Vegan Food Swap-o-rama

Recently, my friend Sarah at Gazing In started participating in a Foodie Penpal program and I thought it'd be awesome to have a similar program especially for vegan food bloggers.

So, I'm starting one. April will be the first month of our Vegan Food Swap. Right now, I'm calling for interested bloggers to sign up so they can be matched next week with their Vegan Food Swap recipient. Then we'll all forage our local stores and kitchen cupboards for tasty treats and recipes to box up and ship. At the end of the month, we'll all blog about what we received.

I'm especially interested in this program as a way to share food and ideas across the country. I would love to see each participating blogger include some locally-produced treats if they can, or at least something not available in an everyday grocery store. I happen to know quite a few adventurous and picky vegan bloggers, so I'm excited to see what kinds of things turn up in the Vegan Food Swap gift boxes!

So, are you interested? Check the Vegan Food Swap page for details and to sign up!


Cool Things in the Kitchen

Aside from my freezer, I have plenty of cool things in my kitchen.

I don't have a lot of crazy, expensive, specialized gadgets. You won't find a garlic press or an avocado slicer or  plastic containers designed to refrigerate half an orange.

What you will find, instead, is a few smart products that help me keep my budget down and my productivity up. Most of them are good for the environment, too. Here are just a few favorites I've been loving lately and, coincidentally, I received them all initially as gifts over the holidays.

LunchSkins reusable sandwich and snack bags. 

After using the one I received as a gift for a while, I was hooked. I ended up ordering several more, in both sandwich and snack sizes, and they get a lot of use. They are easily washable by hand or in the dishwasher, they dry quickly, and they are extremely durable. LunchSkins will easily hold anything a zip-top plastic bag will hold, and I'm guessing they'll last roughly forever. The price seems reasonable ($9 for sandwich size, $8 for snack size and $11 for mondo sub size) and they frequently have discounts on certain patterns. Also, they're stinkin' cute.

Tervis Tumbler with travel lid. 

My Tervis with Banana Date Oat Smoothie
This item was another gift, and I wasn't sure how often I'd use ituntil I started using it. Tervis Tumblers come in a variety of sizes, colors and designs. You can even get them with your company or college logo. Mine is a 16oz tumbler with a jaunty parrot and the phrase, "It's 5 o'clock somewhere," which is basically my mantra. Because the tumbler is double-walled and heavy duty, I can use it for hot or cold beverages. The travel lid makes it easy to, well, travel, which is great when I need to take along a smoothie or herbal tea while I'm out running around. They sell a handle separately that fits their tumblers, and I may need to acquire one of those soon. The real clincher is that Tervis products have a lifetime guarantee. If this bad boy ever breaks, Tervis will replace it. Cool.

Misto Gourmet Olive Oil Sprayer

If you choose to cook with olive oil, this is a kitchen must. Misto replaces commercially produced olive oil sprays that contain icky chemical propellants, allows you to use the olive oil of your choice, and will pay for itself in no time flat. It also allows you to control the amount of olive oil you're using, particularly in stove top recipes. Rather than teaspooning out olive oil to cook veggies, fry veg burgers, or coat potatoes before baking, just pump up the sprayer and spritz the minimum amount of oil you need. I still can't believe I had this on my wishlist for so long. If you've been toying with the idea of getting one, do it. (Bonus: I've seen them at places like Marshall's and TJ Maxx for a few dollars cheaper, but they're worth every penny of the retail price.)

So, those are a few of my favorite things. As you can tell, these are all awesome gift ideas for your favorite chef or foodie, even if that person is you! Have you recently discovered a new favorite kitchen gadget that you can't live without? Tell me about it... Maybe I'll add it to my wishlist.


Can cherry juice help you sleep better?

Answer: I'm not really sure. 

What's all this crazy cherry talk about, exactly? Well, I recently learned that tart cherry juice is a great natural source of melatonin, the hormone that helps you fall asleep and, more importantly in my case, stay asleep.

I don't sleep well, generally speaking. I'm a night owl attempting to live in a day lark's world, and it's a super huge challenge to keep anything that resembles a "normal" sleep schedule. I toss, I turn, I sit up wide awake at 3:30am. It's not a lot of fun.

So, when I heard this cherry-ful news, I thought I'd give it a try. What's the harm? 

I experimented for a month. I drank tart cherry juice every night, about 30-45 minutes before I went to bed. 


The study showed that people who drank cherry juice before bedtime had an easier time sleeping, as opposed to another group they monitored who drank water instead. For me, it's been difficult to gauge the improvement, if any. Although I have noticed that I've been waking up less in the middle of the night, I have no way of knowing whether that's just due to the cherry juice, or if it's related to other factors. 

The only thing I can really report for certain is that I really like tart cherry juice. I got the 100%, not from concentrate, full-on organic Just Tart Cherry from R.W. Knudsen. I fell in love with their Just Cranberry juice years ago and wasn't disappointed in the slightest with the Tart Cherry. 


If you have sleep trouble, consider consulting a medical professional about your problems, because I'm not one. Or just drink the cherry juice because it's delicious. But don't blame me if you snooze like a baby. 


Ginger Lime Vanilla Syrup

Last week, I posted about being up to my elbows in limes and lemons. When life gives you citrus, I think we all agree that you're supposed to juice itbut then what do you do with all that juice? Well, here's one idea.

I made this simply, flavorful syrup using about half of the fresh lime juice from the other day. I have always loved the combination of ginger and lime, and I combine them whenever I have an excuse. A few months ago, I had a cocktail that combined these two flavors with a healthy dose of vanilla vodka and I was floored by the way the soft, subtle vanilla flavor complimented the strong, pungent flavors of ginger and lime so well. Since that day, I've been looking for ways to re-create that flavor profile, and this syrup does the trick.

Ginger Lime Vanilla Syrup 
Yield: About 3 cups

3/4 cup agave nectar (see note for substitutions)
1 1/2 cups filtered water
1 cup fresh lime juice
4-5 1/2 inch slices of ginger root
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
  1. In a medium saucepan, combine agave and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a high simmer and add ginger slices. 
  2. Simmer 10 minutes, then remove from heat. 
  3. Add vanilla bean seeds and pod, stir, and allow to sit, covered for 10-20 minutes. 
  4. Remove vanilla pod and ginger slices. Strain if desired (see note). 
  5. Stir in lime juice and transfer to an airtight container. Store in refrigerator for up to 1 week. 

If you don't like agave, any other liquid sweetener will work just fine, but you may need to increase the amount, since agave is much sweeter than alternatives.
To strain or not to strain? If you want a clearer, non-pulpy syrup, strain after you've added your lime juice. I didn't strain mine, and it looks a little like bog water. But, it's delicious, so I don't mind.

I use this syrup in cocktails (a little vodka and soda water is all you need) but it can also be used in many other ways. Consider adding a couple of spoonfuls to your favorite hot tea (especially green!) or drizzling it over your favorite vegan ice cream. It even makes a delicious glaze for vanilla cupcakes. Just sayin'.


Book Review: Practically Raw by Amber Shea Crawley

I've been following Amber's blog,, for quite some time and was fortunate to be able to meet her in person at  last year's Vida Vegan Con in Portland, OR. Since I'm in Ohio and Amber lives in Missouri, it was amusing to travel all the way to the west coast to meet someone who just lives a few states over. I was pleased to learn that Amber is as smart and funny in person as she seems to be on her blog. She and her soon-to-be husband Matt are one of the cutest couples I've ever met, as well.

Amber is a trained raw chef, and I've always found raw foods to be totally overwhelming. I've read a few cookbooks in the past that purported to offer raw food recipes for "everyone" only to find out that they are actually "for everyone who owns a Vitamix and 2 dehydrators and lives in a magical land where exotic ingredients are sold in the corner store" (i.e. not me).

Practically Raw, Amber's first book, is not like that. Its subtitle, "flexible raw recipes anyone can make" is the dead-on truth. For each recipe, Amber explains a host of variations in ingredients and preparation methods that allow almost every recipe in the book to be adapted to your own taste, product availability, time schedule and kitchen appliances. It's practical, get it? I don't currently have a dehydrator, since mine bit the dust last year, so I was extremely pleased to see that Amber offers "cooked" alternatives to her dehydrated recipes. Of course, there are also plenty of recipes in the book that require no heat whatsoever, whether dehydrating or cooking, and those couldn't be easier.

So, I've established that the recipes are accessible and easy to make. But what about taste? Raw foods can sometimes have a bad reputation for being a little "one note" or bland. Not so with Amber's recipes. As a real girl who loves real food, Amber created this collection of recipes with great flavors that are easily achieved with just a few ingredients. She also included menu suggestions in the book, so that you can get an idea which recipes to group together to create full meals. This is extremely helpful for those who are new to raw foods.

Within days of receiving the food, I'd already made a handful of recipes and I'm looking forward to making more.

Here are a few I've tried so far:

Zucchini Hummus from Practically Raw (p. 110)
Zucchini replaces chickpeas for a light, fresh snack dip or condiment. It's a new favorite in my house. In mine, the tahini flavor was almost overwhelming at first but it mellowed on the second day to a much more enjoyable level. I like to eat this light hummus with sweet crunchy apples.

Simple Seasoned Mushrooms from Practically Raw (p. 174)
I have an unabashed love for mushrooms, but I almost always cook them. Like, a lot. Mushrooms are packed with nutrients that probably break down in the cooking process, so I was pleased to see Amber's Simple Seasoned Mushrooms as a way to get the feeling of cooked mushrooms without destroying all those lovely nutrients and enzymes. These make a great addition to salads, sandwiches, cooked dishes, or as an earthy little side dish all on their own.

Continental Crunch Granola from Practically Raw (p. 51)
This is an interesting take on granola that starts with soaked nuts. I used the oven-baked variation for preparation and found I had to cook it longer to get it dry and crispy. To illustrate how flexible the recipes are, I substituted walnuts for pecans and subbed agave for the maple syrup, and added dried goji berries to the finished product. The Continental Crunch is shown here atop fresh cut mango, white grapes, frozen blueberries and a side of coconut yogurt.

Practically Raw: Flexible Raw Recipes Anyone Can Make by Amber Shea Crawley or, if you're interested in purchasing a signed copy, you can do so directly from Amber's website.

FTC: I received a copy of this book at no charge in exchange for my unbiased review.


I'm juicing!

In my world, full of veggies and recipe blogs, "juicing" usually refers to doing a juice fast. That is, foregoing solid foods for a period of time in lieu of freshly juiced fruit and vegetables.

Uhm, yeah. I'm not doing that.

I'm just taking these:

And making this:

I use a lot of citrus juice in my cooking-- a splash of lime here, a squirt of lemon there. Citrus is a great way to brighten up slow-cooked and stewed dishes, and it's an essential ingredient in homemade salad dressings. Sure, you can buy bottled juice at any grocery store. Most are made from juice concentrates, which means they don't quite taste fresh and may contain sweeteners or other preservatives. Plus, sometimes even the bottled juice is not as affordable as getting it from the source--especially at the tail end of winter citrus season (now).

You can use a manual citrus juicer or a citrus press if you've got strong hands and lots of patience. I have neither of those things, so I use an electric juicer like this one. More expensive models are available, but that one suits me fine.

Home-squeezed juice can be easily frozen as well. Try freezing tablespoon-portions in an ice cube tray for easy use, or freeze whole containers and just pull them out to defrost when your refrigerator supply is getting low.

My citrus haul got me 16oz of lime juice and 12oz of lemon juice (I left a few lemons and limes whole to use for other purposes). Not too shabby. So it seems to me that juicing like crazy is a perfectly acceptable way to spend a Sunday morning. Especially if it means there will be freshly squeezed lime juice for a Sunday morning cocktail. But, more to come on that later this week.

Now, what else can you do with all this fresh citrus?

If you want to reserve a few whole slices before juicing, you can dry them for use later in pepping up a glass of water or iced tea.

You can zest your citrus first and use it in baking recipes, or to flavor sugar.

With your spent lemon halves, do a little housecleaning and save yourself some elbow grease.

So, how do you like them lemons?


A Little Joy

Into everyone's life, a little joy must fall... 

Ok, so it's not a saying or anything. But I might be convinced to make it one after coming up with this spectacular little sweet treat.

What is it?

Can you guess?

Could it be?

Yes, that's right. I made the cutest mini coconut-almond-chocolate bites you ever did see. What's more, they require no food processor or other fancy equipment AND there is no baking required. And yep, just like all my recipes, they're totally vegan.

The flavor combination is reminiscent of that famous candy bar that I crush on from time to time. Similar to my Joyful Almond Superfood Squares, this is a decadent dessert snack that is ridiculously easy to make, completely delicious, and not as bad for you as you might think.

And since they are only this big, you can have a few without feeling guilty. Go ahead. I won't tell.

Joyful Almondy Bites 
Yield: 24 mini bites

For the filling: 
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
2 Tbsp coconut oil
1/4 cup oat flour (could use almond also)
2 1/2 Tbsp agave nectar
1/4 tsp Himalayan pink salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 tsp water
24 whole raw almonds

For the coating: 
2.5 oz dark chocolate, chopped
3-4 Tbsp almond milk
1/4 tsp almond extract
  1. In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the coconut, coconut oil, flour, agave, salt and vanilla until well combined. 
  2. Stir in 1 tsp water, then check the consistency of your mixture. It should keep its shape pretty well when mashed into a spoon. If it seems too thick, add another teaspoon of water. 
  3. Using a 1 tsp measuring spoon, scoop up the coconut mixture and pack it firmly into the spoon, then transfer to a mini muffin tin. 
  4. Once you've evenly distributed all the coconut mixture, place one whole almond in each cup, pressing down slightly to pack the coconut. 
  5. Place muffin tin in the freezer while you work on the chocolate coating. 
  6. In a double-boiler, melt chocolate while stirring to distribute heat. 
  7. Stir in almond milk until well combined. 
  8. Once the chocolate mixture is smooth, remove from heat and stir in almond extract. 
  9. Remove muffin tin from freezer and spoon approximately 1 tsp of chocolate sauce onto each coconut-almond cluster, wiggling your spoon a bit to make sure the sauce covers it.
  10. Return to the freezer until the chocolate is set, about 2 hours. 
  11. Enjoy immediately, or store in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 1 week. 


Green Day

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Remember, back in grade school, being faced with the threat of peer pinching if you forgot to don yourself in green on St. Patrick's Day. I do. Although green is a staple in my wardrobe, I'd often overlook the one special day of the year when wearing green is deemed socially mandatory. I'm glad to be rid of that threat at this point in my life, but I thought I'd offer up a few St. Patty's Day fashion tips for those of you still in danger of being pinched for excluding green from your attire.

1. Consider using avocado instead of your regular makeup. It's natural, it's green, and I hear it's even good for your skin.
2. Tuck a sprig of fresh herbsespecially super green ones like parsley, cilantro or basilbehind your ear. Not only will you be covering your green bases, but you'll smell fresh and herby all day long. 
3. Pin a kale leaf to your lapel. Who needs carnations and roses when you've got an iron-rich leafy green on your side? 

However you choose to wear your green on St. Patrick's Day, I hope yours is a happy one! 


Cultivating the Sweet Life

I don't normally post about things like this, but I felt that many of you might be interested in hearing about this opportunity. If you're a woman who is interested in reconnecting with yourself, harnessing your strength and finding new ways to listen to your voice, this online course might be for you.

The lovely Natalia KW (whom I was honored to meet at Vida Vegan Con last year) and Melissa Geiger are the duo behind Nourishing Our Radiance. They offer inspiration to help women "transform their relationship to nourishment." They offer advice and living food recipes on their blog (for free) as well as several in-depth online courses for those who wish to work on a deeper level.

Their Spring e-course, which starts March 20, is entitled "Cultivating the Sweet Life." It's a 28-day online course intended to help women break unhealthy patterns and bad habits, and replace them with a stronger sense of self and a renewed commitment to self-care.

A variety of packages are available, so that participants can choose the level of involvement they feel is appropriate for their specific needs. The core package starts at $149. For details on the course and packages available, visit the course page at Cultivating the Sweet Life.

Have a nourishing weekend! 


Quick Black Bean Soup

Yesterday, I ruminated on the wonders of soup. I probably could have gone on for quite a while, but I wanted to stay short and to the point. Kind of like this soup recipe.

Black Bean Soup is a favorite around here. It's hearty and filling, nutritious, and familiar. It's just... yum. And the whole process only takes about 25-30 minutes, so it's an easy weeknight meal and the leftovers make great lunches.

Quick Black Bean Soup 
Yield: About 4 servings

1/2 yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground chipotle powder (or chili powder)

1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 rib celery, sliced
3-4 oz mushrooms, quartered
2 cups cooked black beans (or 1 can, drained and rinsed)
1 cup diced tomatoes (fresh or canned)
2 cups vegetable broth
1 green onion, chopped
handful of cilantro and parsley leaves, chopped finely
4 Tbsp tofu mayo or vegan sour cream (optional garnish)
Sriracha or other chili sauce (for extra heat if desired)

  1. In a medium saucepan, sautee onion and garlic over medium-low heat until soft (about 4-5 minutes). 
  2. Stir in cumin and chipotle powder and cook for 1 minute. 
  3. Add carrot, celery, mushrooms, black beans, tomatoes and 1/2 cup broth. Stir to combine and simmer until carrots begin to get tender. 
  4. Add remaining 1 1/2 cups broth and cook until hot, stirring occasionally. 
  5. Use an immersion blender to puree about half of the soup, or transfer half the mixture to a blender or food processor to puree before returning to saucepan. 
  6. Remove from heat and stir in green onions, cilantro and parsley. 
  7. Serve hot, and top each serving with 1 Tbsp of tofu mayo. Add Sriracha if you need more kick. 
Buon appetito! 


Soup for Thought

This is what I had for lunch today.

Yep, it's soup. Just soup. Leftover soup, at that.

But have you ever really thought about soup? Just for a minute?

Soup is one of the most satisfying and rewarding dishes someone can make. Let's review.

Soup is inexpensive to make. You can make soup from anything. Soup consumes the leftovers and reduces kitchen wastethe last wilted stalk of celery, a handful of greens, last night's salsa. By reducing the amount of stuff that rots in your refrigerator, soup can save you bunches of money. You may remember something like this from childhood. In my house, it was "must-go soup." Maybe in yours it was called "refrigerator soup" or even "garbage soup." Whatever the name, generations before us have realized the budget-bolstering power of homemade soup.

Soup is easy to make. Anyone can make soup. With a simple recipe or just general guidelines, the process of making almost any soup can be successfully tackled by anyone, regardless of kitchen prowess. The ease at which a pot of soup comes together makes it a great beginner dish for those who wish to cook, but are afraid of failure. You can't fail at soup.

Soup is comforting. On a chilly day, a bowl or mug of warm soup will work from the inside out to make you feel like everything is suddenly right with the worldfor a few minutes, at least. When the temperatures rise, chilled soups can do the same thing. Soup helps maintain balance, and who among us doesn't need a little help with that?

Soup is universal. Every food culture and ethnic cuisine makes soup, and the varieties are as boundless as your imagination. Once you start making soup at home on a regular basis, you'll definitely identify a few favorite recipes or flavor combinations that you return to again and again. However, you'll always have the comfort in knowing that exotic and exciting soup recipes await you, should you ever have reason to Google them.

Think about soup for a while. Think about your favorite soups, and the ones you've heard of but never dared to try. Think about making soup in your home soon. Think about all the wonderful things that soup can do for you.

And come back tomorrow for my Black Bean Soup recipe.


Happy Pi(e) Day!

Happy Pi Day! 

Ok, you're right, that's not *technically* pie up there in the picture. It's a galette. I don't really make pie, but a galette (or a tartlet or rustic pie) is definitely good enough for me. (Here's the recipe.) Whether your pie is savory, sweet, rustic or not, enjoy your Pi Day! 


Slowing Down

Once in a while, the universe tells me stuff.

I never get the winning lotto numbers, the secret to eternal youth, or the recipe for calorie-free peanut butter fudge. But occasionally, I do learn something useful. This time, the message was clear: "Slow down."

Last month, I moved from Cleveland to Columbus in what was probably the easiest move of my life, thanks to the professional moving company who did all the heavy lifting and truck driving. Bless 'em. But, even though the onus wasn't on me to make the move happen, I still felt all kinds of pressure to unpack, get settled, get organized, and for some reason, to do it in a big fat hurry. The boxes, of course, were mocking me.

Instead, I got sick. Not "mild case of the sniffles" sick, but "miserably, completely and devastatingly sick-sick." My first week in the new place was not spent as I had expected. I spent it on the couch watching reruns and driving myself stir crazy.

It dawned on me, in the midst of all that, I had become my own worst enemy. My self-imposed urgency to do things that weren't remotely urgent had gotten the best of me and taken me down. Time to "slow down."

Everything in life takes time. Some things can be artificially rushed without much damage to the original goal, like instant vegan ice cream. Other things will always require time in order to achieve the desired results. This goes for allowing yeast to warm and rise, family-recipe tomato sauce, and for keeping your mind and body healthy.

So, even though I haven't unpacked all the boxes or hung all the curtains, I'm not sweating it. Instead, I'm focusing on what's important. Be healthy. Be happy. Take time to let the yeast rise, and to treat yourself whenever you can. And those tangelos aren't going to eat themselves.

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