How to make vanilla extract

Head over to Seitan Beats Your Meat and learn to make your own vanilla extract with two ingredients: vanilla beans and vodka. It takes 2-3 months to steep, so it’ll be ready in time for cookie baking when the weather gets cool!

Homemade vanilla extract


Vida Vegan Con II: Year of the Instagram

Mo, Amey, and Kittee of Vegan Battle Royale

During the weekend of Vida Vegan Con II, Portland was a 24-hour vegan playground. It was raining when I hopped off the plane and continued until it was time to head home, but it would’ve taken much more than a little rain to faze the excited attendees of vegan summer camp! The classes were engaging and inspiring, the food was plentiful, the drinks were flowing, and fun was most certainly had!

After my flight was delayed for 3 hours (shakes fist at O’Hare), I arrived in Portland a little later than expected. Melisser‘s flight was delayed as well and luckily, we got to PDX within five minutes of one another and traveled through the rain to our respective accommodations.

I spent the weekend in a rad apartment on Mississippi (I would frequently say M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I in my head in a singsong voice typing it into Google Maps throughout the trip) with Joni, Jackie, Louzilla, and Michelle. Joni and Jackie greeted me at the apartment and within four minutes, we were headed downstairs to the bar. This was the first of many times we would take advantage of the fact we were staying right above a bar.

Oh hey, we were also staying right down the street from Flavour Spot, the waffle cart that sells vegan sausage waffle sandwiches dripping with buttery maple cream. This was “pre-breakfast.” Sidenote: it really turned out to be just breakfast.

We then made a trip to Hungry Tiger Too for lunch (or breakfast, if we’re still going with pre-breakfast), where we met up with Joanna after unabashedly stalking her on Instagram and noticing she was right down the street at that very moment. I got two corndogs and a side of cheese sauce. Saucy.

We then ventured over to the vegan mini-mall and went to Herbivore, where we ran into more friends (hi Lauren!).

The unofficial VVC meet and greet was held at the White Owl Social Club, a new bar from the folks at Sizzle Pie, to which we arrived after a rainy walk. I can’t remember what this drink was called, but it had lemon, sage, rosemary, and bitters, and it was, er, interesting. After another questionable adventurous drink choice, I stuck to the basics.

What everyone was really there for was the wonderful company…and the macaroni and cheese burger! Louzilla and I split this one.

We got dessert at the famous Voodoo. I didn’t make it to Voodoo at the last Vida Vegan Con, so I’ve been eyeing the grape donut for over a year. I can happily say its deep-fried, Kool-Aid(?)-coated exterior lived up to my expectations.

After Voodoo, Louzilla and I met up with Joni and Jackie at The Bye and Bye and put away some of their signature cocktails, the Bye and Bye. A peach-infused bourbon, vodka, and juice concoction served in a quart Mason jar, at $7 it’s an economical choice for a lot of drink.

What, Vida Vegan Con hasn’t even started yet?

Vida Vegan Con was held at the Portland Art Museum. If it wasn’t clear that we’d arrived at the correct place, the Earth Balance car would’ve tipped us off.

After checking in, we ate at Veggie Grill for breakfast. This is the Buffalo Bomber Burger.

From the classes on Friday’s agenda, I attended Gena Hamshaw‘s Blog Writing as Writing, Isa Chandra Moskowitz‘s iPhone Food Photography, Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan‘s Why & How to Expand Your Message to Include Animal Rights, and Mo, Kittee, and Amey‘s Vegan MoFo Workshop. The day was so full, I forgot to take photos!

Gena’s writing class covered a selection of problematic habits writers fall into when blogging and how to remedy these mistakes. She spoke about how often bloggers spill their guts without editing their writing, producing sloppy content for the sake of meeting a self-made deadline, and trying to cover ALL THE TOPICS instead of choosing a focus and really honing in on how they communicate these ideas. As the first class of the day, this is where some new idea sparkage began in my brain.

In Vegan MoFo class, we collectively created MoFo themes for each day of the week that everyone participating in MoFo this year can follow. Pick one, do all 7, or none at all! I’m not going to reveal the winners here, so YOU’LL JUST HAVE TO WAIT UNTIL MOFO.

Louzilla, John, and I failed to arrive on time to the Upton’s and Chicago Vegan Foods Taco and S’mores Pop-Up. Sad faces all around. We remedied aforementioned sad faces by getting dinner at Sizzle Pie, then dessert at Voodoo (again).

I panicked and got grape again. Loyalty.

On Saturday, Vida Vegan Con greeted us with a Portland Vegan Breakfast Showcase. A.N.D. Cafe, Back to Eden Bakery, Blackheart Bagels, Cinnamon, Divine Pie, Portland Juice Press, Portobello Vegan Trattoria, Sizzle Pie, and White Owl Social Club provided us with an unforgettable breakfast. I got polenta from Portobello, pizza from Sizzle Pie (this actually wouldn’t be the last time I ate Sizzle Pie during the trip), and a donut from Cinnamon.

I followed around Jason Das, Laura Beck, and Leigh-Chantelle that morning attended two panels that morning: Ethics Beyond the Plate, and Vegan Invasion: Community Building, where the discussions went beyond animal issues and food and focused on other social justice movements and creating community.

Vegan Battle Royale was held during lunch that day. I was called up to play extreme vegan trivia and can happily say that the MOTHERFORKING DESTROYERS won!

That afternoon, Gena Hamshaw, Jamie J. Hagen, and I led a panel on time management called Finding Balance: Blogging & Personal Life. We talked about the importance of setting realistic goals, schedules, and boundaries, and avoiding blogger burnout.

All the tables were scattered with VVC temporary tattoos. And coffee. They had coffee ALL DAY EVERY DAY. With coconut creamer. Be still, my heart.

That night was THE Galarama, which was a benefit for the Chimp Sanctuary NW. Dancing, silent auction, ice cream, tacos, chili cheese dogs, vodka root beer floats, vegan jello shots, long ass bathroom lines, oh my! And the beautiful Melisser was DJ-ing. We forgot to take prom photos beforehand.

The after-party was karaoke. Louzilla and I sang Party in the USA, naturally replacing “LAX” and “USA” with “PDX” and “VVC.” She’s just being Miley!

Photo from Joanna

Ashlee from The Lil Foxes and Melisser:

The next morning (the final official day of the conference!) I got a bit of a late start and snacked out of the swag bag for breakfast and went over my presentation for my afternoon class, trying not to hyperventilate just yet!

The first class I attended that day was Body Image Acceptance & Veganism. Each panelist (and moderator Laura Beck) shared her story and I think most everyone felt feeling inspired and a little teary!

Lunch was a build-your-own sandwich bar. My piled-high open-faced sandwich wasn’t pretty, but it was sure tasty.

After lunch, I gave my Artful Food Photography class. Since I live behind a computer, I started out DYING INSIDE on the nerves meter, but luckily got to comfortable quickly. Louzilla assured me I didn’t seem nervous and we’ve been friends forever so of course I trust her judgment. I focused on the blog as a space where the writer/photographer has complete creative control, and how to use that! We went over lighting scenarios, setting up shots, and a quick editing overview. The Q&A serendipitously turned into pictionary.

This is an example of how you could photograph cat cookies with your cat in the frame:

Or a Chipotle burrito. Complete with chips and guac, a crumpled up bag, and a margarita in a can, because that is how you represent a McDonald’s burrito. Real talk.

One day I will use these sketches and photograph these scenarios for real!

Although the conference was over, the fun was not! We hosted a party at the apartment.

Party decorations:

It’s Portland, so of course the mac and cheese restaurant down the street has a vegan option. Party planning fuel.

After lots of dancing and imbibing, Louzilla and I joined Melisser and Kerry for a trip to Casa Diablo, the only 100% vegan strip club in the country. Don’t Google this at work?

The next day was my final full day in Portland and I played it by ear.

The next morning, a few of us met up at Back to Eden Bakery. I ordered the asparagus cashew tart and soft serve. The tart was flaky, creamy, and flavorful, and the soft serve was like eating a cloud.

After a five minute torrential downpour, Jackie, Melisser, and I met up with the Vegan Cuts crew at the Bye and Bye. This is the meatball sub.

Jackie and I stuck around for awhile longer and sipped some more Bye and Byes. I can’t remember if I ordered one or two. This set the tone for the rest of the day. BAM.

We hopped on a bus to Ground Kontrol arcade. This is the Pac-Man bathroom floor! METAL MONDAY!

I ordered Vodka Tronics, which was a blue-flavored vodka tonic. And of course, there were vegan options all over the menu. Oh Portland, you beautiful foxy rainy town.

After Ground Kontrol and lots of quarters spent, Jackie and I met up with Jared for more Sizzle Pie (see?). We loaded up on pizza, then headed back to the apartment where I proceeded to stay up all night, then quickly pack and head to the airport at 5am. Oh, I slept good on that plane and when I got home.

I arrived at O’Hare and walked right into the rainbow hallway!

My swag bag, Battle Royale bag, speaker bag, and Food Fight! purchases got all mixed up with the packing, so I have no idea what came from where, but here (most of) it all is!

The verdict? Vida Vegan Con II was the best weekend ever! I brought my camera, but it never left the apartment, so I embraced the Instagram for documenting the weekend with no regrets. I left inspired, full of ideas, with new friends, and feeling good. We can read all the blogs and talk to all the vegans online, but nothing beats meeting in real life and celebrating at vegan summer camp. I’ve even taken action and started at least two new projects (details forthcoming) since leaving VVC. That’s what it’s all about, right?! YAY!


Ice cream party and VVC details

My ice cream maker was in hibernation through the very long Midwest winter this year. So rather than valuing the simple things in life, it was ravenous for over-the-top flavors when I pulled it out for the warmer months. This is peanut butter butterscotch maple chocolate chip (PBBMCC) ice cream. Coconut milk-based, this ice cream is full of peanut butter, pure maple syrup, butterscotch extract, and two kinds of chips. It’s extra decadent and also extremely simple to make because it’s not an exact science and there’s nothing to heat up. Lazy ice cream, if you will.

Here is how you make peanut butter butterscotch maple chocolate chip, PBBMCC, ice cream (see, I pulled a Rachael Ray* there) or a variation thereof:

1. In a medium bowl, stir together 1 can of full-fat coconut milk, at least 1/3 cup maple syrup, a few heaping spoonfuls of creamy peanut butter, and a splash of butterscotch extract.

2. Add a few splashes of non-dairy milk to make your ice cream go further. A little goes a long way. Too much will make your ice cream less creamy because fat=delicious. Taste and adjust the flavors as necessary. The two reasons I used maple syrup are (a) this is maple ice cream, and (b) it would be so much work to heat up the coconut milk and dissolve granulated sugar in it. You could do that though, especially if you want to mix up the flavors. Start with 1/2 cup sugar since maple syrup is concentrated sweetness.

3. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Typically, you’ll toss in the add-ins during the last 5 minutes of freezing (check your instructions). I added about 1/2 cup total of butterscotch and chocolate chips.

4. Done-zo! Eat that ice cream! Store in the freezer in an airtight container.

You can use these guidelines for a myriad of ice cream flavors. The basic formula is 1 can of coconut milk, 1/3-1/2 cup sweetener, and your flavors. There is much room for experimentation as ice cream is very forgiving.

*I don’t have anything against RR’s tendency to refer to an ingredient along with its clunky acronym over and over in speech (à la EVOO, extra-virgin olive oil). It’s proof that if you consistently say something odd and gratuitous, it can become your brand. In fact, I even have her orange tea kettle.

And finally, I’m so excited for Vida Vegan Con this week and can’t wait to see those of you who are also attending! The agenda looks fantastic and of course, the food will be out of this world.

This week I’m finishing up preparation for the two classes I’ll be teaching:

Artful Food Photography, Sunday at 1:45pm
I’ll be talking about the blog as a space where you have complete creative control to develop your own style. Having recently completed my degree in photography, I spent the last few years working with fine arts in school, producing commercial work for books and print media, and making photos for this blog that fall somewhere in between. We’ll discuss influences, designing your photos around the food, and presenting your own voice through the photos on your blog.

Finding Balance: Blogging & Personal Life, Saturday at 2:15pm
Jamie J. Hagen, Gena Hamshaw, and I will be speaking about the importance of setting realistic schedules and boundaries while juggling a full-time job or going to school, writing a blog, and maintaining a personal life.

I’ll be back following the conference to recap the weekend, the food, the classes, and what I learned!


Weekend Baking

As the temperature hit the single digits over the weekend, it seemed absurd not to have the oven on constantly as a source of comfort food and extra heat. I’m not crazy about snow or arctic-inspired seasons unless accompanied by holidays and a break from school and work, so January and February (and sometimes March, April, and May in the Midwest) are all about biding time until peeling off winter coats and scarves in the sunshine of spring is a reality. After a few forays into the icy cold streets and waiting in the wind chill for late buses (living without a car in a medium-sized city will crush all illusions of happy public transportation in due time!), baking cookies and tending a warm, crusty loaf of bread seemed like a much better plan.

In 2009 and 2010 I lived without a real kitchen for about 8 months and the majority of my diet was PBJ and Peanut Butter Panda Puffs, so not surprisingly, I was not so into peanut butter after that. I’ll eat a PBJ if absolutely necessary, but it’s never my first choice for lunch anymore. But of course, desserts are another story, so sometimes peanut butter cookies sound like an absolutely fantastic idea. This weekend I reached for the Soft Peanut Butter Cookies recipe from The Vegan Cookie Connoisseur, which is my go-to peanut butter cookie recipe.

I was looking to make a standard whole wheat bread, but while flipping through my recipe binder I came across a molasses rye bread with caraway and raisins (recipe here). I made the bread pretty much as directed, except I couldn’t find raisins in the cabinet and left them out.

Still craving regular bread, I made a standard whole wheat bread recipe. I like to replace 1/2 cup flour in any given bread recipe with wheat gluten flour (the kind you use to make seitan) because it makes the bread fluffy and soft. While searching through the cupboard for some kind of seed or herb to add to the bread, I came across my giant bag of sunflower seeds and dumped some in the dough at the last minute while kneading. They made a wonderful addition for a little toothsome crunch throughout the loaf. I ended up using this loaf for BBQ seitan sandwiches with ginger sesame red cabbage slaw.

Stay warm, everyone! Bread and cookies are the answer to snow and subzero temperatures. Unless you’re in a warm climate, and in that case, I am extremely envious!


MoFo #15: Pumpkin Muffins (recipe)

Muffins are the one of the simplest baked goods to make. Everything goes in one bowl, muffin recipes usually only make a dozen, they bake quickly, and clean up is easy. This makes them a perfect recipe for weekend brunch, or a weekday morning if you have a little extra time. I made these muffins last weekend when I had half a can of pumpkin and half a tub of sour cream to use up. I ended up using apples and pecans. So simple!

Pumpkin Sour Cream Muffins

Makes 12 huge muffins

1 ½ cups pumpkin puree
1 cup sugar
¾ cup non-dairy sour cream
¼ cup canola oil
¼ cup almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of cloves
½ teaspoon salt

1 small apple, chopped
⅓-½ cup dried fruit and/or nuts

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Line a muffin tin with cupcake papers (or grease the cups and forgo the papers).

Pour the pumpkin, sugar, sour cream, oil, almond milk, and vanilla in a mixing bowl and stir until combined.

Sift in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, all the spices, and salt. Mix until almost combined, then fold in the apple, dried fruit, and nuts. Use a cupcake or ice cream scoop to fill the muffin cups, really overfilling them (this will make muffin tops).

Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the edges look crunchy and the tops are springy. Move to a wire rack to cool.