BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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From A to Vegan, and Beyond

The clock hasn’t yet struck noon and already the restaurant is bustling. A line has begun to stretch around the corner and out the door while waiters carefully navigate the tiny space with their apparently bottomless, steaming carafes of darkly roasted coffee. Sunday, the last precious day of the weekend, used to be a time to sleep in and take it easy, but now it’s become the end-all, be-all day for brunch. Taking in the scene from a sunny corner, I can’t help but marvel at how quickly my generation has embraced this development, right alongside another, deeper reaching culinary trend: Veganism. As if to underscore this point, vegan options are woven in right alongside the other new American fare, highlighted by bold “V’s” as if to underscore my train of thought. 10 years ago, would the word “vegan” have resonated so thoroughly with so many people? Joined by my friend and dining partner in crime, Elizabeth Castoria, I can think of no person better to contemplate this rise in veganism with.

Author of the newly released How to Be Vegan, Elizabeth has experienced the shift in perception first hand, having embarked on her own cruelty-free path at the tender age of 17. Though this shifted her interested in predictable ways in regards to animal rights and food, nothing could alter her passion for writing. After achieving her masters in fiction at New School University, she quickly shot up through the editorial ranks. Modestly waving her numerous accomplishments off like a whiff of something unpleasant, it seems that her success still hasn’t fully sunk in. “To be honest, I picked a major in college because it seemed like an easy thing to do, but then it somehow worked out.”

It could have only worked out based on the strength of her work. After spending many years as the editor of VegNews magazine, bringing the vegan community together to become connected in ways it could have never been before, Elizabeth has always spoken from the heart. Inspiration comes naturally when the subject matter is so compelling, and as a prolific reader, there’s no shortage of engaging pieces out there to drink in. Working endlessly to refine and hone her craft has yielded the impressive results we all found on the new stands and still refer back to today, giving Elizabeth an irresistible resume when publishers came calling.

Offered the opportunity to create a lifestyle guide for new, curious, or confused vegans, Elizabeth saw that it was a growing niche to be sure, but one that hadn’t yet been fully satisfied. Though her entry isn’t meant to be the last book on the subject with encyclopedic entries, she offers something that far too many similar authors work to curtail: Her unique voice. Conversational but authoritative, with a good dose of her trademark humor added to the mix, it’s not a dry or boring read to slog through. It’s a book you’ll actually want to pick up, work through from cover to cover, and return to time and again later on down the road.

Reckless creativity is the standard approach to all of her endeavors, including her adventures in the kitchen. Less keen on following a specific formula than simply combining what’s in season with what’s currently in the pantry, she’s quick to credit Robin Robertson with her assistance in developing the recipe section in How to Be Vegan. One particular dish that Elizabeth picked out as a favorite is the Soyrizo Pasta, a super-simple, comforting combination of any pasta shape that might be handy, tomatoes, a generous handful of garlic and spices, and lightly sauteed soy-based chorizo. Also included are food staples that even the most novice of cooks can master, producing dishes that will still impress and satisfy. The question of “what’s for dinner” will inevitably enter the conversation where veganism is concerned, so this fool-proof arsenal will have even the pickiest palates covered.

As if on cue, as our thoughts shift to treats and good eats, our food arrives. I waste no time tearing into my tofu scramble while Elizabeth more delicately works on her Burmese tea leaf salad and samusa soup. Between the two of us, it’s a brunch fit for vegan kings; a signifier of the radical shift in the perception of veganism in general over the past few years. While the uninformed may regrettably still be stuck on the classic protein question, the lifestyle is more widely accepted, understood, and accessible than ever. Elizabeth’s book is just one more piece to the puzzle that makes transitioning away from the standard American diet a piece of dairy- and egg-free cake. She delves deep into the heart of the matter, explaining the cruelty of circuses and factory farms in non-confrontational language that doesn’t preach or accuse. “My goal for How to Be Vegan was never to convert anyone, but to provide realistic, everyday information to help readers form their own conclusions about common issues, and advice to stop the cycle of cruelty whenever possible.”

Indeed, far from merely covering the food as most popular media is drawn to do, Elizabeth doles out wisdom on vegan clothing, makeup, travel tips, eating out, relationships, and even how to deal with close-minded naysayers without losing your cool. Considering the depth and breadth of information packed into this slim paperback, it’s surprising to hear that it came into being just about a year after the ink had dried on the final contract. “Nothing motivates like a deadline,” Elizabeth admits. There’s no magic to the writing process nor a time when the words flow most easily; it comes down to creating a firm schedule and clear goals to strive for. Although inevitable, the curse of writer’s block hasn’t been able to slow down the stream of sage advice. A long run through San Francisco’s lush green spaces always does the trick, clearing out the mind and making space for a fresh start. Clearly, what ever she’s doing to harness her full creative capacity, it’s working. How to Be Vegan has remained in the high ranks of Amazon.com’s vegan book section ever since its initial release, and has been well-received by the blogosphere at large. The real impact, however, is one that’s a bit more difficult to quantify. With this stellar literary entry, one can only imagine the countless lives, both human and animal, Elizabeth has already touched.


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Teeny Tiny Winner

Although it just barely missed the cut for Teeny-Tiny Mochimochi, this miniature ice cream cone seems to be in hot demand, as it was one of the most popular requests made in the comment section. Fear not, nimble knitters! This sweet little number is destined for another project, coming in the near future. Keep an eye on Anna’s blog for updates on her latest creations.

But let’s not beat around the bush here and get down to business. Selected by the random number generator, the winner of Anna’s new book is…

Commenter #46, Julie Overton, who suggests, “These are so darling! I would love to see if she can make lil sushi!” Sounds like a good choice to me, with a high probability of being adorable!

If you didn’t win this time around, never fear- You can still hop right over to Oiyi’s Crafts and join in on her giveaway, too.

And with that, it’s time for me to pack my bags and head off to Portland, OR for the first ever Vida Vegan Con. I’ll be leading a workshop on food photography, speaking on the “Young and Vegan” panel, and doing a demo on the illustrious vegan meringue. Who am I seeing there, and who’s getting excited now?!


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It’s a Small World

Proving without a shadow of a doubt that simply downsizing everyday items makes them instantly adorable, Anna Hrachovec has created an overnight sensation with her ongoing series of tiny objects. Ranging from animals to edibles to computer equipment, you name it and there’s a good chance that Anna has a yarn-and-fiberfill replica that could fit in the palm of you hand. After slowly doling out a few tiny patterns in irresistible sets for the past year or so, her latest book, Teeny-Tiny MochiMochi: More Than 40 Itty-Bitty Minis to Knit, Wear, and Give has finally been unleashed upon the world, bundling together scores of quick, cute knits.

For any knitter that has been disappointed by the crocheted amigurumi craze, unable to create such adorable stuffed toys, this is the book for you! Containing such a wide variety of items that there’s bound to be something that everyone will love, one of my favorite aspects of these mini knits is how quick they are to make. Small size means small time commitment, so you can churn these cuties out in no time– A particularly useful fact if you’re stuck for last-minute gifts.

As one of Anna’s devoted test-knitters, I can’t claim an unbiased opinion here, but I can tell you that I would have purchased this compilation of cuteness anyway. I mean honestly, how could you resist patterns for…

…A tiny cupcake, complete with rainbow seed bead sprinkles?

How about a plump, green pear, almost realistic enough to imagine out in the orchards?

Don’t forget about the starches; a baked potato topped off with beaded chives and a generous pat of sewn in “butter” would sure hit the spot!

Anna has even managed to create the ever-elusive vegan fried egg! I must admit though, it was a bit fibrous for my tastes.

I did slightly modify my knits to exclude the eyes, but only because this vegan prefers not to have food that can look back at me. Still, the adorable factor hasn’t suffered in the least, if I do say so myself. While the section of tiny foods was clearly my focus, there’s still a whole world of tiny knits to explore far beyond the faux edibles. The miniature lion is next up on my knit list.

For all you eager crafters out there, you’re in luck- Ever generous, Anna and her publisher have offered to giveaway a second copy of Teeny-Tiny MochiMochi to one lucky blog reader! To secure your copy, all you need to do is leave me a comment, using correct contact info, telling me what item you’d like to see as a tiny knit next. Anna is still hard at work on this series, so who knows, you may see your suggestion show up on her blog some day soon! Be sure to comment before Wednesday, August 24th at midnight EST, at which point I’ll choose a winner via random number generator.  Open to residents of the US only.  So ready your double-pointed needles and start thinking small; there’s a whole tiny world to explore!

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