided, frenzied, ill-informed populace.

What strikes me harder is how much more plentiful these distractions are today and how deeply they are ingrained within the norms of everyday living that most do not question because they relate to our financial and perceived emotional well-being. As a child, you can vow not to “play,” but as an adult, your ability to survive and thrive is tied to playing the rigged game, making the most of it, doing what you can. And who rigged the game? The rich white men. From the very start of The United States of America. To now. To today’s headlines.  And there is our feminist tie-in.

What would Founding Sisters do? We will never know. But it’s not too late to see what we can fix. Let’s build some momentum. Principled daily actions will impact continuously. Speak your ideals, make your demands part of your choices everyday. Move beyond summarizing them cleverly on poster board every once and awhile. Everyday, the world needs to treat women better. Everyday, men need to treat women better. And finally and maybe most of all, women need to treat women better. Everyday. So without the snazzy clip-art and cut & paste, my latest zine entry on the topic: A Post-post feminist how-to on empowerment.

  1. Celebrate your fellow woman’s success, her intelligence, her attributes. Don’t resent them. You can’t celebrate and support women if you’re catty and jealous. Plain and simple. All women need support from other women, even women who you feel threatened by or who seem to be emulating society’s ideal. It’s a farce.
  2. Stop comparing yourself to other women. This will help with above. Create your own version of happiness, success, beauty–society’s version is all messed up… and it will mess you up, too. If you have your own ideals, you recognize that we’re not in competition. We’re allies. And we can help each other. Find the real you inside what the world expects from you, reject the things that are not okay with you or just not possible (like perfection).
  3. Stop putting yourself (and other women) down. Social norms make it common practice for women to go on about how ‘flawed’ they are. Let’s talk about how wonderful we are. And don’t perpetuate the divisiveness. Don’t make presumptions based on a woman’s relationship status, whether or not they have children, the size of their diamond ring, their weight, their wardrobe. These things are part of the farce, a rehash of an old Barbie episode you might have acted out when you were 10. Let’s not act like we’re 10. In spite of popular culture, advertising marketing campaigns, and other predatory profit systems, love yourself.
  4. Resist. Understand that there are many who profit from keeping the masses powerless and distracted. Align your values to actions that chip away at this reality. Research the places that get your money. Do they profit scary right wing agendas? What about your media consumption? Think critically. Embrace your freedom. Then find new ways to embrace your freedom–freedoms that women, globally, do not share. Be free. Validate yourself and don’t wait for others to do so. Don’t help others (men, women) to demean you. Be an example for young women; help them develop values that empower them, not hold them hostage.

Then, in 20 more years, check in. I hope I don’t have to write something like this again.

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Hoodlamb make all-vegan coats that are warm. Yes, warm… and vegan. Not accidentally, but on purpose.

For a while, it was a pipe dream in my bookmarks because they’re pretty costly.  Even more so given the Euro conversion. But I bought one with my holiday bonus.  Because it’s the kind of purchase that is worth its weight in gold, and these coats are heavy.

So how is it warm and vegan?  Well, it’s lined with lined with 10mm pile height organic hemp and recycled PET faux-fur, along with a water resistant hemp and organic cotton twill outer shell. The environmentally friendly coating is made from “natural cellulose derived from the inner core of the hemp stalk.” Cool. They are designed beautifully with plenty of functional pockets including a “patented rolling paper dispenser.” Hmmm. Besides beauty and function, they are crafted with loving care–for the environment, for animals, and for you–with all fabrics grown without insecticides, herbicides, fungicides or other synthetic agricultural chemicals; they’re allergen-free, all-vegan, organic, sustainable. They’re the real deal.

As far as fitting, that is a bit harder for me. First, I am petite. Second, I have an hourglass figure. I initially went with the slim-cut Ladies’ Long HoodLamb Coat in a size small. I loved the off-center zipper and the feminine shape. However, I wound up sending it back.  Given the price, I did not want to settle with small nuisances of fit. What was wrong? Zipping up the coat, the high neck went halfway up my face and was very restrictive. Of course this is because of my shorter torso, no doubt. It was much more comfortable unzipped… but then some of that warmth goes out the window and that is why I spent all the loot on the coat to begin with. Also, my hips made the waist bunch up awkwardly. I kept having to pull it down over my hips. And my chest… they throw off fit a lot. It was a bit of a smush flat-fest, which is very unflattering. Finally, the two-way zipper was also a bit rough. I couldn’t zip it up quickly on the fly, which would have been very annoying to deal with continuously. A beautiful coat, no doubt, but more for a taller woman with less curves.

I exchanged the coat for the Ladies’ HoodLamb Parka. This parka seemed to answer all of the fit issues I experienced with the Long Coat. 1, the neck, I could tell, could be better adjusted to my face. The hips flared a bit more and the drawstring waist would help the coat adjust to my measurements. The back also drops down further than the front. I’m sure there is a real fashion term for this… ducktail? Who knows. Also, the cut is a less slim ‘regular’ too, so my curves would have a bit more freedom. I chose wisely on this second pick. The Hoodlamb Parka fits me well! And it is warm. It is pretty impressive how much heat this coat holds in. The beautiful hood that, when up, makes me feel like a princess stay well on your head and is luxurious. It rests on the front of your forehead rather than the temples of your head like my last coat’s hood, which stunk and blew off all the time. The drawstring waist gives you great flexibility in style.  Can I start my photoshoot now?

The ‘rolling papers’ pocket.

The lining sheds a little bit. 

 

 

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Urban Vegan Kitchen, an all-vegan eatery billed as semi-sophisticated comfort food, has taken over Blossom On Carmine’s space. The management is the same but the new menu was designed in partnership with chef Timothy “Mississippi Vegan.” Thank goodness. New York needs a lot more restaurants not using frozen and packaged food products. I was excited to head over there after peeping the menu. There seemed to be no mysterious cheese or patties, nothing that hinted to use of packaged garbage… the whip was coconut, the bacon was shiitake, the sausage was housemade, the burger patty (which I’ll have to include in my current burger battle) was mushroom barley. Such things are music to this 20-year vegan’s ear. I endured enough of that garbage on menus long enough. A menu like this is very exciting, so exciting that the prices of these dishes don’t even register. Also: Vegan “scenester’ Mississippi Vegan has a beautiful aesthetic; and this was not beautiful.

Here’s my review of their most popular dish: Chick-un & Waffles. Firstly, this is one of those dishes, like The Benedict, that I must order if a menu offers it. But when I am ordering, I am idealistic and hopeful.  I am ordering the Chicken & Waffles that I create in my head, a fantasy. More often what gets placed in front of me, waking me from my dream, is a packaged chicken patty thing. At Urban Vegan Kitchen, I get the Chicken & Waffles of my dreams.

The Southern fried seitan is light and moist and in smallish chunks so you are getting maximum crispy texture. The mound of salty, sautéed garlic kale underneath the seitan helps break up the starchiness of the dish. The thick Belgian waffle is a sweet vehicle for delivery to your mouth. And the maple mustard aioli was delicious. I didn’t opt for the $2 addition of maple syrup but would next time. The sweetness from the waffle and aioli sometimes needed support, especially with a bite of the kale. 

I was so pleased with this first visit to Urban Vegan Kitchen… and there are so many other dishes, small and large, that I need to try. I will definitely be back. My one complaint, however, is price. My dish and some coffee, with tip, was like $30. That is a bit much. I know that Blossom was charging similar prices for lesser quality food, but that was kind of insanely ridiculous. Urban Vegan Kitchen’s prices are just slightly ridiculous, especially given the ambiance and vibe is laid back and casual. And I do ridiculous things occasionally, but not all the time. 

Overall, Urban Vegan Kitchen’s food is fantastic. I’ll be back for more soon, despite the price!

Did you know that Pillsbury Crescent Rolls are “accidentally” vegan? This I learned after realizing I didn’t have enough time to make vegan puff pastry dough from scratch to make Pigs in a Blanket with the Field Roast breakfast links we picked up. So I took the shortcut for an easy New Years appetizer. 

They blew up all golden and flakey, as they are engineered to do. I had several but mostly let The Electrician eat most of them. I like when he enjoys vegan options!

Served with mustard and maple syrup. 

Meanwhile, I made Isa’s enchilada recipe from Isa Does It. It was one of the Sunday Night dinner recipes that are more labor-intensive and not so isa-y. And wowzer, looks like my tortillas are also have hydrogenated ingredients! Let’s call it a theme. I loved the recipe’s sauces but thought I could have varied the fillings a bit more. Maybe add some greens. But this is delish! And I have enough to last me into the first work week of 2017. 

None of my pictures came out nice on New Years Eve. It must have been that glass of wine in my dominant hand the whole night. 

Happy 2017!!

Of all the vegan cupcakes I have tried all over the country, my favorite comes not from a vegan bakery but Sprinkles–the world’s first cupcake bakery!

During a recent visit to a book store I perused their long-awaited cookbook, excited to see that my beloved vegan red velvet cupcake and vegan cream cheese frosting was in there!  And because I wasn’t about to buy the book for just one vegan recipe, I snuck a picture of the recipe with my phone. Slightly naughty, I know. But I’ll share it with you (below)–because I know you love that cupcake too.

So now I can trying making my favorite vegan cupcakes myself. But before I give the cupcake recipe a try, I first headed to the new Sprinkles window outside of New York’s Penn Station. I needed a few for comparison.

The window, next to Penn Station’s entrance on 7th avenue near 32nd street, only takes credit card, which you will have to carefully take out inside of your bag as there are always a slew of day mayors and creepsters preying about the station. And you’re basically on the street in a cupcake daze. 

Of course I intended to bring them home… but I ate one on the train. My gosh, they are good! Will mine be as good? Let’s find out! The recipe and my notes are below. 

Sprinkles amazing vegan Red Velvet Cupcakes: 

Bowl 1: (medium) Dry stuff
1 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3 Tablespoons cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Bowl 2: (small) Wet stuff
2/3 cup plain soy milk
1 and 1/2 teaspoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon red gel food coloring

Bowl 3: Stand-up mixer bowl
2/3 coconut oil
1 and 1/4 cups coconut palm sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce

1.) Preheat oven to 350 and get the pan filled with liners. Set up mixer with paddle attachment.
2.) Whisk dry stuff together in bowl and set aside.
3.) Mix all wet ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. [I used unsweetened soy milk though recipe called for sweetener soy milk. I used 1/2 teaspoon of red gel food coloring.]
4.) Beat the sugar and coconut oil in mixer medium-high until “light and fluffy,” about 2-3 minutes. [I wasn’t sure what consistency or temperature of coconut oil needed to go into mixer bowl so I opted for a half-melted. My mixture never really go light and fluffy, so perhaps it was solid.]
5.) Add the applesauce and beat medium-low until creamy, 1-2 minutes.
6.) Slowly add half the flour mixture, beating until just blended.
7.) Add the soy milk mixture, beating until just blended.
8.) Add the remaining flour, beating until just blended.
9.) Divide evenly in cupcake pan. [My batter was pretty thick. I may have lost some of the soy milk mixture in a sloppy pour into the mixer.]
10.] Bake for 16-18 minutes until tops are just dry to the touch.

The Cream Cheese frosting:
8 oz container of vegan cream cheese
3 and 3/4 cups Confectionary sugar, sifted
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted but not warm
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 fine sea salt

1.) Beat vegan cream cheese in mixer with paddle attachment until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. [I was excited to try Kite Hill‘s cream cheese in this recipe and was very pleased with the outcome!]
2.) Reduce speed to low. Add 1 cup of confectionary sugar and mix till incorporated. Repeat until all sugar in incorporated.
3.) Slowly add liquid coconut oil; mix until creamy.
4.) Add vanilla & salt; increase speed to medium and mix until thoroughly blended, 1-2 minutes.

The batter. Very creamy and yummy, despite my adding the half-melted coconut oil in the beginning. It could have been a tad sweeter. Next time I will add a bit more sugar to make up for it that sweetened soy milk, though the recipe has almost a 1:1 ration of flour:sugar. That’s pretty high already. 

They looked beautiful, albeit a bit more like brown velvet give my reduction of gel food coloring.

And there they are. To the left, Sprinkles. To the right, the Vegan Victuals.

Ok, this is where the wine affected my picture taking abilities. The innards were quite similar. The Electrician did the taste taste and he believed them to taste very much alike, though he pointed out the loose-ness of my frosting. This may have been the result of using non-hydrogenated Tofutti-ish vegan cream cheese. 

I must say that the frosting was absolutely amazing. A wonderful tang. I will use it again, no doubt.

Overall, this was a good first try at this recipe. I will try it again soon with some small tweaks. Thank you, Sprinkles, for an amazing vegan option and for sharing the recipe of that amazing vegan option.

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