Experiments in Vegan Baking

After much debate, I ended up going home for Thanksgiving an official vegan, so what did this mean?  I got to experiment with vegan baking!  And to my amazement, it was delicious and completely indistinguishable from the regular type (aside from pumpkin pie, but that’s a whole different issue). vegan-cookies-invade-your-cookie-jar

I arrived home equipped with Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero’s highly-praised cookbook, Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, and had a chance to try out several recipes.  The verdict: the recipes here are simple and fantastic, whether or not you are vegan.

Soymilk is the obvious substitute for dairy milk in baking, and Earth Balance’s “Vegan Buttery Spread” works just like butter or margarine.  But what about the eggs?

It turns out that different ingredients can be substituted for eggs based on what the eggs are used for in a specific recipe.  For instance:

  • Eggs used for moistening might be substituted with applesauce, banana, or oil.
  • Eggs used for binding can be substituted with various starches
  • Eggs used for rising can be substituted with baking powder

And in recipes written without eggs, the absence was unnoticeable. cowboy-cookies-023

Some recipes my family tried over break included desserts from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, including Cowboy Cookies, Cherry Almond Cookies (we added chocolate chips to these), and brownies.  All were among the best cookies I’ve ever tasted, and I spent four months baking professionally this summer.

We also tried pumpkin muffins, apple muffins, and pumpkin pie.

 

The muffins were both heavenly, and I’ll never assume muffins need eggs again.  The pumpkin pie, however, was not great.  Since pumpkin pie is so heavily egg-based, vegan recipes require using large amounts of cashews, tofu, or avocado, depending on the recipe.  I tried a cashew version, and next time I think I’ll use tofu.  However, the problem could also be that I grew up on the Libby’s pumpkin pie recipe, so anything besides that tastes strange to me.  The same is true of most brownies—I always ate brownies from the boxed mix. brownies

What does this mean?  It’s time for Christmas recipe experimentation!  I will never again assume that eggs or dairy are necessary for baking, but it may take some finesse to duplicate the Christmas recipes that have been a tradition in my family since my mother was growing up.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Everyday Waste Reduction

Small changes add up.  My favorite example of this is the Celestial Seasonings tea company—when the factory started producing tea bags without the little strings and tags attached, it prevented 3.5 million pounds of waste from entering landfills every year.  That’s huge!

Here are a few of the small, painless ways to reduce your food-related waste on a day-to-day basis.  Oftentimes these changes will end up benefiting (rather than restricting) your shopping and eating routines.

Grocery Shopping

  • Invest in a reusable grocery bag.  In addition to being environmentally friendly, these bags are much sturdier than paper or plastic, which means they’re more portable and less likely to rip at inconvenient times.
  • Don’t use bags for your fresh produce.  You don’t really need the extra plastic, since (hopefully) you’ll wash the fruits and veggies before eating them anyway.
  • Buy in bulk, and especially avoid individually-packaged foods.
  • Look for recyclable packaging as much as possible.
  • Avoid double-packaged foods (some cereals are available in bags without the additional boxes, which means less than half the waste).

Cafes

  • If reusable cups aren’t available, bring your own mug.  Otherwise you’d be throwing away a cup, a lid, and a beverage sleeve or straw.  As an additional perk, many cafes now offer a discount for patrons using travel mugs.
  • Don’t take a straw if you aren’t given one.
  • Avoid Styrofoam at all costs.  It takes ages to decay, and the production of Styrofoam releases CFCs into the atmosphere, which destroy our ozone (not good!).

Eating Out

  • If only bottled drinks are available, bring your own water bottle.
  • Don’t use paper napkins from a dispenser.  When I started eating regularly in my college dining hall, I stopped using napkins altogether.  If you absolutely need one, have a cloth napkin handy for drive-throughs and fast-food places.

At Home

  • Stop using paper towels.  My family stopped buying paper towels several years ago, replacing them instead with rags and sponges.  I haven’t missed them once; it’s a much easier sacrifice than you might imagine.
  • Save containers from things like hummus and cream cheese—anything with a nice snap-on lid.  They work just like Tupperware containers, except they’re free.
  • Also, save jars from peanut butter and jelly and pasta sauce.  These are excellent for growing sprouts, storing items like dried beans and rice, or organizing craft supplies.

Leave a comment if you have any additional ideas for reducing waste!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Vegan? Or, the Hidden Horrors of the Dairy and Egg Industries

First of all, I want to emphasize the fact that I don’t have a problem with eating milk and eggs when they come from an extremely responsible, kind, animal-conscious farm.  The truth is that humans and animals have co-evolved over thousands of years, and the domestication of livestock is a genetic change that we cannot undo.  In fact, my eventual goal might include owning chickens of my own, provided I have enough land.

However, farms like these are incredibly rare.  Before reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, I was under the mistaken impression that “cage-free” and “free-range” labels indicated that the products had come from those idyllic farms that still exist here and there in the western states.  I volunteered at one once, and always enjoyed seeing the chickens (more of family pets than farm animals) scratching around in the dirt.  The family always had to hunt around for eggs, because the chickens laid them wherever they wanted.

But farms like these only account for a tiny percentage of free-range and cage-free operations.

What does the truth look like?  It’s not pretty.

Chickens and Eggs

As I was horrified to learn, chickens raised for egg production are probably the most abused animals in the whole factory farm industry.  They’re stuffed into wire cages, five to ten in a space about the size of a filing cabinet; some countries in the UK have banned these “battery cages,” but the US is woefully behind on factory farm regulation.

Hens kept in such cramped conditions are sickly and often develop psychoses.  To prevent behaviors such as pecking and cannibalism, the hens’ beaks are chopped off without the use of anesthesia.  The pain of a missing beak can become chronic and plague the hens for the rest of their miserable lives.  Even “cage-free” and “free-range” hens are often de-beaked and crammed into dark, overcrowded sheds.

Even more distressing for a vegetarian to learn, the egg industry kills just as many animals as the meat industry, except in this situation the meat is completely wasted.  When chicks are hatched for egg-laying, half of them are inevitably male.  The chickens bred for meat and for egg-laying are completely different, so the male egg-layers are “useless.”  Most of them are killed right after their sex is determined.  How do you dispose of useless chicks?  Suffocate them or throw them into a high-speed grinder.  It’s a heartbreaking image.

Cows and Milk

While it’s true that cows have evolved over hundreds of years to produce more milk than necessary to feed their offspring, factory farms exploit that overproduction to the detriment of the cows.

In order for a cow to be constantly producing as much milk as possible, that cow needs to give birth frequently.  Cows are artificially inseminated and give birth once a year until they are too worn out to remain profitable, at which point they’re sent to the slaughterhouse.

Of course, the greedy dairy industry doesn’t want to waste milk on feeding the calves.  The babies are taken immediately from their mothers, and many are killed right away.  The ones that survive are locked in cruel crates to keep their flesh white for veal.  And once again, the dairy industry is responsible for countless deaths that are dismissed as “byproducts.”

***

I felt immensely guilty after learning the truth of the egg and dairy industries.  Without knowing it, I’ve been paying for sweet, fluffy little chicks to be thrown in grinders and calves to be tortured.

But that’s how factory farming works—it keeps consumers in the dark.  People don’t want to know the truth, because they know it’s disturbing.  And farms use that excuse to keep torturing the animals they sell en masse.

That, in short, is why I want to become vegan.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Vegan Trial: Three-Week Check-in

Three weeks have passed since I signed PETA’s pledge to become vegan for a month.  In that short time I’ve begun thinking about veganism in a radically different way, and I’ve already gone through most of the lifestyle overhaul that I had hoped to accomplish.  Best of all, my cravings for baked goods have almost vanished.  When I look at baked goods now, all I can think about is how many eggs or dairy products they required.  So, although I’ve had a couple slip-ups (while eating out), this vegan trial has proved more successful than I imagined possible.

I signed the PETA pledge on a whim, so at that point I hadn’t thought ahead whatsoever.  When I made that choice, it seemed a bit like making good on a dare—it was risky, and I was completely unprepared.

But after I started reading about vegan cooking and lifestyle choices, and after I integrated vegan supplements into my diet, I discovered that veganism isn’t very difficult after all.  Along the way I learned a few important nutrition pointers that I should have taken into account as a vegetarian, so overall I think my diet is healthier than ever.

At the beginning, it was torture to walk past the bakeries in the mall.  When I smelled the fresh cookies and bread, all I could think of was how much I’d lost.  Cheese has proved a much smaller sacrifice than I imagined, mostly because of the nutritional yeast flakes I discovered.  My favorite part about cheese was the creamy texture, and the yeast flakes are even better than cheese, because they don’t add any fat to a dish.

Now, three weeks later, I’m starting to think like a vegan.  While the bakeries still smell good, I’m no longer painfully tempted by the fresh baked goods.  The moral burden of eating animal products has begun to outweigh my sensory enjoyment of these foods.  And I’ve been exploring vegan cookbooks, only to realize that there are hundreds of recipes for baked vegan desserts that are indistinguishable from their non-vegan counterparts (and don’t require strange substitutions).

My original plan was to return to normal eating while at home for the holidays.  After all, most of my favorite comfort foods involve eggs, milk, or cheese.  But now I feel guilty just thinking of eating that many animal products, and I dread the moral dilemmas that will come along with holiday food.  I still plan to eat certain foods, since I’m in the process of transitioning towards veganism, but I don’t want to drink milk with dinner or eat ice cream for dessert.  I still have five weeks to decide whether I’ll come clean to my family before Thanksgiving.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eating Out Vegan

The past three days have been an experiment in vegan restaurant dining.  As an added challenge, the people I was eating with had no idea I was keeping a vegan diet, so I tried to be subtle.  My relative success proves one point: as a vegetarian, taking the additional step to veganism is neither conspicuous nor overly difficult.

One disclaimer: I say relative success because I accepted before the weekend began that I might accidentally break my month-long veganism.  The one thing I hate even more than eating foods that caused suffering is wasting good food that would be thrown out otherwise, so when a pasta dish I ordered had a bit of cheese sneaked in, I said nothing and enjoyed it (with a seasoning of regret—this is the first time I’ve broken my strict veganism in three weeks).

The first night out, we found a vegan Thai restaurant, where the entire menu was fair game.  Since I originally shunned meat because I dislike the flavor and texture, I avoided the faux-meat entries (which, according to reviews, are extraordinarily convincing) and instead went for the tofu dishes.  Everything was superb.

The biggest lesson I learned this weekend is that Asian cuisine has the most exciting variety of vegan foods anywhere.  Tofu is prevalent as a meat substitute, and the sauces don’t depend on cheese to lend richness and depth of flavor.  Some Asian restaurants are fond of putting fish sauce in everything, and others use egg noodles in certain dishes, so strict vegans should ask before ordering anything.

Baked desserts are the only foods that offer no compromise.  Every conventional baked dessert I encountered (except the carrot cake at the vegan Thai restaurant) was made with animal products; so are English muffins, as I learned too late.  In other words, I just had to say no to baked desserts.  I was sorely tempted by the gelatos in the Italian district, but otherwise it was fairly easy to turn down pastries and cakes in favor of vegan Taza chocolates and soy lattes.

Basically, I was able to order more or less exactly what I wanted, with just a few key substitutions. 

  • For breakfast, I had peanut butter instead of cream cheese on my bagel.  (Note: some bagels are coated with egg washes to make them extra shiny.  In the future I’ll investigate companies that are guaranteed vegan).
  • As usual, I asked for soy lattes instead of the regular kind.  (Even the small independent coffee shops have this option readily available).
  • At California Pizza Kitchen, I had to order a salad instead of a pizza.  Of course, I got such a delicious grilled vegetable salad that I didn’t even miss the pizza.
  • When visiting a Lindt chocolate store, I had to look very carefully at the ingredients of the chocolates to find a dark chocolate bar that didn’t contain any dairy.  The classic truffles all contain milk.

Though I had a few accidental slip-ups, I made it through the most difficult new experience as a vegan without feeling that I was missing anything.  To my amazement, I wasn’t even jealous as I watched my friends eat the pizza I couldn’t touch.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

PerfectWorld Profile: TAZA Chocolate

Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Eating Healthy, Eating Organic

Unlike other food labels (“all-natural,” “100% real ingredients”), which mean next to nothing, “organic” is a regulated term that guarantees a product.

Organic foods, very simply, don’t include any nasty chemicals.  This means they are grown without pesticides or fertilizers, and are not processed using irradiation, industrial solvents, or chemical additives.

More people should be concerned about these chemicals.  After being sprayed with chemicals throughout its life, a plant has absorbed a high level of toxins that cannot be washed off (or even peeled off, as in the case with apples).  These chemicals pose a danger both to personal health and environmental well-being.  As an agricultural byproduct, pesticides and fertilizers pollute the soil and inevitably drain into rivers, where they contaminate the entire water system.  And high levels of toxins in our bodies can lead to cancer and many other health risks.

If I had unlimited money to spend on food (and if I lived close enough to the grocery store to go shopping every day), I would buy everything organic.  But luckily the Environmental Working Group has published two lists to help people avoid the risks of pesticides.  The first, known as the “Dirty Dozen,” includes produce that has been so contaminated that it should be avoided unless it’s organic.  The second, the “Clean Fifteen,” is a list of produce that isn’t much of a problem even when it’s conventionally grown.

Image

Here are the lists:

The Dirty Dozen

  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Sweet bell peppers
  4. Peaches
  5. Strawberries
  6. Imported nectarines
  7. Grapes
  8. Spinach
  9. Lettuce
  10. Cucumbers
  11. Domestic blueberries
  12. Potatoes
  13. (green beans and kale are also high in pesticides)

Unfortunately, many of these fruits and vegetables are already foods I don’t get enough of.  Should I pass up an opportunity to eat nutrient-rich blueberries or spinach because they’re not organic, or do the health benefits outweigh the costs of consuming pesticides?  Sadly, there’s no correct answer to this puzzle.

The Clean Fifteen

  1. Onions
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Avocado
  5. Cabbage
  6. Sweet peas
  7. Asparagus
  8. Mangoes
  9. Eggplant
  10. Kiwis
  11. Cantaloupe
  12. Sweet potatoes
  13. Grapefruit
  14. Watermelon
  15. Mushrooms
Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment