Primed and Polished

Right alongside clothing concerns, from ethical production to actual components, cosmetics are often one of the last things that one considers when choosing a vegan lifestyle. In our food-obsessed culture, the focus is almost entirely on diet, while the remainder of our vast purchasing habits go largely unquestioned. It’s confusing, too, discerning the difference between cruelty-free certifications and pledges to avoid animal testing.

Then there’s the considerations towards personal health. Just finding something off the shelf that’s non-toxic is surprisingly difficult, with many mainstream labels boasting genuinely harmful chemicals like dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, and camphor. When brands say that they’re five-free, it’s these bad apples that don’t make the cut. Now, many are taking it a step further to go “seven-free,” excluding triphenyl phosphate (TPHP) and xylene. That’s before we even start talking about shades and shimmers.

Based in Australia, Sienna Byron Bay has made the decision an easy one. Completely sustainable, vegan, and genuinely beneficial for your nails with breathable, water permeable polishes, each dazzling hue offers smart beauty in a bottle. Considering the disturbing number of landmines one must avoid when making an informed purchase, I was delighted to learn of this new brand, jumping at the opportunity to adorn my own fingertips.

That said, after years of grabbing hot pans out of the oven and washing dishes with scalding water, my hands are not very pretty to look at. To do these gorgeous lacquers proper justice AND enjoy them for longer than the average lifespan of a manicure, I decided to get a bit crafty.

Turning just a few drops of Sundance and Grace into genuine paints, plain white bowls became marbleized masterpieces in minutes. The idea is not a new one, but timelessly brilliant for any fellow photographers looking to jazz up their prop closet, or crafty kids who want to give personalized gifts this holiday season (because it’s never too early to start planning!)

Just fill a large bucket with enough water to submerge your dishes and drizzle your polishes of choice randomly over the top. The colors will float! Dip carefully, in one slow plunge, covering the surface smoothly. Let dry, but if you’re not happy with the results, just hit it with some nail polish remover and try again. Add more polish to the water if needed. Use with care, avoiding both the dishwasher and microwave to preserve the pattern.

Greater awareness of issues with cosmetics is building, which is very exciting to see, even as a fair-weather beauty enthusiast. Do you have any hot tips on brands to seek out, or surprising labels to avoid? It’s time to clean the shelves; no matter how you use lacquer, no one wants an evil genie to come out of those bottles.

Advertisements

Out of the Blue

Sharp. Salty. Smelly. Moldy.
What, were you raised in a cave?

If you happened to be a wheel of blue cheese, the answer is most likely “Yes!”

These complex blue-veined curds have traditionally been aged in caves, and still are to acquire the distinctive ambrosial funk specific to the local bacterial population. Some speculate the the earliest batches of the stinky wheels were actually mistakes, unintentionally inoculated with the natural mold in these subterranean shelters. Praise of the highest order is due to the brave soul who first thought such a terrible case of spoilage might still be edible, let alone delicious.

Though caves are no longer required for production, such a unique flavor and aroma can only be reproduced with Penicillium roqueforti cultures to accurately bear the label. Such rigorous regulations put this funky delicacy firmly out of reach for the average food crafter, no matter how obsessive, especially if dairy is off the menu.

Authenticity be damned, irrepressible cravings for a bite of the blue stuff needn’t be denied for lack of access to this illusive ingredient. Lending its own singular sort of funk, fermented Chinese tofu is what gives my plant-based facsimile its unmistakable, irrepressible twang. Taking this shortcut to building instant bold flavors allows my particular cheesy delight to achieve depth without delay. No need to wait for any spores to work their magic; it’s instantly delicious, as soon as it’s set.

Swirls of blue-green algae lend it a convincing appearance, but this is purely for aesthetics. Feel free to skip straight to the finish line without detracting from the overall eating experience one bit.

Such a pungent fixing goes a long way in small doses, which makes it ideal for sprinkling on salads or mixing into dips, rather than serving it up solo. Finally achieving my platonic ideal of a wedge salad, this deceptively simple composition of crunchy lettuce, smoky bacon bits, and fresh cherry tomatoes is really just a vehicle for that deeply savory dressing. Go ahead and really slather it on thick; we all know you’re not eating a head of iceberg lettuce for any other reason.

Yield: Makes About 1/2 Pound Blue Cheese

Vegan Blue Cheese

Vegan Blue Cheese

Funky, fermented blue cheese takes shape with a Chinese tofu and no dairy at all! This vegan version is quick and easy to whip up, and packs in a savory, satisfyingly salty flavor into every creamy bite.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Additional Time 8 hours
Total Time 8 hours 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 5 Ounces Fermented Chinese Tofu
  • 1/4 Cup Cooked White Beans
  • 1/2 Ounce (About 1 1/2 – 2 Tablespoons) Chopped Scallions, White Parts Only
  • 2 Tablespoons Barley Miso Paste
  • 1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
  • 1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 Teaspoon Lemon Juice
  • 1 Teaspoon Nutritional Yeast
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Onion Powder
  • 1/3 Cup Refined Coconut Oil, Melted
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Spirulina (Optional, for Color)

Instructions

  1. Before getting started, have a 1 1/2 - 2 cup glass, ceramic, or BPA-free plastic container at the ready. I like to use glass containers that come with lids, so they can function both as the mold for initial shaping and as a more long-term storage solution. Lightly grease and set aside.
  2. Very thoroughly drain the fermented tofu before tossing it into your blender or food processor along with the beans and scallions. Puree until completely smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed to incorporate all of the ingredients. Add in the miso, both vinegars, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, and onion powder next, blending to combine.
  3. With the motor running, slowly stream in the liquefied coconut oil, creating a creamy emulsion much like a salad dressing. Make sure the whole mixture is perfectly silken, without any remaining lumps, before proceeding.
  4. Remove about 2 tablespoons of the base and place it in a small bowl. Stir in the spirulina and briefly set aside. Pour the rest of the concoction into your prepared storage vessel, tapping it on the counter to remove any air bubbles. Add the blue-tinted portion in small spoonfuls, swirling it throughout with a thin spatula or knife.
  5. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or until fully solidified. The finished cheese will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Recommended Products

Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. I have experience with all of these companies and I recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something through my links.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

16

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 56 Total Fat: 5g Saturated Fat: 4g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 1g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 41mg Carbohydrates: 2g Net Carbohydrates: 0g Fiber: 0g Sugar: 0g Sugar Alcohols: 0g Protein: 1g
Yield: Makes 4 Servings

Classic Wedge Salad

Classic Wedge Salad

The ideal wedge salad s deceptively simple composition of crunchy lettuce, smoky bacon bits, and fresh cherry tomatoes is really just a vehicle for that deeply savory dressing. Go ahead and really slather it on thick; we all know you’re not eating a head of iceberg lettuce for any other reason.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes

Ingredients

Blue Cheese Dressing:

  • 1/2 Small Shallot, Finely Minced
  • 2/3 Cup Vegan Mayonnaise
  • 1/2 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
  • 1 Tablespoon Fresh Parsley, Minced
  • 1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
  • 1/2 Cup Crumbled Dairy-Free Blue Cheese (See Recipe Above)

Wedge Salad Fixings:

  • 1 Head Iceberg Lettuce
  • 4 Ounces Vegan Bacon
  • 2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
  • 1 Cup Cherry Tomatoes, Halved

Instructions

  1. Prepare the blue cheese dressing by simply combining the shallot,
    mayo, non-dairy milk, parsley, and vinegar in a medium bowl, stirring
    until smooth. Add the blue cheese chunks and mix in gently.
  2. Assembly is just as easy. Quarter and core the lettuce, placing one
    wedge on each plate. Drizzle liberally with the blue cheese dressing and
    top with meatless bacon bits, scallions, and cherry tomatoes. Serve
    right away.

Recommended Products

Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. I have experience with all of these companies and I recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something through my links.

 

 

 

The Meat of the Matter

Order a veggie burger at any restaurant and steel yourself for a surprise- Whether or not it’s a good one. What might arrive at your table could be anything from a verdant green mash of chickpeas and spinach, or a “bloody” meat-facsimile so authentic that some carnivores wouldn’t know the difference. The humble vegetarian staple has undergone a stunning evolution in a very short amount of time, thanks to the spread of veganism, but also increased health and environmental concerns. Not everyone wants to eat legume patties when they’re craving beef, which is what makes this latest round of plant-based innovations particularly encouraging. I’ve long said that you don’t need to be vegan to eat vegan, and these more accessible, familiar options make the concept considerably more feasible. I’ve already covered the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger here, but they’re far from the only players in this game.

Tofurky, proud meatless proponents for over 2 decades, has managed to maintain their space in this competitive market while winning over new fans. Their copious and diverse offerings are a testament to that, providing something for everyone. Now, that includes the staunch meat-eaters among us, thanks to their newly launched line of Do-It-Yourself grinds, approximating the look, texture, and of course, flavor of traditional ground beef and/or pork, depending on your seasoned kit of choice. Today, with grilling season right around the corner, I’m talking burgers.

Molding easily into patties, no additional binders are necessary for sound, solid construction. They hold together beautifully through the entire cooking process, never once threatening to crumble under pressure. Before long, a distinctly meaty aroma will fill the air, but the scent also has a also wheaty aspect, like good old glutenous seitan.

Cooking quickly, it takes only 3 – 5 minutes per side to achieve a nice sear; a satisfying transformation that creates a crisp crust and seals in a juicy, tender interior. Hearty, satisfying, but not fatty nor greasy, this is the midway point between old school and new tech. Beefy without the overwhelming sensation of sinew, it’s an ideal savory, neutral foundation to build upon. You can truly make it your own with herbs and spices, or keep it simple for the classic backyard BBQ experience. It’s not a perfect dupe for the animal it was made to imitate, but I believe it comes close enough to quell a craving, without turning away those repulsed by the reminder of the flesh inspiration.

Best of all, the DIY format allows you to depart from the typical patty path and forge your own culinary adventure. Crumble the grind and cook it with a healthy dose of spice, load it into a crunchy corn tortilla, and taco night will never be the same again. That’s just the tip of the meatless iceberg, as they (might?) say. Think meatloaf, bolognese sauce, stuffed pasta and casseroles galore. Pick out any recipe your stomach desires and simply substitute this plant-based protein in a 1-to-1 ratio for ground beef. Anything meat can do, Tofurky can do better.

No Bones About It

Iconic as it is deeply flawed, the imagery of a dog gnawing away at a huge, meaty bone is one embedded in our cultural fabric, a remnant of misguided early training practices. Our tiny beasts are carnivores at heart, some argue, irresistibly drawn to the taste of meat, who love nothing more than savoring our scraps while getting a good dental workout at the same time. Without picking apart the umpteen faults in that shaky logic, the irrefutable truth is that bones are dangerous for dogs big and small, young and old. Brittle and easily snapped into pointed shards, those sharp pieces can result in choking, digestive blockages, cuts around the gums and throat, vomiting, and in the worst cases, yes, those symptoms can be compounded, and that innocent treat can become fatal.

Vegan or not, bones have no place on the menu for humans, so why should they suffice for our canine companions? Countless alternatives exist for safer, softer options, including those made from scraps of a different sort. Polishing off a few yards of leftover remnant yarn, this quick knit bone was a satisfying project for both human and animal participants.

A prodigious chewer with especially pointed little teeth, I thought for sure my monster baby would tear right through my handiwork in less time than it took to complete, but I’m happily surprised by its longevity thus far. Content to teethe rather than shred, Luka seems to savor this new toy with a sense of appreciation. It’s only a matter of time before the plush facsimile lies in ruin, no doubt, but that can easily be replaced; the pup himself most certainly cannot.

Short and Sweet

Good things come in small packages. Navigating the world as a vertically challenged person, this particular truism is one that I hold close to heart. Height, or lack thereof, should never be viewed as an obstacle, but rather celebrated for all the unique benefits it provides. Leg room is never an issue when flying, even on a cut-rate coach ticket, for example, and it’s effortless to slip in (or out) of a crowd. I’d like to think that a smaller size means that all the good things inside are merely condensed and intensified to fit, amplified into a more pure form. Although that can’t be said for all people, that’s certainly the case for strawberry shortcake.

Modern interpretations of this sweet biscuit sandwich stretch the definition, often towering higher than a modest layer cake, but at its core, the concept remains short and sweet. Today, I’m here to push the boundaries further, albeit in the opposite direction. Flattening out the assembly into one thin plank, this confectionery rendition measures less than a centimeter tall, dazzling with flavor rather than lofty aspirations.

Encased in darkly caramelized toffee, crispy quinoa stands in for cake or biscuits, adding just the right cereal note to support the star players. Strawberries, dried and sliced, are both beautiful and flavorful; removing the excess water creates a far sweeter treat than fresh fruit, while simultaneously extending their shelf life to suit any season. Whipped cream is out of the picture, handily replaced by a luscious drizzle of white chocolate instead.

Although shortness often carried negative associations, like being short-tempered or getting short shrift, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t celebrate the more compact things (and people) among us. There’s no need to drone on and turn this into a long post; let’s keep it short and sweet, starting with a morsel of strawberry shortcake toffee, shall we?

Strawberry Shortcake Toffee

1/2 Ounce Freeze-Dried Strawberries, Divided
1/3 Cup Crispy Quinoa Cereal or Crispy Rice Cereal
3/4 Cup Vegan Butter
1 Cup Demerara or Turbinado Sugar
1 Tablespoon 100% Grade B Maple Syrup
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

3 Ounces (1/2 Cup Chips or Finely Chopped Pieces) Vegan White Chocolate, Melted

Line an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, lightly grease, and sprinkle half of the freeze-dried strawberries along with all of the crispy cereal over the bottom, as evenly as possible. Set aside.

Grind the remaining dried strawberries down to a fine powder in a coffee or spice grinder. Combine it with the vegan butter, sugar, maple syrup, and salt in a medium-sized saucepan and set over moderate heat. Stir just to moisten all of the sugar, and then keep your spatula out of the mixture until the very end. Instead, swirl the pan gently to mix the contents, which will help prevent premature crystal formation.

Allow the margarine to melt and sugar to dissolve before clipping a thermometer to the side of the pan. You’ll want to bring the sugar to a steady boil, until it turns a deep amber brown color and reaches 300 degrees, which is also known as the “hard crack stage” of candy making.

Turn off the heat, carefully stir in the vanilla as it may sputter angrily, and immediately pour the mixture into your prepared pan. Try to pour it evenly over the goodies within so as not to displace the goodies at the bottom.

Let cool completely before snapping into more manageable pieces. Drizzle with melted white chocolate, and let set once more before handling. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature.

Printable Recipe

Shell Shocked

Whole coconuts are a luxurious culinary delight as much as they are potentially lethal weapons. Yes, you read that correctly. The humble brown-husked coconut, now fully immersed in popular culture and ubiquitous in even the most basic mainstream grocery stores, is ripe with potential… To maim or seriously injure the irreverent home cook. You’ve survived the harvest, cleared from the danger of falling coconuts that sometimes fall like bombs on the heads of unsuspecting beach-goers, but freed from the tree, that rock hard husk takes on an all new means of attack. If I were to add up all the cuts, gashes, bruises, and scrapes I’ve personally accumulated over the years of failed attempts to break into the delicious white flesh within, let’s just say it wouldn’t be a pretty picture.

In spite of it all, I keep on coming back for round after round of punishment. It was only after a sleepless night of internet searches that I thought to investigate a better way to get my coconut meat and eat it, too. Turns out, there is a trick to it. Just whack the damn thing. Seriously.

Put away the steel spikes, hammers, rubber mallets, machetes, and any other heavy artillery you thought was needed to break into those spherical fortresses. Just hit the coconut with the blunt side of a heavy knife a few times, all around the center, until it cracks cleanly into two perfect, equal halves. Catch the water in the bowl underneath and have yourself a victory toast.

With this radical new approach, I have all the coconut I can possibly eat. After drinking the water and using the meat to make coconut butter and coconut flour, I was left with the empty shells.

Nothing goes to waste around here, though, so they too became the focus of my restless mind. For the avid crafter and food photographer, what could be better than a brand new set of beautiful, organic bowls? The most difficult part of the project is sanding away the rough hairs on the outside. Once clean and fairly smooth, even out the edge just so that it’s not sharp, but allow some of the character of the coconut to remain. Strive for wabi-sabi aesthetics, not perfection.

You could stop right there and seal the deal with a food-safe enamel, or go over it first with a bold splash of colored paint. I went with a bit of glitz and glamor for this set, spraying the interior with gold before touching up the exterior with a high-contrast black matte. I know there will be many more where these came from, so the opportunities to unleash new color combinations will be endless!