Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A review of two vegan cookbooks by a wannabe vegan

I've been doing a lot of vegan cooking lately. Ever since my mother-in-law got me "Happy Herbivore" by Lindsay Nixon for Christmas, I've turned cooking into a really fun game. It's called, "Let's see how healthy we can make everything we eat." I also purchased "Vegan with a Vengeance," a cookbook that was recommended to me by a coworker. I love both books, but I have qualms with both of them as well. I appreciate both of them and the things I have learned from them.

"Happy Herbivore" is a good book for those who are just starting to attempt to be vegan (like me!) It's also for people who are probably cooking in their kitchen for the first time. I've loved most of the recipes so far. I made nomelets (round egg-looking things that are a substitute for egg omelets, but are actually tofu) and breakfast sausages and muffins and cinnamon rolls and meatballs and brownies. Most of them have been absolutely excellent.

However, Nixon tends to oversimplify things. The breakfast sausage recipe just doctors an already-existing vegan sausage product. I can't stand doctored recipes. One of my ex-boyfriend's mothers would doctor up some already-packaged product and make it "better," but it really wasn't. The breakfast sausages were okay, but not spectacular.

But doctoring and using packaged products makes the recipes fast, convenient and obtainable. I feel like I'm spending LESS time in the kitchen making MORE things. If you WANT to make your own salsa and boil your own beans, then no one's stopping you. "Happy Herbivore" offers convenience.

A frustrating thing I've found with Nixon's vegan cooking (and vegan cooking in general) is that it seems to go against certain irrefutable scientific cooking rules. She said (either in her cookbook or on her blog, and I'm paraphrasing) "Instead of using butter, just use a cold banana!" A cold banana in no way espouses the properties of butter in cooking. Nixon's cooking tries to be mostly fat-free, but fats are needed, in some cases, to make a quality product.

One very specific example is frosting and glaze. When I made vegan cinnamon rolls and tried to make the glaze recipe, it ended quite unfortunately with the cinnamon rolls receiving a chalky crust instead of a smooth, creamy glaze. On my end, I might have needed to add more nondairy milk. But the recipe should have had the correct proportions of sugar to milk. FROSTING needs a fat element (butter, cream cheese, margarine, etc.) to make it fluffy. GLAZE does not need fat, but it needs to be made in the correct proportions in order to be effective.

I also tried to make black bean brownies, and they were just awful. I'm going to tweak the recipe and try it again. I think black bean brownies could be made edible, but that recipe wasn't really that great. It used two bananas, and tasted more like the beans and bananas than chocolate (you know, like brownies are supposed to taste like...)

I had great success with vegan meatballs and the single-serving muffins and brownies. I want to try Nixon's recipe for seitan, and I'd also like to try some of the stews and dals. I have a massive bag of turmeric waiting for some Indian and Ethiopian cuisine action.

"Happy Herbivore" goes to great lengths to make fat-free recipes, so I was in a bit of a shock when I read cake recipes in "Vegan with a Vengeance" that use gobs of canola oil and vegan margarine. Some of the recipes were in no way healthy recipes because of the fat, so I tried to make them healthy. My coworker suggested "Appetite for Reduction" as well, so I'm going to look into that to try and find some healthier choices in vegan cooking.

I made the Seitan recipe in "Vegan with a Vengeance" as-is, and then I marinated it in the jerk marinade on the following page. I made coconut rice to go with it. The lemon zest in the seitan, plus the lime juice in the jerk marinade made the dish a little too citrus-y. But that's okay, as it mixed well with the creamy rice. I dropped the seitan into the boiling broth when I was making it, rather than dropping it into the cold broth and allowing it to heat up. I had no problems with the seitan falling apart. I kneaded it for about 10 minutes to toughen it up a little more. The end result tasted like a ground chicken product.

The Coconut Heaven cupcakes were amazing. I could eat the frosting with a spoon. I added half coconut extract and half vanilla extract to the frosting for the extra coconut flavor.

I've received pretty good reviews for all of my vegan cooking so far. My husband tries everything and declares it to be delicious. He's been taking leftovers to work nearly every day. I shared my vegan meatballs, the coconut cupcakes and my vegan meatloaf with my parents, and they also thought it all was pretty good.

Unfortunately complete and total veganism doesn't quite fit my lifestyle. You can chalk it up to me being busy or you can chalk it up to me being lazy. I really don't care. Vegetarianism is easy, but a total vegan diet is a whole new level of meticulous restriction and control that I'm just not interested in following right now.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Doing things besides knitting

I've been working on the orange socks I started at the beginning of the month, but not as much as I have been working on other things.

I've taken up running again, sort of. I don't want to say it's a new year's resolution. When I get ultra busy with my second job, I'm not going to make a lot of time for running. But I ran for 40 minutes 3 days this week, and my latest time is 3.18 miles in 40 minutes. I ran a little farther than a 5K, but my time is nowhere near where I really want it. My left knee and the base of my big toe on my left foot have started hurting again. I don't know what I did to them, but if it starts hurting too much I might quit again. There were a couple weeks in the fall when I was limping around. I'm not going to pursue an unattainable goal. I just don't have time for that.

I also started a game on Skyrim and I'm still powering my way through "Anna Karenina." My Kindle gives me an idea of how far through a book I am, and I'm at about 20 percent through "Anna Karenina." I'm at the part where Levin is really bummed out that Kitty rejected him, so he's drinking a bunch of vodka. The inner monologue gig that Tolstoy invokes once in a while always sounds juvenile and kind of feminine. And I'm not sure Kiera Knightley is going to make a very good Anna Karenina.

Anyway, that's what's going on in my world. A big boatload of nothing.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The holiday haul and other tales

New year, new socks

I'm making some new socks for my brother. At my Christmas shindig, he brought me a pair of socks I knit him five years ago. The toe was entirely chewed off, the heel was in the same condition, and there were random holes all over the bottom of the foot. To be fair, they were one of my first pairs of socks. To be unfair, he wore them to work in his sneakers and walked around with them on his feet for eight straight hours. I think I'm going to give him the pair of socks along with a pair of toenail clippers for his 21st birthday.

In other news, for Christmas, my darling loving husband got me a Kindle. It's the normal, black and white Kindle, and it's perfect. I immediately downloaded Tolstoy's Anna Karenina for free and started reading it. It's good for being Russian literature. I've tried reading Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky multiple (really, at least seven) times and I can never get through it. Russian literature reminds me of my friend Devon. We used to swap books and Crime and Punishment was his favorite book. I wonder if it still is. We fell out of touch long ago.

Anyway, I made an account on this website called Shelfari, and set a goal for myself to read 20,000 pages this year. I think it's attainable. I read 15,000 pages one summer when I was in middle school. My mom made it a bit of a contest. At the end of the summer when my whole family went to Hersheypark, my mom got me a really big candy bar as a reward for reading so many pages. It was pretty fun.

My husband also got me a swift and ballwinder. I already wound all of my yarn into yarncakes (see photo for some orange yarncake action,) and since I'm on a yarn diet, it looks like I won't be using my swift and ballwinder for a while. I've been told winding your yarn from the skein stretches it out and makes it less elastic. I'm not sure I really care. I had a good bit of fun winding yarn and it's going to be knit into something someday.

Also under the Christmas tree for me was a brand new knitting bag! I was really excited because I've been looking for a purse, but I'm so picky about purses. They can't be too shiny. They have to have a good amount of pockets, but not too many. They can't be too small, but they have to be big enough to hold all of my stuff, but still not look like a mom purse, but not be a complete cavern where I lose all my stuff. They can't be a ridiculous trendy color, but they can't be too boring. Mike got  me the perfect bag. It's from Namaste, which is a company that makes knitting bags. But I've had the best time putting my other stuff (including my Kindle and my knitting projects) in my new bag. It's a lovely eggplant purple color. I've gotten many compliments on it.

I still have some time off work, which I'll probably spend knitting, reading and cleaning. I'm also going to try to start running regularly again. Running feels so good, but I never have time for it. Everyone who starts exercising regularly is all, "You can always make time to exercise!" Uh, no. Then I would be dragging my butt around, exhausted.

Whenever I don't post for a while, my posts are extra long. The next time I post, I'll try to keep it short!