Christmas in July

Sleigh bells are most certainly not ringing on this sweltering day, but in a summer state of mind, the ice cream truck’s cheerful jingle could happily suffice. Christmas in July is a phenomena that has not yet truly caught on in the US, typically reserved as a poor excuse to go on shopping sprees or drink a few too many cocktails by the beach. The lack of decent holidays through the hottest months of the year has me searching high and low for new events to celebrate, anything to shake up the monotony of one hot and busy day after another, so I say it’s high time we start getting into the spirit. Build a “snowman” on out of sand, string lights onto a palm tree, make gingerbread baked inside oranges over the campfire! If you can find an indoor rink, now is the best time to go ice skating, too; shockingly empty of other skaters, it’s the perfect chilly respite from a 100-degree afternoon.

Better yet, serve up some peppermint-mocha whoopie pies.

Though they do require quick use of the oven, the sweat will be worthwhile, since the end results are satisfyingly sweet and cooling. A spinoff on my Peppermint Mocha Trifles from Vegan Desserts, this hand-held version is ideal for speedy baking and on-the-go eating. Just make a half batch of everything, adding 3/4 cup of flour to the cake portion. Instead of pouring the cake batter into a baking dish, scoop it out onto a silpat-lined baking sheet, using a small cookie scoop for consistent shapes. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes at 350 degrees, until just lightly browned around the edges, and let cool completely. Spread your chilled chocolate custard between two cookies, and then roll the edges in crushes candy canes. Voila, a miniature, portable trifle- With a touch of summery Christmas spirit!

This will make you approximately 36 individual cookies, and thus 18 finished whoopie pies. Store the cake-like sandwiches in the fridge for maximum refreshment, or in the freezer to make mock-ice cream sandwiches. Be sure to eat them quickly once the peppermint candies have been added- As evidence by my photo, the can melt quickly due to the moisture and heat. Plus, I can’t imagine anyone being able to resist chowing down for that long!

Picture This

Change comes slowly, incrementally building while no one’s looking, until suddenly the vast difference can no longer be ignored. That fact had never been more clear while going over the raw manuscript of Vegan Desserts, and giving the photos their final assessment. Though all of the recipes already had photos taken about a year ago, some of them showed their age, and in the most unflattering way. Blurry focus, poor lighting, bizarre styling decisions plagued almost all; it was hard to believe that these images might have made it to print previously. Pictures speak louder than words, however, so I’ll let you see for yourself…

No decisions were easy here, and the originals weren’t bad enough for me to delete altogether, but it’s a curious thing to see the contrast between two (or three) photos of the same thing, taken with a good bit of time between them.  (The following photos are arranged with the first attempt(s) on the left, the final, printed photos on the right.)

This one was a particularly tough photo to ultimately reject, because the cute-factor is a whole new category not even touched in most food photos. Perhaps for a reason, though. Isis was so excited about her treat, she wouldn’t stay still, and thus is one blur of a puppy on film. Yes, my dad had to assist on this shot, both in holding the biscuit, and holding Isis back so that she didn’t wolf down the biscuit before I could snap a shot! Also note that the original version of the Canine Cookies were carob-coated, but that ended up smearing on the rug beautifully, so I switched to chips mixed in.

The Grasshopper Cake was really something else; a slightly intimidating multi-layer cake that could feed an army for a month. Or at least it felt that way, when I found myself redoing the photo not once, but twice to make three separate attempts altogether. Beginning life as a 4-layer, square cake, it became clear after that first failed shot that it was simply too much cake for any sensible person to bake up at once. Then, somehow, it turned neon-green on film, and looked downright radioactive. The final photo that went to print still could use some work in the lighting department, but at least the frosting doesn’t look like I mixed in day-glow wall paint as an ingredient.

My blood oranges may not have been such a luscious shade of crimson red the second time around, but the effect of seeing them arranged on the whole Blood Orange Upside-Down Cake was worth the effort of a full redo. Simply from an instructional view, it made more sense to show how the orange slices were laid out on the cake, to make it easier to replicate for the casual recipe reader. Plus, any excuse to break out the antique milk glass cake stand is one I want to use!

And the humiliating examples could go on, but I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. Have you ever taken a glance back at old photos and wondering what you were thinking? How this could have ever been acceptable? Give it a try, take a stroll down a photographic memory lane; It’s more entertaining than you may think!

Free for the Baking

Releasing a cookbook out into the wild is much like what I imagine sending off your child to their first day of school would feel like. Anxiety is the first feeling that flutters in my chest, because they’ve never been on their own before. Without the conscientious oversight of their mother, who knows what might come flying out of their mouth, especially given their rapidly expanding vocabulary? And what if the other kids don’t see what a loving parent does, and can’t accept them for both their gifts and flaws? What if they face rejection, and can’t make friends?

Of course, a book is not something that needs to be consoled after a bad day on the shelf, nor will it come home beaming with a winning smile, bubbling over to share all of the wonderful adventures and exploits it went on with new buddies. That, my friends, is where I need you. How is my baby doing? Is it minding its manners? Making positive contributions to the class? I sure wish they printed these things with blank progress reports included.

In an effort to continue gathering more opinions, and above all else, spreading the sweetness, I can hardly keep from handing out my whole personal stash of hard copies. So I won’t fight it; I want you to have my book, in your hands and your kitchen! No follow-up reviews are required of the winner, but certainly would be appreciated.

If you’re interested in securing yourself a free copy of Vegan Desserts, just visit this thread on the PPK boards, wherein I’ve posted the full listing of included recipes. Browse through the titles at your leisure, and tell me: What is the first thing you want to bake when you get the book? What catches your eye? Is it the ever-popular Mint Chocolate Macarons?

Or perhaps one of my favorites, the Watermelon Bombe?

Whatever it is that strikes your fancy, just tell me about it in the comments! Please, only one comment per person, on THIS POST and not the PPK boards, left before midnight EST, May 18th. There is to be one winner, to be announced shortly thereafter. I’m very sorry to put a limit on this one, but since I can’t spring for international shipping with such a heavy book, I’m afraid that the contest is restricted to residents of the US only.

They’re Here…

No, not the poltergeist, but the books! My books! After laboriously dragging each 50-pound carton in through the front door, it felt so surreal to slice open the packing tape and see the fresh print staring back at me. Those same photos and words that I sweated over, painstakingly tweaked and fine-tuned for what seemed like a lifetime… Well, it all hasn’t quite sunken in yet, but it is completely thrilling. The delivery of those heavy texts is easily the most rewarding part of the process thus far, hopefully to be trumped still by happy bakers and satisfied sweet tooths (fingers crossed!)

This means that if you’ve pre-ordered, I am so grateful for your support, and your copy should be arriving on your doorstep shortly! Please, let me know what you think- Drop me a line, or consider leaving a review on Amazon.

And like most cookbooks and books in general, errors and omissions have already been spotted. Nothing major, not to worry, but I’ve started up an errata page to keep anything straight. If you should spot anything else out of place, don’t hesitate to say so.

In book-related events, if you happen to be in the New York area this weekend and want a signed book or some fabulous baked goods for a good cause, do not pass go, do not collect $100, but head straight to MooShoes on May 1st. Come celebrate both the release of Vegan Desserts and the World Wide Vegan Bake Sale. There will be tons of incredible sweet treats, in addition to a few selections from my book, so you can quite literally get a taste of the recipes within.

In case you can’t make it, the following Saturday, May 7th, I’ll be signing books and handing out samples at the Barnes and Noble in Westport, CT, starting at 1:00.

Coming right up after that on Sunday, May 15, you can find me hanging out at the Veggie Pride Parade in NYC, doing something similar yet again. So come, dress up like a carrot, and get yourself a book!

Many more opportunities to meet me and eat free food will be scheduled in soon, so stay tuned! And of course, Happy Baking!