Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Dressing the Vegan Bump Without Going Broke

For anyone who is vegan or contemplating the vegan transition, one of the things you realize is that your ethical choices go beyond what you eat to what you wear. Although this can seem daunting, I have personally found that there are obviously vegan and "accidentally" vegan items everywhere; you just need to know where to look and what questions to ask! In fact, sometimes if folks are struggling with the transition to veganism in their diet, one of the things I advise to do the best you can with your diet for now, then focus on clothes; you don't need to buy clothes every day, and your lifestyle is probably less likely to be impacted by buying faux leather shoes instead of the real deal.

Although one would definitely not accuse me of being a clotheshorse, there's no question that I would need to expand my wardrobe once I was pregnant, and I definitely wanted to keep things vegan. So how did I do that and not break the bank? Let's be honest - these are clothes that, at best, you can wear for six months of your pregnancy (assuming you're showing right when your second trimester starts) and maybe three months after you give birth, so you're not exactly looking for timeless wardrobe pieces that you can wear for years on end; why make a major investment?

The good news is that you can take advantage of a maternity band to get some additional wear on your regular clothes, which will obviously same some cash. A maternity band lets you wear your regular clothes because you can leave your pants unzipped and/or unbuttoned, and then you put the band on the top of the your pants (but under your tops) to hold up your pants. I personally use the BeBand, which is readily available at Target. I will admit - I have a love-hate relationship with maternity bands. I find that it sometimes rolls up and makes my pants drop, which is annoying. I do love the relief that it gave me in my first trimester when I wasn't ready for maternity clothes, though - plus I still use it to wear some of my pre-pregnancy pants that were one size larger than my usual size, even into my third trimester. This has saved me - at least so far - from buying maternity jeans and suits - two items that can be prohibitively expensive in their maternity versions, and I love the money that it has saved me. 

On the whole, though, most women are ready to move into maternity clothes and off maternity bands by the time the second trimester hits. So where should you go shopping?

Off the bat, great news - because pregnant ladies need stretchy things, I found that the majority of clothes I wanted were accidentally vegan! Definitely check labels, as always, but it was reassuring that even manufacturers that will lean on items like wool and silk understand the needs of the pregnant lady and went straight for the manmade stretchy stuff. Plus, these kinds of clothes - including items I would consider work-appropriate - almost always end up being machine washable: perfect the pregnant lady who is trying to save some cash (and should probably be a little wary of being around dry cleaning materials anyway...especially if she has a sensitive sniffer). I would also recommend items that you can wear to work and at home as well - because why buy twice?

Now where was I able to procure these items? There's no question that my favorite places to go shopping are Old Navy and Gap Maternity. Old Navy is already inexpensive, and Gap Maternity always offers sales and discounts; plus, their shipping and return policies are great (free shipping for $50 and free returns). Plus, since these are items from the fine folks at Gap, you can rest assured their items are cute. For example, look at this adorable dress from Old Navy:

I've been living in this dress pretty much since I was 14 weeks pregnant. It looks really clean and put together, goes well with maternity tights, and can be worn anywhere - seriously, I wear it to work, nicer restaurants, or to parties.

There's no question that dresses make pregnant life easier, but since I live in Chicago, and the weather decided to conspire this winter to make sure I am growing the toughest baby alive by making the temperatures dip to -40 on more than one occasion, you can't always get away with dresses. These pants from Gap have been a lifesaver; they look clean, classic, and are super comfy:


Also be sure to check websites like Zulily for great deals on awesome brands like Japanese Weekend and Nom, which have kept my belly fashionable both under suits and for more casual weekend affairs but at a fraction of the price.

As for shoes, I admit dressing up feet can be a little tougher - but it doesn't have to be! First, don't overthink it; as you get farther down the line, you will realize that flats are your best friend. Seriously. Even if I'm going to court, I wear flats until I get to the courtroom, then change into chunkier heels (which I have found offer more support to my bump now that my center of gravity is off), then immediately change back out. My favorite flats have been this pair from Rocket Dog; I live in them:


They are so comfy and cute, I just can't take them off! Granted, they aren't the best if it's raining or wet out, but the majority of the time, they get me through just fine.

But where to find such cute shoes in a vegan variety? My favorite is always Zappos. First, their customer service is unrivaled. They seriously just sent me a new pair of boots after my old pair fell apart...even though I bought those boots two years ago. Second, if you're not sure about size, returns are a snap! Third, they make searching for vegan shoes super easy. Although they have an option to select "vegan," I rarely use it. You can also find vegan shoes by narrowing your search to "man-made items," "synthetic," "faux leather," and other non-animal categories. By doing that search, I ended up with an earlier version of these comfy shoes that I have been able to wear into pregnancy and are courtroom appropriate:

Just remember to check that ALL of the components of the shoe are vegan; fortunately, Zappos (as well as some other websites) do a good job of listing out all ingredients in a shoe.

Finally, some general maternity shopping tips that have helped me minimize my purchases and maximize what I own:
- As I hinted above, if you happen to own pre-pregnancy pants that are one size up from your normal size, hang onto them. With a BeBand, you can probably make those pants go pretty far into your pregnancy.
- In theory, it seems like everyone recommends that you buy maternity clothes in your pre-pregnancy size. I have found that to be a little misleading. I have had much better luck buying maternity clothes one size up. This has allowed me to wear things into my third trimester that I would have easily outgrown in my second trimester if I stuck with my pre-pregnancy size.
- With regard to Tip #2, if you buy something that is a little big, just throw a normal tank top or camisole underneath it to cover up any gaps. So far I haven't bought any new tanks because, for my current purposes, my pre-pregnancy tanks cover up what needs to be covered. It probably won't cover your belly, but who cares? You will be wearing something over the tank that covers your belly, so no one will see.

Good luck - and happy shopping!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The World's Easiest Vegan Fudge Recipe (Or How to Make Friends and Influence People)

I confess; this post might end up being my undoing. I am so excited about this can't lose fudge recipe: I know how daunting vegan baking and cooking can seem (though I promise, it doesn't have to be!) and just how difficult it can be to find an easy vegan fudge recipe that is still delicious, which is why I decided to share it.

And therein lies the personal problem for me. I have made this fudge countless times and shared it with friends and family at parties and brought it as a hostess gift. It is always wildly popular and loved by all who eat it, but once those folks read this post and see just how easy it is to make, they might feel like I'm phoning it in whenever I bring it as a gift. But for my fair readers, it's a risk I've decided to take.

I am truly stretching my brain to remember where I found this recipe for the first time. I remember the day I found the recipe. I just desperately wanted fudge. Fudge usually involves marshmallows; I don't usually keep vegan marshmallows in my house and they can be on the expensive side (though I strongly recommend the delicious Dandies brand if you are inclined to go buy some). I also wasn't excited at the prospect of standing over a stove and going through the actual rigamarole of fudge-making; I just wanted to fudge to appear. I think I may also have wanted peanut butter and chocolate, too.

Now that I reread that passage, I must have been having a cranky day of fudge craving - yikes!

Anyway, I ended up ordering vegan fudge from Realist Mermaid on Etsy. When the fudge arrived later that week, it was delicious (though I just checked, and sadly, it appears she took down her store). But that did not fix the problem that I wanted fudge NOW. So I looked around on Allrecipes and found what appeared to be the world's easiest, three-ingredient recipe for fudge. All three ingredients were in my house. There was almost zero effort in putting it together. And there was chocolate AND peanut butter in it. I excitedly made it and I've never looked back!

This fudge recipe has been a hero to my countless times. I've thrown together as a dessert when I've been invited to parties at the last minute, it's been a great on-the-go snack (both for winter, when fudge tends to make a holiday appearance and summer, when I want to keep the oven off), it is fancy enough to be wrapped up nicely and presented as a hostess gift, and it can also feed at least one pregnant lady who OH MY GOODNESS NEEDS CHOCOLATE NOW. (I'm going to keep it real with you - I'm actually eating this fudge while I'll type this post.)

Here's how it all comes together!

These are the three ingredients you need - one cup of vegan chocolate chips, one cup of peanut butter, and 3/4 cup of maple syrup. For chocolate chips, I like the Enjoy Life brand, though I've also been known to get the Whole Foods 365 brand Vegan Semisweet Chocolate Chips. (Ghirardelli Semisweet Chips also used to be vegan, but it's been awhile since I've checked.) For peanut butter, I always use natural peanut butter. I tend to get chunky, but smooth or chunky will work. For maple syrup, just get the real stuff. Grade A or B is fine; the grade has to do with the color and flavor, not the quality, so just get what's on sale (I keep a big jug of it in my fridge).

Add all of the ingredients to your pot and melt together, stirring constantly, over medium-low to medium heat. This should only take a couple of minutes...

...until it looks smooth and yummy, like this! (Of course, if you use chunky peanut butter, the peanut chunks will remain. I think that's a positive thing personally!)

Line a square pan with parchment paper. Pour in the fudge mixture and spread it evenly throughout the pan. You might find the edges do not neatly go down; that's okay. Those pieces will just turn out "rustic," which means your friends will believe you that it's homemade, or you can just cut off those little pieces and eat them yourself later. :) If you don't have parchment paper, you can also grease the pan with vegan butter (like Earth Balance), but I strongly encourage you to use parchment paper; it really makes the job - and most any other baking or cooking job - easier.

When you're done, cover and put in the fridge for at least an hour. With this batch, I was tired, so I stuck it in the fridge overnight. When the fudge is firm, remove it from the fridge. Lift the fudge out of the pan by holding onto the parchment paper.

Remove the parchment paper and put the block of fudge on a cutting board. Cut up into slices (I usually cut columns, then rows, as demonstrated above).

And voila! Delicious fudge, ready to be shared! Or not... :) Happy eating!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge
adapted (I'm pretty sure) from Allrecipes

1 c. vegan semisweet chocolate chips or chunks
1 c. peanut butter, smooth or chunky (I use natural peanut butter)
3/4 c. maple syrup (Grade A or B is  fine)

1) Melt together chocolate, peanut butter, and maple syrup on the stove over medium-low to medium heat until smooth.
2) Pour mixture into an 8- or 9-inch square pan lined with parchment paper or greased with vegan butter, like Earth Balance.
3) Cover and chill in refrigerator for at least an hour, until firm.
4) Cut fudge into squares (if using parchment paper, I recommend lifting the fudge out of the pan first, peeling off the paper, then cutting up the squares on a cutting board).
5) Store in the fridge.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Easy Peasy Dried Beans

Two of the biggest questions I often hear about going vegan involves expense and meal planning - specifically, how do you figure out what to cook and keep the cost reasonable?

Like any diet you pursue, vegan or otherwise, planning ahead is one of the best things that you can do to tackle both of these problems.  If you live in the real world, though, "planning ahead" may not be in your habit pattern or, frankly, your vocabulary. While I certainly don't want to discourage you from planning ahead, there's no need to feel guilty if you can't think past your next meal, much less what you will be eating for a week.

I am one of these latter folks. Some weeks, I've got a perfect meal plan all set up on Sunday, with the shopping and food prep done, and we are ready to execute. Then there are other weeks where I open up the fridge and desperately hope there's at least a container of Whole Soy & Company yogurt in there so at least I have breakfast worked out, and whatever you do DON'T ASK ABOUT DINNER.

One of the best tricks I've figured out for both of these meal planning scenarios is to have some beans on hand. I'm not going to get into the merits of beans - there has been enough written on their awesomeness that I don't need to get into much detail here. They are also extremely versatile, which I plan to tackle in future posts. But let's be real - they can also be super annoying.

How can the humble bean be annoying? Basically, you've got to make a decision: canned or dried. You can't beat the convenience of canned beans; crack open that can and you're ready to go. If you prefer minimally processed food, though, then there's no question that dried is better than canned. Canned beans are also relatively more expensive: I can spend $2 on a one-pound bag of organic dried beans and end up with multiple cups of cooked beans, or I can spend $1.19 on a can of organic beans and yield, well, a can of beans. Now, with this said, in the processed food/expensive spectrum, neither of these violations are particularly egregious, so if you prefer to keep canned beans in the house, I tip my hat to you. If, however, you prefer to go the dried bean route, you will end up with healthier product at a fraction of the price.

But oh, dried beans, what a pain you are to make, what with your soaking and rinsing and boiling and taking several hours to get done. Ugh. That is, until I watched one of my close friends make a delicious dinner, using a slow cooker and zero soaking of beans. ZERO SOAKING OF BEANS. So I found the recipe, adapted it a bit, and realized I could use the crock pot to prep my beans and stick them in the fridge or freezer or ahead of time with almost no effort.

I admit, I still have to make these ahead of time, but I can prep these beans on a whim, without planning for soaking time or being close to the stove at all times. I can basically rinse out some beans, pop them in the slow cooker, and run errands or go about my day while the beans are preparing themselves. And Greg often prepares these beans, too; he will notice that our bean supply is low, so he'll just knock out a quick batch while he's working on other things. It's a huge help! I used to stray away from the slow cooker for making beans because I've read all kinds of things online about getting an uneven product, but I have to tell you, I have now prepped beans this way countless times and never had a problem.

So here we go!

First, figure out what beans you want to use. This recipe should basically work for any bean; Two BIG warnings though:
- NEVER use this recipe for red kidney beans. Kidney beans contain a naturally occurring toxin that the old version of bean prep knocks out...but I'm not confident that the slow cooker can neutralize this toxin. As a result, in my house, we eat canned kidney beans, where this toxin is never a problem. In my mind, it's worth the slight extra cost for the peace of mind.
- There is no need to use a slow cooker to prep lentils or split peas; these are quick cooking, non-soaking beans that should just be prepped on the stove (although there are plenty of delicious slow cooker recipes that utilize lentils or split peas - and in those cases, have fun!).

Anyway, for this example, I used about 2 cups of black beans. Two cups is pretty standard in my house, but I've used more and less; I find it doesn't really matter.

 Place the beans in a strainer and give them a good rinse, sorting out beans that are broken or just generally look unappetizing and removing any rocks that may have accidentally gotten in there. (I remember reading that tip once, thinking it was weird and unlikely, and then one time actually finding rocks.)

Place the beans in the insert of any slow cooker, then fill up the insert with water until it's nearly full (leave maybe an inch or two at the top.

Cover and cook on high - that's it! Check after about 3 1/2 hours, but the beans should be pretty well cooked after four hours. You'll know they are done because they are soft and tender to bite into without dissolving into mush, or, if you are a visual person, you should be able to pull on the skin of the bean and it easily pulls away.

When the beans are done, dump them in the strainer and rinse them with cold water. This does two things. First, it stops the cooking process. Second, if you are like me and sometimes (which means often) forget about the beans and they are a bit overcooked, this will help firm the beans back up. (In related news, if you think you overcooked your beans, fear not! They will be fine, usable, and still delicious after the cold water rinse! If you're still not convinced, pop them in the freezer. I promise - it's really okay.)

At this point, do as you please! I usually put some in the fridge and the rest in the freezer, and then they are ready for my use when I am having a meal prep panic attack.

Happy Bean Eating to you  and yours!!

Easy Slow Cooker Beans

Up to one pound of beans (do NOT use kidney beans/red beans or lentils or split peas)

1) Place up to one pound of beans in a strainer. Rinse and pick through the beans to remove broken beans and anything that shouldn't be in there.
2) Put beans in a slow cooker insert; fill with water, leaving 1-2 inches of space at the top.
3) Cook beans on high for 3 1/2-4 hours, until beans are soft and tender to bite. You should be able to pull on the skin of the bean and it easily pulls away.
4) Rinse beans in a strainer with cold water.

Beans are now ready to go in any recipe or can be put in the fridge or frozen.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

How I Went Vegan

Now that I'm back in the blogging saddle, I thought I should address one of the biggest changes I've undergone since my last post in 2010: I've successfully become - and stayed - vegan. How did I make that happen? I'm pleased to report that, once I had a plan, it was actually quite easy. The key to my last sentence, of course, was that I had a plan.

As you might recall, I've actually been vegetarian for several years (since 2004, to be exact). I always wanted to go vegan because I felt that my personal ethics regarding animals and animal rights were not consistent with how I was living my daily life. I had tried to go vegan before, but I never stuck with it.

So what was the problem? Fundamentally, I didn't know where to go to ask questions. I had found discrete ways to investigate veganism - the most obvious, of course, being to explore creating vegan desserts so I could continue to enjoy my baking (and eating) hobby - but I found that as I figured one thing, another would baffle me. Interestingly, I have found that most people fall in the same boat; many people intellectually appreciate the merits of veganism and the ethics behind it, but without any practical know-how on making the transition, they are stuck.

Then, I got a great tip from Marla Rose from Vegan Street; she had recently reviewed Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's book The 30-Day Vegan Challenge and strongly endorsed it, so I thought I would give it a try. Let me tell you - I picked up this book, read it from cover to cover, and I never looked back.

This book was phenomenal. Colleen addressed all questions, big and small, about becoming and staying vegan in a friendly, non-judgmental way. Once I finished the book, I put together a general plan for becoming vegan, identified what areas would be challenging, and identified how I would confront those challenges and incorporated them into my plan. For example, Colleen noted that one challenge of becoming vegan was knowing what to make dinner after a long day at work when you're creativity is drained. She then provided a helpful "go-to" list of quick and easy dinner ideas if you're in that situation. That was definitely me; early on, when I needed something fast, I often returned to that list so I wouldn't stumble into old habit patterns. It was a huge help for me.

It's now been over two years and I've never looked back. In fact, after reading her book, it is almost embarrassing - in a good way - how easy it was to become vegan! I truly cannot endorse this approach enough, and I still turn to this book as a resource and for Colleen's absolutely delicious recipes.

Now, The 30-Day Vegan Challenge is an online program: click here if you would like to sign up. Colleen is in the process of revising the next edition of the book, and I will certainly let you know when she publishes it. Everyone who is curious about veganism should give it a try; I promise, you won't regret it!

Friday, April 18, 2014

I'm Back - and Headed in a New Direction

Hello Internet!

I can't believe it's been nearly four years since I have posted something. I've always loved writing this blog. It has been a tremendous way for me to document my transition into veganism and to share what I've learned along way.

I'm trying to figure out where I lost my way. Certainly life got in the way, as tends to happen to all of us, but when I reflect, I think I realized why I stopped posting. My original mission for the blog was to talk about becoming vegan through the lens of someone who was experimenting with vegan baking. When I started this blog, I think that succinctly captured the route I was taking to explore veganism. What surprised me, though, is how narrow this topic started to feel. I felt compelled to keep my topics pretty close to vegan baking with some forays into cooking; I always felt the need to have a recipe with every post and not to stray too far.

In reality, though, becoming vegan has opened up a much wider world to me. I have experienced a number of positive changes that I would have loved to write about, but it didn't fit into a neat construct of putting up recipes, so I ignored my urge to write about other things. The result: some combination of burning myself out on my original mission and writer's block with regards to recipes. So I simply stopped posting, always thinking I'd get back to it...until four years went by.

I have missed this blog, though, and interacting with all of you. So with some further thought on the topic and some amazing support from my husband Greg, I've decided to relaunch Veg Baker, J.D., but with the expanded approach I should have taken much sooner in my blogging career. Will I still write about baking and cooking? You betcha! But there probably won't be a recipe in every post. In fact, I don't know how many recipes will even make it to the blog.  So what will I talk about instead?

My new mission for the blog is to be a more expansive resource for all kinds of readers, from established vegans to skeptical omnivores. I still want this space to be a place without judgment, but I will do more here than before and address more topics than the old format allowed.

So what exactly will I write about? Well, to give you a sense, I think it's only fair to give you a brief update about what's been going on with me! For starters, I'm pleased to say I have now been vegan since October 2011. That means in addition to talking about the vegan transition, I can also talk about simply being vegan in a number of settings, from basic meal planning at home to buying a vegan suit to finding good vegan eats in Chicago and on the road to making sure all of my consumer choices are consistent with my feelings on animal rights. I am also happy to report that my husband and I are expecting our first baby this summer, which is very exciting! I have stayed vegan throughout my pregnancy, and we plan to raise our child vegan as well, so I hope this page can be a resource for folks who are interested in raising a new generation of vegans.

And honestly, from there, I'm sure I will continue to talk about more subjects as they come up, both in my personal life and from questions I am happy to field from my readers (you can still email me at vegbakerjd@gmail.com!). But the short answer is I don't want to make the same mistake I did before; as I grow and share my experiences, I want the blog to grow with me, too, and I am thrilled to have you come along on the ride

Thanks for coming back to visit me - and I can't wait to get started again!