Sunday, June 19, 2011

Cruelty-Free Desserts

I definitely have a weakness for sweets.  It seems that I have an entire mouth full of sweet teeth, rather than just the proverbial “sweet tooth.”  Friends have often been amazed at how much ice cream, cookies, or cake I am able to consume. When I became vegan, I was dismayed at the fact that I would no longer be able to indulge in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food or be sent into a food coma after eating a Pizza Cookie at Oregano’s.  However, after thinking about it, what could be more the antithesis of a delightful dessert than considering how the animal products within were procured?  It was enough for me to give up those delectable treats, but of course I had to find replacements.  It is therefore my continuous mission to discover the most delicious vegan desserts. 

I do a lot of baking, and my non-vegan friends and family seem to find everything I make delicious.  I often hear, “You can’t even tell it’s vegan!” or am met with a sense of bewilderment: “No eggs? Milk?  Butter?  But how?”  Not only are these desserts delicious, they are much healthier than their non-vegan counterparts.  My point here is that you should try it before you judge it.  You will probably be pleasantly surprised.  That is not to say that the items I list below are “healthy” or should be eaten all the time.

If you are looking for a great vegan dessert or have the chance to try one, the following is my list of top recommendations.  Some are products you can buy locally, while others are served at specific bakeries and restaurants.  Here are my current top ten, listed in no particular order:

1.       Soy Dreamy Ice Cream – Trader Joe’s
This stuff honestly doesn’t even taste like soy ice cream—it’s that creamy.  The best flavors are Cherry Chocolate Chip and Vanilla Mango.  Just thinking about it makes me want to go buy some right now.

2.       Vegan Cookies – Trader Joe’s
There are a few different flavors, and they are all delicious—chocolate chip, trail mix, and oatmeal chocolate chip.  I usually make sure to bring a bag along on road trips.

3.      So Delicious Neapolitan Ice Cream Sandwiches – health food store or grocery store
What can I say?  The miniature size makes them so cute, and with vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry soy ice cream flavors all in one dessert, how can you go wrong?

4.      Purely Decadent Ice Cream Bars – health food store or grocery store
These things are made with coconut milk and sweetened with agave, so there is no cane sugar added.  My favorite is vanilla ice cream coated in chocolate with almonds.  Words cannot explain how delicious they are.

5.      Vegan Red Velvet Cupcakes – Sprinkles Cupcakes, Phoenix, AZ and Los Angeles, CA
When I realized I could no longer partake in Sprinkles Cupcakes, I was kind of devastated.  When my roommate presented me with a signature Sprinkles cardboard box on my birthday, I thought she was playing some kind of mean trick.  But lo and behold, Sprinkles offers a vegan cupcake!  If you are lucky enough to live near a Sprinkles, you must try one immediately!  You definitely cannot tell that this cupcake is vegan.  By the way, they also offer a gluten-free cupcake. 

6.      German Chocolate Cake – Herbivore Café, Berkeley, CA
It was just like the chocolate cake my ancestors made, except no animals were harmed to make it.  Right up my alley. 

7.      I am Bliss Chocolate-Hazelnut Cream Torte – Café Gratitude, locations throughout CA
If you are going to this place, you need to have an open mind.  It seemed like our waitress had achieved a state of inner peace.  Also, the dishes all have names that start with “I am…” and they are all fantastic.  After I tried the torte and the homemade soy ice cream sundae I wanted to stand on the table and shout “I am in heaven!” 

8.      Anything from BabyCakes Bakery, New York, NY, Los Angeles, CA, and Walt Disney World Resory, FL
I plan on going to the BabyCakes storefront while I am in New York next weekend.  So far, I have used their cookbook to create some of their treats myself, and ohmygosh.  Seriously good stuff.  Most of it is also gluten free, too. 

9.      Vegan Carob Chocolate Cheesecake – Persian Garden Café, Phoenix, AZ
It was just so good.

10.  Chocolove Cherries & Almonds in 55% Dark – health food store and grocery store
I am definitely a chocoholic.  I recommend this chocolate bar as one that is not overly bitter.  It also contains a love poem inside, usually Shakespeare.  Love it!

Enjoy!  And don't forget to brush your teeth (with cruelty-free toothpaste)!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mangos are Marvelous

Ani Difranco has a song called “The Atom,” in which she extols its virtues.  It goes:

The glory of the atom
begs a reverent word
the primary design
of the whole universe
yes, let us sing its praises
let us bow our heads in prayer
at the magnificent consciousness
incarnate there  

Of course, she then goes on to decry nuclear power and weaponry.  Anyway, since I have taken up the guitar, perhaps I should write a song entitled “The Mango,” in which I explain the wondrousness of this fruit (without any political undertones, although I’m all for sticking it to “The Man”).  It would be a great idea if I could actually write poetry, or if I could picture myself singing at the farmers’ market on Saturdays.  I should probably just stick with the blog.
For some reason, I had never eaten a mango until this past year.  Maybe I have not mentioned this before, but I have always been a very, shall we say, “picky” eater, always sticking to certain staple foods.  That is why becoming vegan has been such an eye-opening experience for me.  I have tried so many new, wonderful foods and dishes that have been not only delicious, but healthy.  When I realized how amazing mangos were, I started trying to include them in as many of my recipes as possible.  So go out and eat a mango today!  Use the previous recipe and treat yourself to a delightful smoothie.  Include it in your salsa or fruit salad.  Change up what you eat once in a while and find a new and delicious snack to fall in love with.

Facts about Mangos:
  • Mangos are an excellent source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, pro-biotic dietary fiber, and Potassium. 
  • Mangos are known as “The King of Fruit” in some places.
  • Mangos are eaten more than any other fruit in the world.
How to tell if a Mango is Ripe:
Mangos come in an array of red, yellow, and green.  To tell if a mango is ripe, don’t judge by its color, but whether or not it is a bit soft (but not too soft) and fragrant. 

How to Slice a Mango:
Mangos have gigantic seeds in the center.  There are a number of ways to slice a mango.  What I have found to be the easiest is to use a knife to slice around this large seed and then scoop the flesh out from the skin.  Some people like to cut a grid-like pattern into the flesh and then push the skin inside out and break off the small squares.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Simple Yet Spectacular Summer Smoothies

I am a smoothie snob.  I believe this can all be traced back to the summer I was fifteen, when I was lucky enough to go on vacation with my aunt to Hawaii.  In addition to having many terrific adventures, it was there that I tasted the strawberry smoothie to which all others would be compared; sweet, creamy, cool and refreshing—the perfect blend served up poolside, including a little umbrella.  I am going to go out on a limb here and say that those smoothies probably were not vegan; but they certainly were delicious.  Ever since then, I have been on a mission to find a smoothie that could measure up.  It can’t be too icy, for one thing.  Nor can it be more equated to a milkshake than a smoothie.  Needless to say, I have been frequently disappointed.  There is only one other smoothie that has truly lived up to my expectations, and it was found at the Tiger Lily Cafe, back home on Long Island.  Their raspberry-mango soy smoothie is vegan paradise in a plastic cup.  For the most part, I create my own smoothies now, and I like to keep my ingredient list as simple as possible:
  • Ice
  • Vanilla soy milk or vanilla almond milk – the vanilla flavor really adds something!
  • fresh fruit – strawberries, pineapple, mango, bananas (whatever you like)

Strawberry-Banana Smoothie
  • handful of ice
  • 1 cup chopped strawberries
  • 1 sliced banana
  • about 1 cup vanilla soy milk

Mango Smoothie
  • handful of ice
  • 1 mango, sliced
  • about 1 cup vanilla soy milk

Toss it all in a blender, and there you have it!  For a colder, thicker smoothie, I freeze my strawberries once they are sliced.  You can mix and match your fruit to suit your heart’s desire, and vary the amount of ice, milk, and fruit until you have created your own perfect smoothie.  Sometimes I even pour my smoothie into those ice pop trays we used when we were kids and throw it in the freezer.  It’s a delicious treat packed with Vitamin C and plenty of protein, too.  Enjoy!