Christmas in July

Christmas in July is a lot like a half-birthday party. Most people ignore the midway marker, saving their energy for the main event later on down the road, but those who do observe go all out. More than a thinly veiled excuse to eat cake and throw a party on an otherwise mundane day, it’s an opportunity to spread holiday cheer when spirits may be flagging. Of course, cake is a necessary component.

Sometimes I wonder if the concept was originally popularized by writers and photographers hell bent on meeting magazine deadlines. Traditional publications are notorious for their extensive lead times, which means that July is high time to get those winter columns locked in. While visions of sugar plums dance in their heads, children splash through sprinklers beneath the summer sun. Feasts are prepared for readers to devour many months later, but right now, what’s one to do with the actual food? Really, the only responsible thing to do is turn it into a full-fledged holiday, lest all that festive effort go to waste.

While it’s still a temporary tease to patient VegNews subscribers, rest assured that this year’s yule log will be epic whenever you can roll it up. Fluffy peanut butter mousse wrapped up in a spiral of salted pretzel sponge cake sets this one apart from the predictable pumpkin spice or gingerbread affairs. A thin coating of whipped coconut cream provides the edible adhesion for thin planks of chocolate bark, making for an impressive finish that anyone can achieve. Flurries of soft confectioner’s sugar stand in for snow, melting away on the tongue, not in the mid-July heat.

Merry Christmas, one and all, now or later! If you’re a good, Santa might just swing by with this sweet treat in six month’s time.

One Tough Cookie Contest

Judging any sort of food competition sounds like a pretty cushy job at first glance. You get to taste all sorts of exotic delights, compare and contrast, ultimately laying down the official ruling on which entry takes the cake- Or cookie, as was the case for the 2017 VegNews Holiday Cookie Contest. However, I don’t envy the ruling critics on this panel, tasting their way through an onslaught of sweet morsels, every one of them with the potential to win hearts, if not the entire competition. Luckily, such agonizing decisions were not mine to make, as I merely provided photos for the feature while relishing the end results on my own terms. No need to pick favorites between these three; you’ll be a winner no matter which treats end up on Santa’s plate!

Officially, first place went to the classy and classic Chocolate-Dipped Almond Cranberry Shortbread Cookies by Rosie Scott-Benson. This cookie pairs an irresistibly buttery shortbread cookie with rich chocolate for a winning combination.

Coming in at a close second, Gluten-Free Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal Cream Pies by Mary-Kate Lynch are lightly spiced, soft and sweet; sure to be a hit at your holiday parties, and beyond.

Third but far from last, the Dirty Chai Sugar Cookies by Amy McDonough may honestly have been my personal favorites from this round. These are tender, chewy cookies infused with warming chai spices and topped with a creamy espresso-spiked frosting. Honestly, does it get much better than that? I think that even Santa would forgive you for scarfing down the whole batch before he has time to shimmy down the chimney.

Given the diverse array of tempting last-minute additions, are you changing up your holiday cookie game this year? What’s going on your platters, and tell the truth: Are you really planning on sharing with Santa? There’s no shame is giving yourself a little gift of sweetness as well!

A Cookie for Every Craving

Whether you’ve baked a dozen batches of every cookie bookmarked in your recipe file or have yet to fire up the oven, it’s never too late to squeeze in another sweet option. Especially true around the holidays, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the season than with a few homemade morsels of sweetness. The possibilities are simply endless, taking form in every shape under the sun, boasting colors and flavors previously beyond the scope of imagination. Even if you have a game plan all set out for your festive gifts, desserts, and midnight snacks, it’s never to late to add a few more recipes to that list.

This is especially true when you’re talking about the winners of the annual VegNews Holiday Cookie Contest. Certified delicious by a panel of discerning sweet teeth, I was tasked with an assignment of significant import: Photographing the top three victorious treats. Yes, it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

In third place, the Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies by Alison Sullivan sparkle with the warm spices and rich chocolate flavor. The only thing better than enjoying one still warm out of the oven would be to pair it with a cup of the eponymous beverage itself.

Coming in at second place, the Gingerbread Fudge Buttons by Anna Jurik are real beauties to behold. Luscious pools of melted chocolate resting in tender gingerbread cups, these options are sure to shine on any cookie platter.

Taking the grand prize in first place, it’s easy to see why the Salted Caramel Cookies by Michelle Norton took the cake- Or cookie, as it were. Dangerously easy to whip up, this sweet and salty combination hits all the high notes in every soft, chewy bite. Just try and leave a single one out for Santa, I dare you!

No matter how you decide to celebrate the holiday, or not, be sure to make it sweet. Have a happy everything!

Bits and Bobs, Odds and Sods

Spring is historically a time of fevered activity, as all walks of life resiliently bound back into productivity after winter and its oppressive cold has receded. Never before has this been quite so clear for me, so personally applicable, as this particular stretch of 2013. For all the craziness, it’s hard to believe that we’re still in the thick of it, not yet at summer’s doorstep. This isn’t to complain, though; Being happily occupied for the past few months has been a dream come true, yielding greater rewards through more satisfying work. On that note, you’ll soon be able to see the fruits of that labor in a few upcoming magazines…

Such as the July/August 2013 issue of VegNews Magazine! My thrice yearly column, My Sweet Vegan, is back yet again, this time with a few sweet sips in tow. Boba tea has been a growing craze, sweeping across the nation like wildfire. Though most mainstream options use some questionable additives, not the least of which being dry milk powder, the best way to ensure boba bliss is to take the reins and make it at home. Offering Creamsicle, Chai, and Coconut flavor variations, you’ll have plenty of refreshing options to help you keep your cool.

Now available both in the US and in Canada, the summer edition of Allergic Living is packed full of vegan-friendly inspiration as per usual, crowned by Alisa Fleming‘s irresistible ice cream recipes. No one needed to ask me twice if I wanted to take this photography assignment. Scooping up simple, dairy-free takes on Chocolate and Strawberry Ice Cream, Alisa also goes in-depth on how to make the most decadent sundae imaginable. The above photo was an outtake, but one of my favorites to style… And eat later.

Finally, though not printed or published, another photo of mine has been featured in an exciting way. My Mujaddara Onigiri photo is in the running to win a trip to Thailand! Hosted by Village Harvest Rice, it’s all a popularity contest now, so pardon my periodic reminders to please vote every 24 hours, and spread the word! Your efforts are not only greatly appreciated but beneficial: Just imagine all of the photos and stories I would come back with to share.

Napoleon Complex

You can hardly walk a block through any big city these days without tripping over a vegan-friendly bakery. Littering the landscape with enthusiastic signs proclaiming their versatility with alternative diets, it’s thrilling to get any sort of treat with such ease. The typical selection, however, leaves a bit to be desired. Cupcakes and donuts are easy to find, but it’s the real treasures of classic French pastry that remain so terribly elusive. For anyone craving the finesse of mille-feuille, those gossamer thin sheets of puff pastry baked to a shatteringly crisp crunch, sans butter, there’s simply no where to turn… Except for the kitchen, of course.

Puff pastry may intimidate those unaccustomed to its often temperamental ways, but there’s no shame in buying the frozen variety to shave hours of mind-numbing prep off of the procedure. Rather than going the classic but tired chocolate-and-vanilla route, I wanted something a bit more lively. Lemon zest proved just the trick to add some sparkle to my Lemon-Pistachio Napoleons, baked for the March/April issue of VegNews Magazine. Considering how easy it is to put all the pieces together, it’s just as well that more bakeries don’t take the initiative for themselves. This is one DIY project that is likely far easier than taking a trip out to the nearest patisserie!