Sunday, January 29, 2012

Favorite Flavors and Coming Soons

I've just rolled into town leading a caravan of misfit foodies (imagine it). We stop in the center of things, and I step out of my stagecoach, slowly, wearing a Tom Ford tuxedo. Perhaps I even have a handlebar mustache. I hold up a small bottle filled with amber liquid.

"Step up!" I exclaim, "I've come as a purveyor of the most fantastic, most aromatic, most exotic substance around! The sweetest, most alluring multi-purpose-all-purpose-gives-you-purpose miracle elixir on the planet!"

The crowd moves closer. They are captivated. I lean forward and whisper, stretching each syllable. Here it is: "Va-nil-la!"

Everyone is abuzz with talk of vanilla. They rush forward, pushing and shoving to secure bottles of the stuff. And they are right to do so. Vanilla! It'll add dimension to your desserts and fragrance to your kitchen! Vanilla! It'll sweep you right off your feet! Vanilla! It'll cure what ails you and increase your vitality!


Clockwise, from left: Italian Cornmeal Cake, Earl Grey Carrot Muffins, Chocolate Chai Cookies, all from Cook, Eat, Thrive.

My cookbook will be released this month, and I want to celebrate with one of my favorite flavors. This sweet, sultry flower from the orchid is at the top of my list. For the love-filled month of February, I'll feature new vanilla concoctions every week, from macaroons to smoothies. I think you'll really enjoy these.

Inebriated Watermelon Salad. Photos by the fantastic Art Heffron.

In other news, I'm launching a new site with the arrival of my book. It'll be full of the same old bloggy goodness, with lots of new goodness. Goodness, all around. You can also purchase signed copies of Cook, Eat, Thrive there, which I'll offer at a special price for the month of February.

Also! Vegan for Lent: A Guide to 40 Days of Plant Based Eating is coming! The response to last year's guide was overwhelming. Can I tell you how it felt to see people eat vegan because of it? It was amazing. Humbling. Exhilarating. This year, it's going to be even better. As always, it's free from costs and obligations. Available February 10.

Update: Vegan for Lent will be available February 12. I'll be traveling on the 10th, and want to be sure I'm around for its launch. My apologies for the delay; I really think it'll be worth waiting for!

And a note to those who served as testers for my cookbook: I want to send you free copies. Quickly, as soon as they arrive. Unfortunately, the Vegan Freak Forums where your information was housed are no longer up and running. This means I've lost your contact info and am unable to do this unless you get in touch with me. If you were a tester or know someone who was, please use the contact form to send me your forum name, first and last name, address, and email. Thank you!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Top 10 Vegan Travel Foods

I've been traveling full-time for nearly two months now, and part-time for several years prior to this. In that time, I've done lots of experimenting on what works for travel (energy bars, yes!) and what doesn't (cupcakes, not so much).

What makes good travel food? It has to be portable, tasty, and healthy. And of course, safe for travel by plane, rail, bus, or bike. Most of the items I've listed below have the added benefit of being raw, so you'll feel nourished rather than weighed down by heavy foods. Traveling light, at its truest.

My ten favorites:

1. Fruit
Simple, hydrating, and delicious, fresh fruit is the best thing to take on long trips. Whatever your mode of travel, fruit is ready to join you in its pre-packaged juiciness. Bring a bag of grapes or cherries, cut up some melon, or toss a few easy-to-peel clementines or satsumas into your travel bag. And don't forget bananas, which provide substantial nutrients and come already wrapped.

You'll have to adjust this one if you're traveling between areas that prohibit the importation or transport of produce. Fortunately, fruit is available nearly everywhere, so it can be purchased on arrival.

2. Powdered Coconut Water
I'm a big fan of coconut water, especially on thirst-inducing trips. But cans and aseptic pouches can't get through airport security, and can be cumbersome and heavy on long drives or backpacking expeditions.

Now there's powdered coconut water, a dehydrated powder that transforms any water into coconut water. I was skeptical at first, but after trying CocoHydro on a drive through the Nevada desert, I'm convinced. The flavor is comparable to canned, and better, I think, than some packaged brands (I'm looking at you, Zico). It comes in a big pouch or individual packets, and flavors like pomegranate raspberry and pineapple.

3. Bars
Everyone has their favorite. Sort out what you like, and bring one for every day of your trip. If you find yourself far from vegan options, they make a fine occasional meal replacement. My favorites lately are sesame-studded Bumble Bars (vegan, despite the name) and the coconut simplicity of Oskri.

Of course, you can always make your own; try my Raw Lemon Bars or Coconut Peanut Butter Bars for inspiration, and vary the fruit and nut combinations.

4. Primal Strips
Created with adventure and veganism in mind, these high-protein jerkies are moist and chewy. Ten grams of protein per strip make it easy to meet your nutritional needs while on the road. They're the ultimate in versatility, too; add one to a plain veggie sandwich or serve it over rice, and you have a meal. I like the Thai Peanut and Texas BBQ flavors, and the Hot and Spicy, made with chewy shitake mushrooms.

5. Coconut date rolls
These sweet gems can usually be found in the bulk or dried fruit sections of natural grocery stores, and are a great source of energy and minerals. If your local store doesn't carry them, you can make your own: simply toss a bunch of pitted dates into a food processor and process until nearly smooth. Pinch off pieces as large as your thumb (you may need to chill the mixture to get the consistency right), shape into a short cylinder, and roll in dried unsweetened coconut. You can also shape them into smaller balls (or make hearts, stars, and so on) for tiny hands.

6. Greens
We don't often think of a bag of plain salad as a snack, but greens contain high amounts of amino acids and minerals that are often forgotten in the rigors of travel. Greens cover the nutritional deficits travelers often face, and can atone for late nights full of chips and beer. And munching a giant bag of spinach in an airport or train station is a good conversation starter.

You can also get your greens in powdered form to add to smoothies and other liquids; there are lots of options available at health food stores.

7. Individual nut butters
These little packets of hazelnut, cashew, peanut, or almond butter are plane-safe (less than three ounces), and very filling. You can find raw unsweetened butters from Artisana, and sweetened travel sizes from Justin's.

These are especially good for children, who need additional fat in their diets. And a squeeze pack? Much more tidy on long trips than a spoonful of nut butter.

8. Chia Seeds
A container of these versatile seeds can transform the most basic foods into a nourishing treat. Add crunch to a boring salad, dip a banana in them, or sprinkle them into drinks for a boost of essential fatty acids. Since I don't always know what will be available on the road, I bring chia seeds for a nutritional boost.

My favorite way to enjoy them? Ttransform plain water into a mineral-rich drink: I hack up an orange with a pocket knife over a hotel sink and squeeze it into a glass along with chia seeds, a packet of stevia, and water.

9. Avocados
Like chia seeds, avocados are full of good fats. They complete the simplest salad or plainest sandwich, or can be eaten alone with a sprinkle of salt and spritz of lime. Don't forget to bring a knife.

10. Seaweed Wraps
Gopal makes these great Power Wraps made of sprouted sunflower seeds and seasonings wrapped in nori sheets. They're portable enough to chew in the car and hearty enough to complete a meal. My children especially love these, and they're the inspiration for my raw Nori Snack recipe.

If you like the idea of seaweed, but don't need the filling, try roasted seaweed snacks. These squares of sesame-brushed nori are crunchy like potato chips, and come in individually wrapped packs.

Whatever your mode of transport, travel doesn't have to mean unhealthy grub or eating stuff you just don't like. Bring along fruit, or seaweed, or nut butters, and you'll be well-equipped for your next adventure.

Do you have a favorite vegan travel food, something that makes your trips even better? Tell me about it in the comments.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Cook, Eat, Thrive On The Way

It's coming. Cook, Eat, Thrive: Vegan Recipes from Everyday to Exotic will be on shelves in late February and available from and PM Press a bit earlier. It will also be available as an ebook around the same time.

I want to thank all of you for the amazing support and kind words you've sent my way throughout its creation. As many of you know, the world of publishing can be unpredictable, and that was certainly true here. I had a baby, and took a year off of blogging to focus on mothering and writing. I saw the expansion of my publisher from Tofu Hound to PM, which slowed things down, but gave the book greater distribution. I'm grateful for all of it. And I am overflowing with gratitude at the confidence and patience you've lent me.

This book was an absolute pleasure to cook through and to write, often with a child on my back, or a room full of friends waiting to try its fruits. Such a joy! I hope you enjoy cooking from it as much as I enjoyed creating it.

Some of you have asked about signed copies. I would be so happy to sign or personalize your book, and am working on offering them directly through my site at a cost that is comparable to Amazon. I can't wait to hold them in my hands and send them on to you.

In the meantime, we'll share some eager anticipation. I'll keep the champagne ready. You bake the cake. We'll celebrate next month.

UPDATE: If you don't want to wait for the paper version, the ebook is available to download for your mobile device now! You can purchase it directly from PM here.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Favorite Things

Each January, I do a list of favorite things (here are my favorites for 2009, 2010, and 2011). For 2012, it's a long one:

Let's start with the big--er, the small: minimalism. For me, it began as a quest to donate or sell one thousand things (you can read about that here), and ended with my family becoming digital nomads and taking our lives on the road. It has been an awesome adventure, and I highly recommend paring down your life.

Interested? See: Leo Babauta, Zero Waste Home, or the One Hundred Things Challenge. Or try losing one thousand things and see where it takes you.

Kale is really hot right now (it's the new beef!), and it makes my list too. It's tasty, high in vitamins and minerals, and so versatile. Here's my favorite version of classic Kale Salad. It uses nutrient-rich avocado instead of the usual oil to give the kale a silky texture. My kids love it; my son actually crams handfuls into his mouth:

Avocado Lime Kale Salad
2 dinner or 4 appetizer portions
Coconut vinegar is made from the fermented sap of coconut trees. Similar in flavor to apple cider vinegar, although slightly tangier, it can be found at most health food stores. I use a delicious raw vinegar from Coconut Secret, which contains naturally-occuring amino acids and probiotics.

2 large bunches kale, thoroughly washed, trimmed, and cut into 1" pieces
Juice of two limes
1 1/2 tablespoons raw coconut vinegar or apple cider vinegar
1-1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 avocado, roughly cut up
1/4 cup nutritional yeast

Place kale in the largest bowl you have. Add lime juice, coconut vinegar, and sea salt, and massage well with clean hands. Add avocado and nutritional yeast, and massage again. The salad will take on a slightly creamy cast; keep massaging until it feels satiny in your hands.

The salad can be eaten right away, but for best results, allow to sit, at room temperature, for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Vibrams. Yes, they look ridiculous. They really do. But if you want natural alignment and a barefoot feel in your running, they're a perfect fit. Try them on lawns, and every jog feels like a trail run. I especially like these for practicing yoga when I don't have a mat. And they're great for climbing trees.

Fruit plates. I love to eat fruit first, and a big plateful is the best way to do it. Who can resist a gorgeous plate of fruit? Wherever we are, I try to make one every day; they're a great addition to breakfast or tea.

In Las Vegas at Caesar's Palace, with a creepy pegasus emerging from a fountain. "Uh, mom, I think it's about to trample us..." says Z.

Vegan travel. Or really, travel as a vegan. I spent Christmas in Las Vegas, New Year's in Los Angeles, and arrived in San Diego this afternoon. In all of the traveling, vegan options have been abundant. By this I mean that even in the absence of good vegan restaurant options (because they're often sadly and sorely lacking), there's always something to eat.

Our family loads up on greens, oranges, grapes, bananas, avocados, and coconut water, and we're set. Simple. Later this month, a trip up the West Coast, with plenty of stops along the way, followed by a trip through the midwestern US. Then, Southeast Asia. I can't wait to explore the vegan eateries. And, in their absence, to eat massive quantities of fresh fruits and veg.

Last year, I mentioned how I quit using shampoo. This year, it' DIY toiletries and beauty products. Using simple, vegan ingredients like baking soda, shea butter, and candelilla wax, I create everything from lip balm to facial scrubs to moisturizers. The only thing I don't make is soap (which I just use sparingly, for "pits and bits," as we say). In the meantime, I'm happy to use some Dr. Bronner's.

Try this simple salt scrub for smooth, glowing skin. It's easy to mix up, and you probably have most of the ingredients on hand. Substitute another essential oil for the grapefruit, if you like.

Grapefruit Olive Salt Scrub
about 1 cup

1 cup fine sea salt or table salt (don't use coarse sea salt or kosher salt; it's too harsh for skin)
olive oil
2-4 drops grapefruit essential oil
1 teaspoon grapefruit zest (optional)

Place salt in a medium bowl. Starting with a few tablespoons, drizzle in oil, stirring, until the mixture is the consistency of wet sand. The amount of oil you need will vary according to the consistency of your salt. Add the essential oil and zest, if using, and stir again until well combined. Store in a cool, dry place.

To use, smooth a handful of the scrub over damp skin in the shower or bath. Rinse as usual.

When I don't have the goods to whip something up, I use products from great companies. The Vanilla and Sweet Orange Lip Balm from Hugo Naturals is rich and substantial, protecting your pout in the driest climates.

Lush massage bars are a staple in my makeup bag, since they're travel safe (no leaking all over your luggage, and no TSA intervention for gels and liquids). I love these for smoothing flyaway hair and cleansing skin too.

For makeup, I like Everyday Minerals. Their mineral foundations give great coverage with a bit of glow, and are very reasonably priced. All of the company's products are vegan, including some excellent makeup brushes. Except for mascara (which they don't make), I use everyday minerals products exclusively; I can't say enough good about them.

Juice. Right now I'm living in a place that offers fresh, local, organic unpasteurized orange juice. It's delicious. Some days I drink a whole gallon. I say this as a bona fide smoothie enthusiast: juice is winning me over.

You can make your own fresh juice even if you don't have a juicer. Place vegetables and fruits in a blender--layer them, starting with the most water-rich produce: cucumber, citrus, melon, tomatoes--and blend smooth. Add a bit of water if necessary to combine. Strain through a nut milk bag (or paint straining bag; they're essentially the same thing). Voila! Fresh juice! Try the Watermelon Cooler below to practice this technique.

Watermelon Cooler
several cups of juice

half a watermelon, peeled and roughly chopped (include some of the white rind, but omit the green skin)
juice of one lime
handful fresh mint leaves

Combine all ingredients in the blender and strain as directed above. Drink immediately, over ice if you like.

As always, I haven't received products or compensation from any of the companies listed. Not even the ultra-powerful kale lobbyists. If I do, I'll always state it straightaway.