Saturday, July 24, 2010

Join the Facebook Discussion!

Hi everyone!

I've added a badge so you can link into VBJD's Facebook page. I hope you join the group! By request, I've opened a new discussion line where people can ask questions about their own journey to vegetarianism or veganism, or just for curious omnivores to check out what this whole veggie thing is about.

If you have questions or answers you want to share, please do so on the board! Just remember to stay constructive and positive; if anyone does any bashing, they'll have to deal with me. Which basically just means I'll delete you. :)

Patriotism and Pizza!

I would definitely qualify myself as patriotic. I think part of why I love being lawyer is because I am amazed that there was a group of men who put together such a radical form of government and that 200+ years later, it continues to function well. I also think it is critical that people question government and debate about the country's structure, because that is what continues to make the country great. (For real - the summer I studied for the bar, I studied Constitutional Law on the Fourth of July in honor of the country. Yep - I'm a dork.)

And yet, I'm not a huge fan of the Fourth of July.

Say what now?

Here's the thing: I like the Fourth of July for its historic reasons, obviously. And in theory, I like how the country celebrates, with relaxed parties, bbqs, tasty eats, and fireworks. (Okay, maybe not fireworks if you're a Sheila the Dog, but she just crawls between Lucy and Molly, who protect her from the loud noises outside.) So what's the problem? I tend not to get to actually celebrate the holiday. The Fourth is one of Greg's busiest flying days, so he's gone; my friends tend to go home; and my family is elsewhere with other plans. Which pretty much means I'm in the city, on the couch, kinda bored and bummed out.

But not this year! The Fourth was rescued! The night before, I found out my friend Katie D. was also abandoned on the Fourth, and so she came over - we had a blast! We decided to put together a menu on the holiday and then go shopping. At the time, this seemed like a good plan, until we realized we had put together a menu of pizza, watermelon, and three desserts.

Check that. We made the most awesome Fourth of July menu of all time.

The pizza, although not a traditional Fourth choice, was just fun to make. Greg and I have been getting into pizza making lately because it is cheap, easy, and tasty. Now that I have kicked my fear of proofing yeast, we make pizza a bunch. We have experimented with a bunch of ingredients and finally settled on a recipe we love. I hope to have a gluten free version soon, but I'm not there yet - I tried to make a gluten-free hybrid dough, and I felt like I had personally dined at a gravel buffet...blecch! But I'll keep working at it.

Anyway, this pizza crust is ridiculously easy and it pretty much does its own thing all day. Or, alternatively, it's super easy to freeze and thaw, which is also a bonus. The recipe actually makes two crusts, so it's great to have a pizza one night and freeze the other crust for a quick dinner later. We do love the crust as pizza, but I've doctored it a bit so it has more of a focaccia flavor with a crust texture. I wonder if you can bake the crust by itself and cut up the crust as flatbread...but for another time!

Pizza Crust (adapted from Vegan with a Vengeance)
Yields: 2 pizza crusts

1 c. warm water (I go to the point where it is hot but I can still comfortably touch it)
1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar
1 package of active dry yeast
2 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. olive oil, separated
3 c. all purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
Dried rosemary

1) Proof the yeast: combine water, sugar, and yeast and mix well. Let sit for 10 minutes. If the water is any of the following, the yeast is good to go: smells like beer, bubbling, frothy on top. If not, toss it and try again - your yeast is kaput.

2) Mix together flour and salt. Mix 2 Tbsp. olive oil into the yeast mixture, and slowly mix into the flour combination, until a dough ball starts to form. Not all of the flour will ultimately get incorporated, but that's okay.

3) Take the ball and place on a clean surface. (I leave whatever flour didn't make it into the ball in the bowl, but I know others try to incorporate it into the ball.) Knead for ten minutes. I personally have never had a problem with stickiness, but if yours starts to stick, just add a touch of flour onto your work surface. No need to knead too hard. (Wow, isn't that a sentence.) Just kind of play around with the dough for ten minutes.

4) At the end of ten minutes, the dough should be a smooth ball. Rub it in the two tsp. of olive oil and then sprinkle with the dried rosemary. Really, no need to measure; just sprinkle until it makes a cute pattern. Pop the rosemary ball into a bowl and cover with a towel. Let sit for an hour (or longer - seriously, don't sweat this too much).

5) At the end of the hour, gently punch the dough so it deflates. Knead again for about a minute. If you plan on freezing a crust, cut half the ball in half, wrap in plastic wrap and foil, and pop in the freezer (I'll give freezer directions at the end of the recipe). Anything you're eating that day, go ahead and make another ball, put back in the bowl, and cover for at least two hours, but again, don't knock yourself out if you're late getting back to it.

6) After the two hours is up, remove the dough ball. If you did not previously cut the dough in half, do that now. Go ahead and stretch the dough into a crust in the greased pan you will use. I personally use a metal pan with holes punched in the bottom, but that's because I registered for one when Greg and I got married. We also have a metal pizza stone which is good. Or, you can also use a rimmed baking sheet. Seriously, don't buy something special just for pizza if you don't already have it. Also, you will stretch the dough pretty darn thin, to the point you will probably be afraid it will rip. It won't, don't worry. And if it does, just take some dough from a thicker part of the pizza, patch the hole, and keep going, no big whoop.
**I realize this part can be tricky, but don't worry about it too much. Moskowitz has a great attitude about this, though; if it looks funky, just tell people it's rustic, and they'll think you're very gourmet.

7) Now - the fun part! Add sauce, toppings, the whole 9 yards. Put in a 500 degree oven; check after 8-10 minutes. Just bake until it is the texture you like, and enjoy!

Thaw the dough ball in the fridge. When you are ready to make pizza, spray a bowl with cooking spray and put the ball in. Cover with a towel and let sit for at least two hours. Start with step 6 above, and you're good to go.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Sports Drink Progress

I don't really talk much about another passion of mine, which is running. Clearly, since this is a baking and vegan blog, it wouldn't really make sense for me to talk about it much. Now that I'm training for my first marathon (Chicago Marathon on 10.10.10!), I'm finding my running world and my cooking world overlapping more and more. Nutrition is an important part of effective running anyway, but the more miles you log each week, the more crucial it is that you properly fuel yourself - not just for performance, but so you don't hurt yourself.

I hope to finish developing some recipes that have benefited my running; but first, I'm switching gears slightly and focusing more on proper hydration.

In general when I run, I like to log around 20 miles per week. I'm now at the point of the summer where my mileage is increasing to closer to 25, and 30 is not too far away. As the mileage goes up, so does the thermometer, which obviously adds a physical stressor. And finally, thanks to the awesome powers of Groupon, I started Bikram yoga with the wonderful yogis at Bikram Yoga Andersonville as a way to cross train. I love it! I do it twice a week, and I can feel myself getting stronger and being more in control of my body. Part of Bikram's wonderful effects, though, comes from the fact that it is practiced in a room that is 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

This ostensibly means that I am working out extremely vigorously, in extremely hot temperatures (because I only run outside), six days a week. I suppose I didn't think this was a huge deal; I never thought I'd say this (seriously - ask my friends from high school and college), but I love exercising for the health of it and how it makes me feel, so I wasn't paying too much attention to the heat.

This became a problem last week when I had to leave my yoga class halfway through because I thought I was going to throw up. I then had a horrible headache, was dizzy, and when I made it home, I could not get out of bed or really talk for the rest of the day. I couldn't even physically lift my head until about 4:30. Awesome.

Turns out, among other things, I was living my day to day existence in a pretty severely dehydrated state. Of course, there were early warning signs - I had all of a sudden been starving for no particular reason, and I was really tired. I think I got sick during my class because my body had just had it at that point.

Fortunately, in terms of addressing the problem, rehydrating is easily achievable. I was told to double the amount of water I'm drinking and to drink more electrolytes. I can get on board with this, but there were two things I wanted to avoid. One, I generally don't mind sports drinks, but I wasn't too crazy about pumping tons of sugar and artificial coloring into my body. Two, although I have no problem lots of drinking water, when you are asked to drink about a gallon of water a day, you really do have a threshold of water you can think about drinking.

After doing some research and taking advice from the yogis and medical professionals, I tried two products I liked. The first is smartwater. Smartwater is literally water with non-sodium electrolytes in it. I was pretty skeptical at first, but after pounding a liter before my last yoga class, I'm definitely a convert. It tastes great, and I really feel more hydrated and balanced. When I reach a point where I just can't handle anymore water, I've become a fan of coconut water. Coconut water is literally what it sounds like; water that is extracted from a baby coconut. This stuff is great because it naturally has a bunch of potassium and electrolytes in it, without the sugar (and no worries, it's fat free, so there aren't the saturated fat issues). Most people I know love straight coconut water. I personally like the brands that come with some pineapple or pomegranate in it. I feel like I'm drinking juice, although I'm clearly not drinking juice. It's great!

One issue, though? Paying for this stuff. Smartwater is pretty reasonably priced at my Whole Foods at $1.49/liter, and Whole Foods has its own store brand for cheaper, but I still have some bottled water purchasing guilt. Coconut water is definitely more on the spendy side, but if you order it in a case of 12 from Amazon, the price is about the same as Gatorade and shipping is free.

That said, Greg is skeptical of the electrolytes in smartwater, and he's not a fan of the cost of coconut water. We decided it was time to try and make our own electrolyte water at home.

And, um, let's just say it's a work in progress. The deal I made with Greg was that I would try to make some recipes to please his frugal side, but he had to try them first to make sure they weren't gross. Boy, I'm glad I did that. This is definitely a trial and error process. I first tried a recipe that is all over the Internet, about Bob Harper's electrolyte recipe featured on the Dr. Oz show. I made it. Greg said he felt like he was drinking the Dead Sea. I took a sip and instantly bolted for the sink. So gross! I then tried again with less salt. This time, Greg thought it was way too sweet, and I still felt like I was swimming in the ocean. I abandoned that recipe.

The one that I think has the most promise is the one I've posted below. I think it is a good candidate for a recovery drink, but I still think it's too salty to swig while actually engaging in exercise. The nice part is the drinker has more control over the sourness or sweetness of the drink, without messing with the electrolyte balance.

Truthfully, I really hope I can figure out this recovery drink recipe. It's at the point now where it is palatable and will do the job, but I think it is on the brink of being amazing. That said, if you try it and have suggestions, please let me know! I think there will be a recipe update in the future.

In the mean time, the deal I have with Greg now is that I will limit my smartwater intake to when I'm actually exercising and I won't just swig it around the house for fun, and coconut water will wing its way to our house through Amazon. Of course, I can hope through the power of laziness that I'll get my way after all and just drink smartwater and coconut water, but now the vegan experimenter in me wants to get this right!

Recovery Drink recipe, in progress
Yields: 1-8 oz. glass

8 oz water
Pinch of sea salt
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice (usually the juice of one lemon)
0-1/2 tsp. agave nectar.

1) Mix water, salt, and lemon juice together. For Greg, he likes it just like this.
2) For me, I still think it is a little salty. Gradually add agave nectar until you get the flavor to a sweetness you like. There is still a salty undertone, but the drink tastes more like lemonade. Greg doesn't like this version because he thinks it is too sweet, so definitely play around with the sweetener.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Exposing the Dark Underbelly of the Farmers' Market

I love the summer because of the farmers' markets. I love that, every Thursday, I can wander through the Daley Center Plaza, without any sort of produce agenda, and I can pick up unbelievable, probably picked that morning or the day before stuff, which tastes amazing, will last much longer because it is fresh, and is inexpensive. The Daley Center is also great because there are so many small artisans selling craft breads, jams, honeys, and other tasty delights.

During this season, recipes abound with what to do with all of these fresh ingredients. Restaurants talk about the salads they create that day based on vegetables picked that morning. Open any newspaper or perform a simple search on Google, and you can find any recipe that emphasizes fresh ingredients, how to maximize them, and how to make something simple to bring out those flavors.

And I think that's all fine and dandy. Those recipes are delicious, and if I'm at a restaurant with farmers' market specials, I will definitely order it and love it. So why my, ahem, melodramatic title? The obvious first reason is pure marketing; you're reading this, aren't you? :) But in all seriousness, I find when I go to a market, I have absolutely no self control. Maybe everyone else has will power, but I find the combination of unbelievable ingredients at ridiculously low prices leads me to buy most things that look fantastic. Unfortunately, this means I have tons of produce that is difficult for Greg and me to finish in a reasonable amount of time. And this is what I mean by the "dark underbelly." There's so much focus on what to do with vegetables the day of purchase, but what do you do when time has passed and wilting seems to be an imminent issue, I know it's time to save the produce.

Yes, save the produce! Greg and I pride ourselves on the fact that we nearly never throw away food. Yet I have already admitted to having an overpurchasing problem. How to reconcile? With soup!

I should confess upfront that Greg and I are fiends for soup; we eat at least one, and usually two, homemade soups a week for dinner. But summer soups are so special because of the wide range of produce available, and we take full advantage of it! The trick is, just like at the market, not to be too attached to the actual vegetables that go in the soup. I literally just go through the fridge and fruit and veggie basket, pick what looks like it is ready to go. The beauty of this recipe is that the soup will taste delicious from the variety of vegetables, but there is no need to go with vegetables bought the day of market; since everything will be heated and melded into a soup, you don't need perfectly fresh ingredients like you would in a caprese or beet salad.

The basic idea of the soup is an adaption from one of the corn broth based soups in Veganomicon, but definitely feel free to make it your own. I will sketch out general guidelines of how to prioritize and add vegetables, but this is definitely a time to be creative! And because it's soup, feel free to make it ahead for an easy, reheated dinner.

Save the Farmers' Market Soup
Yields generous 4-6 one bowl servings

General outline of ingredients:
Olive oil or spray
2-4 cloves garlic or shallots, minced or pressed
1/3 -2/3 cup onion, diced
1 1/2 cups of some combination (feel free to add or omit) celery, carrot, and/or parsnips, diced
2-3 cups (give or take either way) of an assortment of vegetables, diced. Suggestions: potatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, bell peppers, jalapeno pepper (or red pepper flakes or a hit of sriracha sauce for spice, if you're into that), but be creative!
2 tsp. dried thyme
Scant salt and pepper
1 quart of veggie stock
2-3 cups corn (fresh or frozen works)
1 lb. tomatoes, diced (fresh, canned, whole grape tomatoes - all those options are fine!)

1) Spray or add 1-2 Tbsp. olive oil into a stock pot and warm over medium high heat. Add onion and garlic/shallot and saute for a couple of minutes, until onions are at least starting to sweat.
2)Add the celery/carrot/parsnip combo and saute for another 2 minutes. If you have any hard vegetables (for example, potatoes), add those and cook for another 2-3 minutes and then add remaining veggies and thyme, salt, and pepper; cook for 3 minutes. Otherwise, just cook the onion/garlic/celery/carrot/parsnip combo for 4-5 minutes and then add the veggies and thyme.
3) Add the corn and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add the stock. The vegetables should at least be covered; if the veggies aren't covered, or if you like a more watery soup, feel free to add another cup or two of water. Cover, bring to a boil, and then reduce to a low simmer and tilt the lid slightly to let some steam escape. Simmer for 45 minutes.
4) The soup should have a slightly creamy texture, but with some of the chunkiness of the vegetables. There are two ways to do this after the 45 minute simmer period. If you have a stick blender, turn off the heat, insert the blender, and puree parts of the soup, being sure to leave chunks and not blend the whole thing. Otherwise, scoop out 1 1/2-2 cups of soup, set aside, and run the remaining soup through a blender. Add the vegetables back in.
5) Turn the stove back in and stir in the tomatoes. Heat for ten minutes and serve.

Tastes great with the biscuits or beer bread.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Treading in Gluten Free Waters

I have really enjoyed my vegan experimentation. I've learned far more than I truly expected. I went into this project thinking that I would do my best to make yummy desserts taste the same as their dairy and egg counterparts, but I feel that my eyes have been opened to a whole new way of thinking and eating. Greg and I, with extremely rare exception, now live in a vegan household, including our cleaning and beauty products. I've seen how different people approach veganism, most recently through people who eat raw. It has shaped how I think about food, my relationship with food, and how I want what I eat to reflect my personal morals.

Something I have been realizing throughout the course of this experiment, though, is that I severely overlooked another reason why people often pursue veganism: allergens and sensitivities. Fortunately, I am very lucky because I don't have allergy concerns. When I go to the doctor and I am asked what allergies I have, I can smile triumphantly and say none. When spring rolls around, I run outside without thinking twice. And, I think most illustrative, I proudly own three dogs, all of whom cuddle in on top of Greg and me in bed every night, and I've never had an itchy eye.

That said, I have had wonderful questions and suggestions for posts from people who do suffer these sensitivities, and I am feeling more and more not only that I should pursue more recipes that are more inclusive, but that I want to as well. I think the most natural place to start is with gluten free foods.

More and more recently, I've noticed news reports of a rise in diagnosis of gluten intolerances and Celiac disease. I would be misleading if I claimed I could speak intelligently about this subject, so I will leave that to the National Institute of Health and the Celiac Disease Foundation. Even for those who don't necessarily have a medical issue with gluten, though, staying away from gluten has become an increasingly growing phenomenon because, although it is a rich source of protein, it is very hard for the body to digest. I certainly do not have an issue with gluten, but I've learned through repeated attempts that I cannot eat seitan because it hurts to eat; it feels heavy in my stomach, I feel bloated, and it is just painful to digest. When I heard that sometimes people can be sensitive to gluten in varying amounts, I put two and two together and realized that eating seitan is just not in the cards for me.

I understand philosophically and certainly medically why people stay away from gluten, and I can certainly support that. The trick for a baker, though, is finding good replacements. Unlike dairy and egg products, which after some finagling can be swapped out undetected, flours with gluten are not so easy. Gluten plays a critical role in baking because it literally creates connecting fibers that hold the baked good together and that give the final product its density and mouthfeel. Just removing gluten won't work for that reason.

I have learned this the hard way; I attempted to make my first gluten free swap when I was making lemon thyme squares. I'd always had great success with it with all-purpose flour, and since the recipe is mostly filling with a tiny bit of crust, I tried a gluten free flour. What I ended up with was a mess that, although it tasted good, was more like a pudding with random crusty bits in it.

That all said, I certainly want to keep experimenting with various gluten free flours so I can come up with recipes to reach out to readers of mine that may have felt neglected in the past. I am learning a great deal, including the different kinds of flours, their tastes, and the kind of structures they create, and I am trying to put together different recipes that build on the strengths of these flours while still tasting good. Just like the lemon thyme squares, I'm sure I will have massive failures, which I will talk about here. I also hope to share some successes, and as always, I will pass those recipes along.

One of those successes is for Banana Chocolate Chip Bread. This recipe is a variation of Alicia Silverstone's recipe for Pumpkin Bread; I played around with her recipe because I had a ton of bananas and I really wanted the sweetness of chocolate without adding too much. I also got to try a new flour that is gluten free: chickpea flour (also called garbanzo flour, or sometimes chickpea and fava bean flour). One of chickpea flour's best assets is its neutral flavor. You can add it to recipes and know it won't muck with the flavor. There's also a decent amount of protein since the flour source is a bean. The drawback? Chickpea flour offers very little in the way of structure; recipes stay very moist, which can be good, but also extremely troublesome for more sensitive products like cookies and pies that need to stand up on their own. I tried chickpea flour in this bread recipe because I hoped by creating one large final product that could easily be cut when cooled, the bread would be less likely to fall apart. And fortunately, I was right! This was officially my first successful gluten free conversion, and I hope there's more to come.

PS: Some of the recipes on the blog are already gluten free, simply because they don't have flour in them. I will do my best to go back over posts and add the gluten free label for easy searching.

Banana Bread
Yields one loaf

2-3 bananas (kind of whatever I'm trying to get rid of!)
1 c. granulated or raw sugar
1 Tbsp. ground flaxseeds beaten with 3 Tbsp. water
1/2 c. soy milk
6 Tbsp. unsweetened applesauce
1/2 -1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. chickpea or chickpea/fava bean flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. cinnamon
6 Tbsp. chocolate chips (optional if you desire, but perish the thought!)

1) Combine bananas, sugar, flaxseed-water mixture, soy milk, applesauce, and vanilla extract until creamy and blended.
2) Add in soda, powder, and cinnamon; on low speed, gradually add the flour until all of it is incorporated and just mixed in.
3) If desired, stir in chocolate chips.
4) Spray or grease a loaf pan and fill pan with batter. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes - 1 hour. It will be ready when a knife comes out clean in the center and/or the top springs back when you press it.
5) Cool in pan for a few minutes, then remove from pan and cool completely on cooling rack.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Raw! or Raw?: An Opinion in Progress

I think it's pretty clear that I have a love for sweets. Anyone who writes a blog about baking and who can finally take the leap to veganism because she's gained confidence that tasty desserts will follow is pretty much a dead giveaway. Unfortunately, this also means that I basically can't keep sweets in the house. If there's a cookie within arm's reach (or sadly, climb on a chair reach), that tasty morsel doesn't have a prayer for survival.

I just figured whatever latent sugar addiction I seem to have would doom me to a life of restriction and not keeping yummy treats in my house since I apparently have no self-control. And then, a magical thing happened - a friend suggested I try a raw diet. She said that it helps control appetite and that, even though everything is free of processed sugar, the desserts tend to be sweeter and hit the spot without the sugar addiction.

I was intrigued by this notion, but then she asked me - what do I think about the raw diet? The answer: I don't (or rather, at the time, I didn't). I didn't know anything about it so I felt I couldn't draw an opinion about it, but I wasn't compelled to get information about it, either. Before I launched into raw experimentation, I started to read up on the subject.

Now that I've read two books on raw foodism, my opinion is...well, it's still a work in progress. I think some of the principles of going raw, while others trigger the "common sense" button and reinforce that I'm not the type to go totally raw. For example, the authors have talked about how going raw is very filling because the food stuffs are all full of fiber, which is a great plus for weight loss. I definitely agree with that, and I have made a point of incorporating raw snacks into my day and having some raw sides with my cooked entree. Other stuff just seems off. For example, one author stated that when you go totally raw, you can just follow your body's cravings. That means some days she'll just eat oranges and avocados, and she'll feel ethereal all day. I can't help but wonder if she feels ethereal because she's starving.

Nonetheless, I decided to start experimenting with raw desserts. I decided that, since I don't exactly eat treats for nutritional value, I should try the raw versions of some sweets. Since I just wanted something that tastes good, I truly didn't care about the purported health advantages of eating raw.

Happily, I was thrilled to find out that raw desserts (or at least the ones I've tried so far) are delicious! They are mostly made out of nuts and fruit, so no sugar addiction, and the surplus of fiber in the final product sated my appetite very quickly. And of course, the most important thing - they fill the bill when I need a treat!

One item that has been particularly popular in my house and with guests is raw apple pie, I recipe I tried from Any Phyo's book The Raw Food Kitchen. I've made it a few times now, and it's always a winner. It is both sweet with crunchy apples at the same time, and the crust is to die for. Plus, instead of clearing out half a pie tin (like I am fully capable of doing), one slice is totally satisfying and my craving is curbed.

As I experiment more with the raw food diet, I will post my winners and failures. For now, enjoy this classic apple pie without turning on your oven!

The Best Raw Apple Pie (adapted from Ani Phyo)
Yields: One pie

Crust ingredients:
2 c. almonds
2-4 c. pitted dates
Scant salt

1 orange, peeled
1/2 c. pitted dates

3 large apples, thinly sliced (skins on or off is up to you)
1 c. raisins (or a handful, if you're lazy like me)
3/4 tsp. cinnamon

1) To make the crust: pulse almonds in food processor until you have small, ground up almond bits. (Be sure to pulse - if you go too fast, you'll make almond butter.) Add salt, and gradually pulse in dates. Start with two cups, and keep adding dates until the crust starts to stick together. This could be a huge number of dates; don't sweat it. When the crust is done, pat down into a pie pan like a regular pie crust.
2) To make the syrup, liquefy orange in a blender. Blend in dates. Gradually add water until you have a syrupy consistency.
3) To make the filling, mix together the syrup with the apples, raisins, and cinnamon. Fill pie crust, and you're done!

Keeps beautifully in the fridge (yes, the apples stay crunchy and don't turn brown!); just cover with plastic.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Introducing Face of the Month - July 2010

Happy Fourth of July everyone!

Since today is about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, I wanted to introduce my new segment on VBJD: Face of the Month. As my loyal readers know, Greg and I are huge fans of PAWS Chicago. Obviously they took wonderful care of our three girls before we adopted them, and they continue to run an impressive cage free shelter that adopted out over 3400 cats and dogs last year. I think they are extra special, though, because they are also taking a systemic approach to fighting the pet overpopulation problem, doing such things as having a spay/neuter clinic, creating programs to help families keep their pets instead of relinquishing them (including a pet food bank), sponsoring pet legislation, and working with Chicago's Animal Care and Control to save homeless pets.

In that spirit, VBJD wanted to do something special to support PAWS and their wonderful efforts, and so I'm starting the Face of the Month. (I use this term because I've noticed that when people go to shelters, they fall in love with the faces first.) Each month, I will feature a pet from PAWS that would be a wonderful addition to a home. If you adopt the cat or dog, shoot me an email. I will follow up with you after your two week foster period, and if you decided to keep the pet, I will mail you two dozen cookies! For real!

In honor of Thursday's post, I thought it was only appropriate to feature a dog that is close to the heart of our family: Red.
Red came from a loving home, where he was very well cared for by his owner. Unfortunately, last summer, robbers broke into his home, so naturally Red tried to protect his owner. He was successful, but the robbers shot this poor pup in the back, leaving his hind legs paralyzed. Because his elderly owner lives in a fourth floor walk-up, he very tearfully had to relinquish Red.

Red is a sweet boy who loves to be around people, and he's playful at the same time. Please don't let Red's paralysis deter you from considering him for adoption. Greg and I did try to bring him to our home (and in our hearts, he will always feel like our fourth dog), but after he was attacked, Red needs to be in a home that is dog-free, something we couldn't offer him.

Besides, if you adopt Red, you'll be living with a celebrity! He recently won a contest hosted by Dog-a-Holics and is now the featured spokesperson for his own line of treats. He was featured in his own news story in Chicago. And most importantly, he has shown that he is a brave boy and deserving of a family who can return that love and more. I hope it's one of my readers!

If you have any questions, you can contact me at or PAWS directly at And remember to keep me posted - if you become the lucky doggy parent of Red, I will happily spoil you with treats!

Friday, July 2, 2010

No Panicking! A Last Minute Treat for the Fourth

Whenever a friend or family member is hosting a shindig, I am only too ecstatically happy to help them out by bringing a treat. Unfortunately, I also can be a bit flaky at times, so if I haven't implemented my super favorite trick of baking and freezing ahead, I tend to realize the night before, or more horrifyingly, the day of, that I forgot to make something. Usually this isn't a horrible crisis; I just end up bringing cookies so fresh, that maybe they're still warm from the oven...

If you've been enjoying the beautiful summer weather and taking a well deserved break, you might now be coming to the violent realization I often do, and remember that you need a hostess gift/present/potluck item for a Fourth of July party. Not to fear - I've got a recipe that is simple yet non-traditional, very tasty, and that uses most everyone's favorite BBQ item - beer! (Although, if you stay away from the stuff, fear not! I'll give you a modification in the recipe below.)

I got hooked on beer bread many years ago, thanks to Tastefully Simple. It's no secret that I almost always stay away from boxed mixes as much as possible, but I have to say, Tastefully Simple tend to be high quality, very yummy, and easy to gussy up and look very fancy. One of those items? Their beer bread. Absolutely delicious. I introduced it to Greg, and he loved it too. And we left it out on the counter once, and Maggie, our faithful dog we had before our three girls, who was always so good about not going near people food, ate an entire loaf off the counter once when we weren't looking. Trust me - if it was irresistible to Maggie, then this must have been good stuff.

That said, we haven't had it in a long time because all of my Tastefully Simple contacts either got out of the business or we lost touch. I have often dreamed of delicious, delicious beer bread, but not really doing anything about it.

Then, I was reading a book written by my new favorite frugal bloggers, Wise Bread, and lo and behold, what was on the list of 21 Things to Do with Beer? Make delicious beer bread. I monkeyed with the ingredients a bit and came up with a foolproof recipe that you can put together in no time with ingredients you probably already have in your house. Bonus: if you are making it at the last minute, it is fantastic hot, so partygoers will be impressed with you (just wrap it in foil, not plastic, when you bring it over.) Beer bread is great because 1) turning beer into bread is kind of novel and people tend to want to talk about it (ice breaker!); 2) it goes well with the BBQ theme; and 3) people will be impressed with you - as well they should.

Beer Bread (adapted from the bloggers at Wise Bread)
Yields: 1 loaf

3 c. all purpose flour
5 tsp. baking powder
Scant salt
1/2 tsp. onion powder + 3/4 tsp. Italian seasoning (Actually, I have this awesome stuff my sister Alison gave me from Penzeys called Sunny Paris Seasoning that I use - but certainly don't run out and buy it just for this recipe)
1/4 c. brown sugar
A can or bottle of beer (Not into alcohol? Just substitute 12 ounces of something fizzy - juice, pop, whatever tastes good to you)

1) Mix together flour, powder, salt, and spices. When well mixed, incorporate brown sugar.
2) Mix in the beer. Keep mixing (either with a mixer or by hand) just until all ingredients are incorporated and a dough ball is mostly formed.
3) Pat the dough into a greased loaf pan.
4) Bake in a 375 degree oven for 45-50 minutes. You will know it's done when you can knock on it and you get a rocking sound (and nothing feels squishy).
5) Cool on wire rack. (If cutting while hot, use a serrated knife.)

**RECIPE UPDATE: Although I found this version to be delicious, Greg thought the spices were weird and didn't reflect the "tasty" of the Tastefully Simple version. When I made it again and left out Sunny Paris Seasoning (or in this recipe, onion powder and Italian seasoning), he loved it. If you're going for a less savory approach, or if you don't like buying spices, I'd go ahead and leave them out.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Bunch of New

Hi everyone! I apologize for the extended hiatus. Thank you for coming back!

During this time off, three fun new things have happened that I want to share - one related to food, one related to healthy living, and one just because I'm excited. :)

Working in reverse order, here's the new excitement in our life - our third fuzzy girl, Molly the Dog!

Molly joined our family in March from PAWS Chicago. Were we thinking about adopting another dog? Kind of. Greg and I tried to adopt Red, a very sweet puppy who became paralyzed after he was shot by robbers, last fall. Let me take a moment to plug Red - he would be an awesome addition to your home! He is very sweet and playful. We just couldn't adopt him because he needs to be a solo doggy, something he couldn't get in our crazy house. If you have questions about him, let us know!

Anyway, Red planted the seed in our brain for a third puppy, although we weren't actively looking. And then, one day, Greg and I were volunteering at PAWS, Greg saw Molly's face, and we knew there was no turning back. Molly is a four-year-old German Shepherd-Alaskan Malamute mix. She is a very sweet and mellow girl and has filled a spot in our house we didn't know was empty until we brought her home. Her doggy sisters Sheila and Lucy are just in love with her! I haven't been able to capture a really good picture of the three of them yet , because Molly has a gift for evading the camera - even when she's sleeping! When I do, I'll change my profile pic. But in the mean time, I do have proof these three love to snuggle.

The next piece of fun news? One of my very bestest friends, Sonja, has started her own blog, Defying Gravity, and I hope you will check it out! Sonja will be blogging about her experiences with running and skating, and I can't recommend her highly enough. I could listen to Sonja talk about her active lifestyle for hours; she's an incredibly engaging person who has wonderful insights on becoming and staying active. Her enthusiasm for running gave me the bug, and three years later, I'm training for my first marathon! Anyway, check out her blog; if you're checking out my blog because you'd like to live a healthier lifestyle, then you'll love Sonja's blog. Or, if you eat way too many cookies like me and that's why you're here, then Sonja can help you with that, too. :)

And finally - the food! One of my friends suggested a few months ago I try to incorporate some raw recipes into my diet. Although I was skeptical, I have to say, all of the luscious desserts I have made so far are awesome! I'm definitely not 100% raw, but I love incorporating raw foods (and desserts especially!) into my diet. Seeing as how the length of this post has already gotten way out of hand, I'll tease your taste buds with a recipe for the most amazing raw fudge from super raw enthusiast Alissa Cohen ever and I'll focus my next post on my thoughts about going raw - and the yummy results that follow. And a bonus with this recipe? Delicious chocolate without baking!

Fudge Balls (adapted from Alissa Cohen) - and no, not Chocolate Salty Balls
Yields: about 15-20 fudgy pieces

2 cups pitted dates
2 cups almond butter
1/2 cup cocoa powder (or carob powder, if that strikes your fancy)

1) Process dates in a food processor until smooth.
2) Add remaining ingredients and process until well mixed.
3) Using a cookie scoop or a tablespoon, scoop the mixture into individual balls.

Keeps in the fridge for 7-10 days; they can also be frozen.