Monday, October 27, 2014

Cocoa Cranberry Zucchini Banana Bread

This past weekend I made this tasty bread and it was so rich and yummy, I knew I had to share how I did it. I used two smaller loaf pans to make two smaller loaves, but you could probably make one big loaf if you wanted to, although you might need to adjust the baking time. If you wanted to be really decadent, you could throw in some chocolate chips, but I also think it is plenty rich as is, especially if you use a good quality cocoa powder.

3 cups grated zucchini
2 cups flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
2 bananas, mashed
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup applesauce
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup walnuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 and prepare your baking pans. Mix the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda & powder, salt, and spices in a bowl. In a different bowl, mix the mashed banana, sugar, applesauce, oil, vanilla and zucchini.  Fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix. Add the cranberries and walnuts last. Pour into loaf pans and bake for 45 minutes.

This is a really tasty rich and delicious zucchini bread and I know I will be making it again. It's perfect when you are craving something rich and chocolatey and brownie-ish, and the cranberries give it another layer of flavor that is so delicious and satisfying. I hope you like it!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Of Busy Days and Trader Joes Dinners...

I am afraid this weekend finds me a combination of busy and lazy, which doesn't make for a great blog post. Tonight's dinner is courtesy of Trader Joes combined with the very last package of Sophie's vegan shrimp I had stashed in my freezer. My apologies for not sharing anything exciting or of much value! I wish you a happy week and I promise to write something more interesting next weekend. :)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Easy Use-it-Up Vegetable Curry

With the shorter days and brightly-colored leaves that are now so common, it is clear the fall has arrived. I don't know about you, but this is one of my favorite times of year. It's hard not to feel happy when the grey skies are contrasted with such lovely oranges and reds and trees look like exploding fireworks and there is a chill in the air that underlies even the warmer days, a chill that makes me feel vaguely excited, as though anything could happen and anything is possible. And one of the things I love the most this time of year is coming home after a long walk or hike and eating something hearty and flavorful.

Sometimes making something hearty and flavorful starts with just seeing what you have in the fridge and taking advantage of what you find there. Yesterday I was in the mood for a nice veggie curry, and I also happened to have some veggies I needed to cook. What follows is my attempt to share with you how I made a yummy curry, but since I sort of made it up as I went along, I am afraid my ingredient proportions are estimates rather than exact measures.I encourage you to use this more as inspiration than an exact recipe, and take advantage of whatever ingredients you have that sound good to you.

My Saturday Curry
1 small red onion, sliced
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves minced garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Begin by sauteing the onions and garlic in olive oil in a stockpot over low to medium heat with some salt and the red pepper until softened. I chopped and sliced my onions first, and then covered the pan with the lid and let it cook down some while I prepped the other ingredients.

5 baby Yukon Gold potatoes, cubed into bite-sized chunks (as though for a stew)
2-3 cups chopped carrots
6 or 7 celery stalks, sliced

Add the carrots and let cook for a couple of minutes, followed by the celery and then the potatoes. Cover the pan with a lid and let cook a bit longer over low heat. Then add:

2 tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

stir until all of the veggies are coated with the spices, and then add:
1 can chickpeas, rinsed
1 small cartoon mixed variety mushrooms
1 can chopped tomatoes

If it looks like things are starting to stick to the pan a bit, go ahead and add a couple of cups of veggie broth at this point, then cover the pan again, make sure your heat is on low, and simmer until the veggies are soft, at least 30 minutes.

Once everything seems cooked, stir in:

1/2 cup frozen peas
1 bunch beet greens, chopped
1 can coconut milk
2 cups cooked basmati rice

I let this cook a bit longer over low heat so that all the flavors could marry, and then at the very end stirred in:

2 cups fresh mixed greens (spinach, baby  kale, etc.)

And that's pretty much it! Again, feel free to try other veggies. Broccoli and cauliflower would also taste great, and while I really like the flavor of the beet greens, I had just made beets earlier that day and happened to have the greens to use, so really it is a matter of using what you have and figuring out the combo that works best for you!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Terra: Organic & Natural Foods, 1530 Cornwall Ave.

In case you haven't been to the Public Market / Terra Organica (now known as "Terra") lately, you should really check it out! Big things are happening and I am excited to share a few of them with you now. To begin with, they are expanding their existing 5,000 square feet space to 15,000 square feet, which means not only will they have a larger space to support expanded selections in terms of producst, but they are also adding two community conference rooms to the facility. They are working hard to complete this expansion while remaining open, and when I popped in this past Friday, I became very excited about what I saw.

You all may remember how sad I was when The Market on Lakeway closed. Not only did they had the best selection of vegan food / household / health & beauty products in town, they also had a great selection of local and organic produce, with a special discount when you shopped there on Sundays. Well guess what? Terra also offers a 20% discount off of organic produce on Sundays, and they are in the midst of expanding their selection of products and actively listening to their clients for suggestions and feedback! (And yes, in case you are wondering, I already put my plug in for Sophies's vegan seafood, but feel free to back me up if you get a chance! The more of us that ask for it, the better!)

Another amazing thing to share with you is that our very own Farmers Market & Bellingham Favorite Mulu will be opening up in the Public Market space, which means we will actually have access to her incredibly delicious food in the winter! I cannot tell you HOW excited I am about this--I will probably eat there way too much once she opens, but I am actually ok with that. :) As long as she doesn't get tired of seeing me!

The Terra website has also had a revamp and looks fantastic. One thing in particular I really loved was reading the "Our Story" section which explains how the store came to be, from the origin of the first seeds of inspiration to working out the logistical details (which included living in a bus!)--it's an inspiring and awesome story, and one that makes me think that we in Bellingham are so lucky to have such a dedicated and passionate person like Stephen Trinkaus as part of our community. I know I will have more posts about Terra in the future, and I am excited to start shopping there more often. (And believe me, as soon as I hear that Mulu has officially opened her space, I will be the first one in line. And I hope to see you there!) 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Arbonne RE9 Anti-Aging Vegan Skin Care Review

I was recently contacted by an Arbonne consultant who offered to send me some samples of their completely vegan skin care products to try out for myself. I am fortunate that I am contacted fairly regularly by various product reps or sales people who offer to share a sample of a vegan product with me, and I do enjoy getting to try out an assortment of vegan products, especially when it's something I wouldn't have otherwise known about or tried.

 When it comes to skin care, I will admit I am on a continual quest for a good moisturizer. In a blog post that I wrote about six years ago, I stated:

 "I have never been scared of growing old. I have always thought of it as sort of a communal thing, like a big party that if you are lucky enough, all of your friends will be going to as well."

 I still feel that way, but as I said then, that doesn't mean I don't appreciate a good eye cream or moisturizer, especially now that I am less than a year away from turning 40 as opposed to being on the closer side of 30! That being said, I also love to go the natural route, to use only natural ingredients, and to explore all the DIY stuff. I have tried it all--olive oil for removing makeup, vitamin e oil for nourishing your skin, witch hazel for toning--I've even made my own facial toner with parsley, and I really do see the benefits of using all of those things. But there is something to be said for the convenience of buying something made specifically for your skin that you don't have to make yourself, especially when you feel like you can trust the ingredients. I thought I struck gold when I found Lauren at Dress Green who made the best vegan moisturizer I had ever used, but then she quit making it and left me searching, once again, for something vegan that would also work on my skin.

Since I ran out of my last Dress Green container, I have resumed my quest for an awesome vegan moisturizer. My Arbonne sample came in yesterday's mail and I was curious to try it, especially after reading the statement "83%  of women reported improvement in skin firmness" within the first 24 hours of using the product. Being somewhat skeptical of such claims, my initial reaction was "Yeah, right." But hey, a free sample is a free sample and so I was happy to see for myself whether or not I would be part of that 83%.

I started with step one of the "RE9 Anti-Aging" line, which was a facial cleanser, and I was immediately struck by how great it felt to wash my face with it. It was as though my skin was somehow being cleansed and quenched at the same time. And then it just continued to get better and better from there. My skin felt amazing. I wasn't even thinking about how it looked--I only knew that I felt so good, as though my face was could actually breathe. I am fair-skinned and have to wear sunblock every day, and sunblock under makeup tends to make my skin feel tired and stifled--there's a heaviness to it by the end of the day that I really don't like. This Arbonne line also came with an SPF 20 moisturizer that was light and airy and actually made my face feel better. After putting makeup on over it, I almost felt like I wasn't wearing any makeup at all--it was truly surprising to me how different I felt.

So... that's the good news. There's a product out there that is totally vegan and makes my skin feel great. better than great. Absolutely wonderful.  The bad news? It is waaaaay out of my price range. This stuff is not cheap. It is actually quite far from being cheap, or even affordable, for me anyway. $323.00 for .5 ounce and 1 ounce containers of the six main components of the line. And I am not sure how long those containers are supposed to last, be it one month or three, but either way it's an expense that someone who is still paying off her undergrad student loans from 13 years ago can't afford.

I definitely think these products are intended for vegans (& others) in a higher income bracket than myself. That doesn't mean that I didn't spend some time trying to figure out some way I could somehow afford at least one or two of the components of the RE9 line. Thoughts like: "Hmmm. maybe if I don't ever go out to eat and live off only beans and rice I can get cleanser and the the eye cream?" Yeah, not very practical, but I will admit, I have spent some time this weekend pondering this.

So it is with mixed feelings I submit this review to you for your consideration, because really I feel like I am sharing info with you about something that for most people really isn't that affordable. I do thank the Arbonne rep for sending me that amazing free sample, because WOW do I love that stuff and I have only been using it for 2 days now. But I almost wish I didn't know how great it makes my skin feel since once my sample runs out, that's probably it for me. :(

I would be really interested in knowing what other people have used in terms of vegan skin care products. I sure do miss Lauren at DressGreen. Maybe someday she will make her awesome cream again. In the meantime, feel free to send your recommendations of other (preferably affordable) vegan skin care products to me.

Addendum: 9/29/14 Jennifer Stermer, who is both a vegan and the Arbonne consultant who sent me the samples, left a comment below clarifying the pricing and size of these products. I am going to chat with her more about possible options. Day three of my samples and I am already dreading when they run out! I truly have never felt anything like this before on my skin. Thanks again for the samples, Jennifer, and for your comment!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Vegan Eating at the North Cascades Institute


Today's post is more of a photo essay of sorts. I recently had the tremendous pleasure of attending the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) writing retreat up at the North Cascades Institute (NCI), and not only was it an incredible experience and an awesome opportunity, the food was absolutely fabulous.

If you have never stayed at NCI before, you should definitely look into it. They are always offering cool programs and the setting could not be more beautiful. And, as I have written about before, the food is AMAZING.

During the three days I was there, they always had a vegan option and an awesome salad bar, and occasionally they even had a vegan dessert! Entrees included veggie-stuffed cabbage rolls, teriyaki stir fry, and spaghetti marinara. They source locally-grown, fresh, and organic ingredients and you can totally tell since every bite tastes garden-fresh and flavorful.

A special thank-you goes out from me to Western Libraries Administration, NCI, TLA, Carmen Werder & Shevell Thibou, and everyone who attended the retreat whom I had the pleasure of interacting with (including my fantastic roommate Roz!!!). Thanks so much for giving me the chance to have such a meaningful, productive, and inspiring experience that included such fabulous & memorable vegan food. I am very very grateful!