Review, Interview, and Giveaway: A Better Batch

Picture this: You’re sitting in a conference room after a daily hour-long meeting ends, catching up on a few emails and chatting with a couple coworkers. In walks another coworker, Sarah.

“Hey, do you guys want a brownie?” Sarah asks.

Something to note about Sarah: She and her husband Hanes run a vegan baking company.

With that in mind, is your answer going to be anything but a resounding YES? I think not.

You proceed to try the fudgiest, chewiest brownie you’ve had in ages. You tell Sarah how amazing it is.

“Oh, yeah? This was Hanes’ first attempt at a brownie!” she says. “Thanks so much for the feedback! We’re hoping to add it to the line soon.”

Jaw. Drop.

~~~

One of the little perks of my job is getting to meet people like Sarah and Hanes, entrepreneurs who offer quality cruelty-free products to the world. Their company, A Better Batch, sells ready-to-bake vegan cookie dough in three delectable flavors, and they occasionally have fully baked products for sale at events like vegfests. If you’re a VegNews reader, you might’ve seen A Better Batch reviewed in the “Cookie Dough Taste Test” in the April 2016 issue! (Read on for a chance to try them yourself!)

A Better Batch -- Photo by Rebekah Collinsworth

Although A Better Batch is based in Maryland, their cookies are available to anyone in the United States thanks to their unique business model. ABB sends you frozen cookie dough that you can bake in your own kitchen. By shipping the dough quickly and packaging it with dry ice, Hanes and Sarah make sure that it will arrive still frozen and ready to bake.

Right now, ABB offers three flavors: mocha oatmeal, lemon poppy seed, and classic chocolate chip. I can say with no reservations that their Lemon Poppy Seed cookies are the best I’ve ever tasted. Bursting with bright lemon flavor, they’re absolutely fabulous. Hanes and Sarah have managed to distill this flavor combination into a perfectly chewy, moist cookie that’s not to be missed. Mocha oatmeal is probably my second favorite — it’s another beautiful cookie, bursting with chocolatey goodness. Chocolate chip comes last, but not because of any defect — it’s a darn good classic cookie that anyone would enjoy.

A Better Batch -- Photo by Rebekah Collinsworth

But good-tasting cookies aren’t all that ABB offers. What sets A Better Batch apart from its competition is Hanes’ and Sarah’s dedication to providing the best possible products for people, the animals, and the environment. Here’s how:

  • Hanes and Sarah carefully source their ingredients, using fair-trade and organic options whenever possible. And by virtue of being vegan, these cookies are free of cholesterol.
  • Everything is vegan — no animals harmed here!
  • The cookies are shipped in biodegradable packaging instead of styrofoam containers, which we all know are horrible for the planet. And the individual wrappers are recyclable.

I’ve had the pleasure of trying ABB’s cookies a few times, but I wanted to know a little more about their business. So I reached out to Hanes, and he graciously answered all my questions and sent me a box of cookies to sample. Read on for his thoughts!

A Better Batch -- Photo by Rebekah Collinsworth

 

~~~

Kelly: Let me start by saying how much I LOVE your lemon poppy seed cookies — they’re the best! Right now, you only have them and two other flavors available (chocolate chip and mocha oatmeal). I like that you have a few flavors that you do really, really well, but are you planning to expand your products in the future?  
Hanes: I’m glad to hear you love the Lemon Poppy Seed cookies! Yes, we do have plans to add more flavors and possibly different products such as brownies in the future. In fact, we just re-released a Peanut Butter cookie that we featured back in August for a limited time; it was a crowd favorite, so we brought it back!

K: Why vegan cookies? How did you get started?
H: My passion for baking started when I was growing up. I loved helping my Mom in the kitchen, and this carried over into adulthood. On the weekends I would get in the kitchen and make biscuits, cakes, cookies, pancakes etc. from scratch. I enjoyed it and found it to be a great creative outlet for me. About 9 years ago, my wife stumbled upon some information online about factory farms and how we treat animals in the current agricultural system. It was pretty shocking and we were completely ignorant to it before that. She started reading more about the subject and sharing a lot of the practices and statistics with me. Over the following few years we both continued to decrease our consumption of animal products and eventually went vegan.

This created a new challenge for me: how do I continue to bake and enjoy a lot of the comfort foods that I love making so much without animal products like butter and eggs? I got in the kitchen and got to work. I tried lots and lots of different recipes and found that I love vegan baking! I find that the vegan baked goods taste even better than the traditional counterparts, and they’re certainly better for animals, the environment, and even our health. I received rave reviews for my vegan cookies. They were being requested anytime we would go to friends’ houses or events. A couple of years ago, I started A Better Batch to make them available to people seeking amazing plant-based desserts everywhere.

K: What makes your batches better, i.e., what distinguishes your cookies from similar brands? 
H: At A Better Batch, we work hard to make sure that our cookies are the best vegan cookies on the market — not only in flavor but also in all aspects of our decision making. We are constantly seeking the best ingredients, which to us means using organic, GMO-free, and socially responsible products. For example, the coffee we use in our Mocha Oatmeal flavor is made by Brewing Good Coffee Company which is organic, Rainforest Alliance certified, and UTZ certified (a sustainable farming certification that covers farming practices, environmental impact, and social and living conditions). Also, their company donates a portion of proceeds to animal charities each month — how great is that! We refuse to use palm oil because of the devastating impact its production has on orangutan habitat. Our sugar, vanilla, and salt are all fair trade. Our boxes are made of 100% recycled material, and we don’t use Styrofoam in our shipping boxes; instead, we use an eco-friendly, biodegradable insulation. We take the taste of our cookies seriously, and we also take caring for the environment and animals seriously.

K: What’s the process like for developing new products? How long does it take?
H: It usually starts with me wanting a particular flavor and then I try and think about how that would look. Then I get in the kitchen and try to make it happen, which really is the fun part, as I get to eat lots and lots of test cookies. Sometimes it’s a very quick process, as with my Peanut Butter cookies (it was the very first attempt that I ended up going with!). Other times, it takes much longer. I’m currently working on a refrigerated cookie dough that you could either just eat with a spoon or bake; it has taken over 3 dozen attempts so far.

K: If you could select any flavor cookie to magically have developed and ready for production, what would it be? 
H: Salted Caramel! This is a cookie I have worked on before and plan to return to. It has proven tricky. I would like a nice soft sugar cookie that has little bites of gooey caramel with a slight sprinkling of sea salt on top to bring it all home. I’m a huge huge caramel fan!

K: I noticed that all your packaging is eco-friendly — how is that tied to your business as a whole? Does that ethic inform everything you do?
H: We want to be the best vegan goodie, not only in flavor and quality, but also in all the little decisions in between such as the packaging.  It’s important for us to make our products the very best way we can and that includes taking our impact on the environment into consideration.

K: Are you a full-time cookie baker, or do you have a(nother) day job?
H: I work during the week as an accountant. A Better Batch is my passion project, which is what I work on in the evenings and on the weekend. It does create a busy schedule sometimes, but the cookie business doesn’t really feel like work!

~~~

I really appreciate how much thought Hanes put into his answers — and I’m dreaming of the day those salted caramel cookies become a reality! (Not to mention those brownies I tried a few months ago.)

Happily, A Better Batch generously offered to share the vegan goodness with one reader. Just visit the ABB website and let me know in a comment which flavor you want to try! One lucky winner will receive a box of all three flavors (worth about $58 including shipping). Sorry, my international friends — U.S. readers only this time! I’ll randomly select a winner at 5:00 PM Eastern on Wednesday, May 4, 2016.

If you don’t win but want to try these yummy cookies anyway, just sign up for the ABB newsletter to receive 15% off your first order. You can also check out ABB on Facebook and Twitter.

~~~

*Disclaimer: After tasting their cookies on a few occasions throughout the past year, I reached out to A Better Batch and asked if they’d like to be profiled here. Although they did provide me with some cookies to taste for this post, all opinions are 100% my own. I enjoy supporting local, vegan-owned businesses and will never promote a company I don’t believe in just for the sake of some free samples.

All photos in this post courtesy Rebekah Collinsworth.

Food Monster: A New App from One Green Planet

If you’re a regular over at One Green Planet, you might have seen some of my recipes published in their Recipe Monster section. And if you’re not a regular, you should check it out! OGP is a fantastic resource for all things animal- and eco-friendly, from tips on living consciously to sweet animal stories to brighten your day.

Recently, my contact over at OGP let me know about a brand-new iPhone app they’re launching on Earth Day (April 22) and asked if I wanted to try it early. Um, yes please! I’d just gone through the arduous task of making space on my phone, so I figured I might as well fill up that space with an all-vegan recipe app. Read on for my thoughts!

Food Monster app opening screen

When you first open the Food Monster app, you’re treated to a stunning photo overlaid with the OGP logo. (See screenshot above.) I like the simplicity of that opening shot (which varies each time you open the app), but I wish it stayed there longer and that you could access a menu from that open screen. Instead, the app quickly jumps you right into the main page, and not quite seamlessly — there’s a little lag, and the image gets stuck for a second.

Once you’re into the app proper, here’s what you can do:

  • Review the latest recipes from the home screen. Tapping a recipe brings you to a screen with more info, including the ingredients, prep steps, and even comments for that particular recipe. You can also add the recipe to your favorites or send it to someone using the standard iOS sharing options.
  • Access “features,” which are OGP’s Buzzfeed-style lists (e.g., 15 Ooey-Gooey Caramel Recipes), and then follow links to the recipes listed in those features.
  • Search for recipes by ingredient, name, or other keywords. There’s also the option to search within your bookmarked recipes only, which is handy if you know you saved something and want to find it quickly.
  • Browse recipes in a variety of ways, including by season, meal, ingredient, or diet (e.g., high-protein, gluten-free).
  • Peruse collections of recipes, like “American Fusion” and “Single Serve.”
  • Stay on top of what’s hot with easy access to popular themes and recipes that are currently going viral.
  • Bookmark your favorite recipes to use later.

Food Monster app collections

What I like:

  • The integration with OGP’s lists (aka the features). The OGP editorial team must have it pretty good — they get to compile lists of mouth-watering recipes and share them with hungry vegans! I always enjoy their lists and I like that they’re included in the app so that users have a different way to access content (rather than just searching or browsing recently added recipes).
  • The multiple ways of finding content. I appreciate that you can browse pre-made collections (see screenshot above) or narrow down your search using keywords.
  • That the collections aren’t just simply based on type of meal or ingredient — they’re more creative than that. Having pre-made lists of budget-friendly recipes or quick recipes is really handy.

What I don’t like:

  • In the recipes themselves, fully half the screen is taken up by the bottom of the featured photo, the author’s name, recipe tags, and tabs for ingredients, preparation, discussion, and similar collections. So you’re losing half the screen real estate for what’s arguably the most important feature of this app — reading the recipe itself! When I’m cooking, nothing is more annoying than needing to scroll down after every little step. I’d prefer to see the entire recipe on my screen, or at least most of it. (See first screenshot in the gallery above.)
  • The way the menu bar at the top requires you to manually scroll to see the different links (i.e., on the homepage, the word “Features” is cut off in the default view). It’s not intuitive to have to manually scroll to the right — it feels like the app was designed as a recreation of the desktop site, which is not the best way to design for mobile. (See second screenshot in the gallery above.)
  • The animations are in general a little clunky — they often lag or stick a little bit, which detracts from the overall user experience.
  • The fact that you can’t access the home screen by tapping the Food Monster logo at the top — that’s how I intuitively want to do it, but it doesn’t work. Instead you have to tap the hamburger button, which opens a menu on the left side, and tap Home from there.
  • Within a recipe, there’s an option to favorite the recipe with a simple heart icon or by tapping a bookmark icon, which opens a menu and lets you categorize it by meal or diet right then and there. Having two ways to save a recipe seems unnecessarily confusing.

My overall opinion is that this app was generally well-thought-out, but it has some implementation issues. The design mixes very modern, clean images (i.e., the opening screen) with a slightly dated design on the interior screens. I can tell that the developers and UI team wanted to mimic the look and feel of the OGP website, but I’m not convinced it fully works on mobile. The laggy animations are distracting, and it’s a little buggy — I had trouble getting links to work a few times.

Is it worth $19.99? I don’t think so. Few apps are; twenty bucks is super steep and is not at all in line with market prices. All the content on Food Monster is available (for free!) on OGP’s website, making it difficult to justify the high price tag.

That said, I’m looking forward to using it more thoroughly over the next few months to get a better sense for how well it works when I’m in the kitchen. In the meantime, I’m saving all sorts of delicious-looking recipes for later use!

~~~

The Food Monster app will be officially released on 4/22, but you can purchase and download it early using this link. If you do, let me know what you think!

~~~

*Disclaimer: I was given a free one-year subscription to the app (valued at $19.99), but all opinions are thoroughly my own.

Coming soon!

Hello, lovelies! Just dropping by to let you know what’s in store in the next month. I know I’ve been quiet lately, but I’ve been plotting and planning some great things to share.

Vegan digestive biscuits

+ A brand-new recipe for vegan digestive biscuits (seen above). These are perfect for healthy snacking!
+ An interview and giveaway (!) from A Better Batch, a DC-based vegan bakery run by a super-sweet couple.
+ More vegan travel reviews, tips, and tricks. (I’m heading to Vienna and Prague for the next week and a half, so I’ll be back with lots of goodies to share!)

Thanks for reading!

Vegan on Etsy: Bags, Purses, and Backpacks

vegan on etsy cruelty free etsy

Welcome to the first installment of my new series: Vegan on Etsy! I want to include more of the “lifestyle” in this here “food and lifestyle blog,” and what better way than highlighting the independent makers of Etsy? It’s my go-to source when I’m in the market for any new good; even if I ultimately purchase something elsewhere, Etsy is a crucial part of my research. As part of my drive towards minimalism and to do my small part to combat the overabundance of cheaply, unethically made goods, I try to make purchases with intention. I’m not perfect, but I’m trying — and I’d like to help you try, too. In this series, I’ll focus on different purchases one could make on Etsy, and I’ll call out cruelty-free, vegan options that catch my eye.

Up first: bags! purses! Or as my Grammy would say, pocketbooks. For cruelty-free, sustainably made handbags, wallets, and accessories, Matt and Nat is rightfully popular in the world of vegan shopping. But there are other options, especially on Etsy. (Which is not to knock Matt and Nat — I have two bags and an iPad case from them that I love and use regularly.) Recently, I was in the market for a cross-body, travel-friendly, not-super-fancy-but-also-smart-looking satchel-type bag I could use while traveling but also for work, if necessary. A tall order? You betcha. But Etsy came through. I’ll share my choice at the end of this post, but first I’d like to highlight some of the other cruelty-free bags I found during my research. I reached out to the owners of these shops and they all graciously chatted about their businesses and why they’ve chosen to offer only cruelty-free goods.

First, a note about prices: you are unlikely to find uber-cheap goods on Etsy, and if you do, you ought to question whether they’re truly made independently. The vast majority of Etsy’s makers are small independent creatives who really love what they do, and they do it well. You get what you pay for, and quality isn’t cheap. As I’m moving towards a smaller, more intentional and long-lasting wardrobe, I’m becoming okay with paying a little more for something that will last longer and be a true staple. Your mileage may vary!

100% Vegan Shops

Badimyon

If you’re into a utilitarian yet wholly unique aesthetic, Badimyon is a great place to start, with bags made of leftover materials from the upholstery and home décor industries.  Badimyon means “inside your imagination” in Hebrew, and the husband and wife team who run it live in an intentional community in Hakuk, Israel.

The community now includes 50 families who share similar values of self-sustainability, sharing and ecology,” founder Elad says. With a school system for the kids, yoga classes, and discussion circles, it sounds like a heavenly place to live — and to be creative. The founders strive to offer high-quality, limited-edition products, and their current line features everything from wallets up to roomy hobo bags in a variety of fabric and prints. I particularly like the neutrals; they’re a great unisex option.

Image copyright Badimyon

Image copyright Badimyon

My favorite product is this canvas backpack. I love the sleek shape and style and that it’s large enough to fit a laptop without looking bulky. Plus, Badimyon gives you the option to create a customized backpack by letting you mix and match fabrics.

The pricing here is about average for bags of this sort, and shipping from Israel to the US will be about $13.

Beg for a Bag

Despite its name, Beg for a Bag won’t leave you begging for options! Alongside typical options like messenger bags and backpacks, they also offer yoga mat bags, diaper bags, and even a doggie harness. Most items feature muted neutrals, although there are a few fun prints for the diaper bags.

Image copyright Beg for a Bag

The Shay tote caught my eye as an ideal travel bag. With lots of pockets and a zippered top, it’s roomy enough to stash all your essentials (including a laptop!) while still offering security.

Beg for a Bag’s prices skew a little higher than its competitors’, as does its shipping — about $15 to the US.

Cocoono Bags

Custom-made in a small workshop in Poland, Cocoono’s offerings are inspired by nature — their designs are available in cool beiges, greys, and taupes. I appreciate that they stick to about six styles and offer variations on those styles by updating the colors and patterns; it’s nice to see confident makers who do what they do and do it well. Cocoono just launched a limited-edition line for 2016 which features cruelty-free faux wool. It’s a really neat look!

Image copyright Cocoono Bags

Image copyright Cocoono Bags

I’m so intrigued by this Mega Shopper Bag! Most of my reusable shopping bags are anything but stylish, and that’s fine for groceries. But I admit to feeling a little strange on the few occasions when I buy clothes in a store and ask the cashier to put them in a Trader Joe’s bag! This tote would be great to take shopping; it even has smaller internal pockets for your wallet and phone.

The bags in this shop are all priced very reasonably for styles of their ilk, and shipping is typically about $12 from Poland to the US.

Good Mood Moon

Based in Ukraine, July and Alex of Good Mood Moon are self-professed vegans and animal lovers. They create gorgeous faux-leather bags, belts, bracelets, and more. With a dizzying array of colors on offer, there’s something to fit everybody’s taste. They cater more towards style than pure functionality and are perfect if you want to make a statement with your piece. If you get bored easily, you’ll love the fact that you can switch out the straps on their clutches and a few purses — you can build a whole rainbow of options!

goodmoodmoon_floria

Image copyright Good Mood Moon

I’ve been coveting this Floria bag for a while now, but it’s a little small for an everyday purse for me. Plus, I don’t know whether I could choose a color — there are so many beautiful options! Mint, dark teal, and grey all appeal to me.

Good Mood Moon’s prices are quite reasonable for handmade goods, although shipping from Ukraine to the US should run you about $10. I think $30 is a good deal for the Floria bag!

Ed. note, 2/24/16: I saw the Floria bag in the wild at a vegan mac and cheese event in Baltimore, and I just had to talk to the owner. She said it fits all her items and she likes it… and I liked the look of it, too!

Marten Lab

With unique minimalist designs and colorblock styling, Marten Lab’s bags feature lots of inner pockets — making them both visually appealing AND super functional. They also offer geometric-shaped clutches that would make fantastic statement pieces. When she started this line, vegetarian founder Martina Pretto considered using leather. But she couldn’t do it.

“I’d have to force myself in a direction that I’d never feel as “mine”. So I’m always looking for beautiful, durable and cruelty free materials,” Martina told me.

And I’m so glad she didn’t. Her gorgeous designs, handmade in Italy, are beautiful options for fashion-forward vegans.

Image copyright Marten Lab

Image copyright Marten Lab

In an alternate universe, I live in a small-but-bike-friendly city and bike to work, and I use this bag to carry my laptop. Sigh!

These unique and meticulously created pieces are priced accordingly, and note that shipping to the US from Italy is typically around $22.

MeDusa Brand

Unlike many of the shops on this list, MeDusa unapologetically offers bright, bold-colored handbags. Although I tend to prefer calmer neutrals, I have quite a few friends who barely own anything black and whose outfits are always bursting with color. From vinyl clutches with embossed patterns to more demure shoulder bags with just a little pizzazz, MeDusa has a little bit of everything — including a panda-inspired cross-body!

Image copyright MeDusa Brand

Image copyright MeDusa Brand

This sapphire-blue clutch is amazing! I love how it melds a very modern medium (vinyl) with a more traditional lacy design. This is a statement piece if ever I’ve seen one.

MeDusa products are easily the most expensive on this list — you’re paying for innovative techniques, after all. Shipping from Israel to the US is remarkably inexpensive, though, at around $7.

Nevabags

With laid-back styles and eclectic fabrics, this shop offers casual multi-purpose bags that look especially great for parents. Their signature style is a convertible bag that can function as a backpack, shoulder bag, handbag, or messenger bag. Netta (the shop owner) even has a YouTube video that shows how to use the convertible bag.

Netta is a vegan living in Israel, and she describes her business as an adventure: “I am constantly searching and discovering new materials and new sewing techniques, creating high quality products that resemble leather bags and purses, but are 100% vegan. Each bag is unique, and much thought and effort were put to it, from designing to creating. ” Hear, hear!

Image copyright Nevabags

Image copyright Nevabags

I love this color combo — I could see myself using it as a shoulder bag mostly, but having the option to switch to all those other types would be so helpful.

All the bags in this shop are around the $100 range, and shipping is about $12 from Israel to the US.

Taska Handbags

Handmade in small runs in Canada, the bags in this shop are unlike any others on this list. Founder Nadya says it best: “Utilitarian design and eye-catching fabric combinations is what I strive for with each collection.” With geometric angles and the surprising use of large prints on relatively small bags, these designs are fashion-forward and eye-catching.

Nadya noted a dearth of “vegan accessories (shoes and bags especially) that were stylish and special,” which inspired her to start her own line.  As an animal lover, she’s proud to offer “a more interesting option when it comes to finding good quality cruelty-free accessories.”

Image copyright Taska Handbags

Image copyright Taska Handbags

I’m a sucker for diagonal zippers, so I love the look of this tote. And I also love how functional it is, with lots of interior pockets and features to make it easy to grab all your essentials. I always appreciate when a designer thinks through the use cases for her products!

Táska’s bags are on the high end of this list’s price range, and shipping will cost about $11 from Canada to the US.

Tracce Bags

For the classic leather handbag look, Tracce Bags is a great choice. The faux leather bags come in an impressive number of styles, from a demure shoulder bag to a big ol’ tote embellished with gold studs. Most styles are offered in muted tones, but there are some brighter options, particularly in the collection of wallets.

The owner, Paola, has been vegetarian since 1987 (the year I was born!) and told me that she always wanted to create a line of cruelty-free bags. When she discovered vegan leather, she says she fell in love immediately — and since then, she’s been “drawing and sewing bags, all day, sometimes all night too!”

Image copyright Tracce Bags

Image copyright Tracce Bags

This simple black clutch is just darling! I’ve got quite a few weddings to attend in the next few years (hello, late 20s!), and this simple yet elegant style looks like just the thing to carry the essentials.

Tracce’s prices are on the high end, typical of what you might spend on a similar non-vegan purse, and shipping seems to be a straight $20 within the US. But Paola often offers coupon codes, so be sure to check her shop announcement and shop notes to find a deal.

Non-Vegan Shops that Offer Vegan Items

I am a firm believer in voting with my dollar and supporting cruelty-free options from otherwise non-vegan makers. If none of the bags on my previous list quite strike your fancy, maybe you’ll find something here. But if you’re uncomfortable purchasing from folks who use leather, I understand and respect your decision.

Atlas Past

Spoiler! I ended up purchasing my “cross-body, travel-friendly, not-super-fancy-but-also-smart-looking satchel-type bag I could use while traveling but also for work, if necessary” bag here. My exact bag is no longer available, but it’s similar to this cross-body option. The good folks at Atlas Past confirmed that all the fabric is synthetic — no wool there. I’m very happy with my purchase!

Aiko Threads

The smocked details on these purses are just so fetching! I think this messenger bag would certainly turn heads.

Blue Calla

With one-of-a-kind bags in a variety of styles and colors, you’ll have to check back often to see if a new design strikes your fancy. The calming color combo on this handbag is just up my alley.

byMart

Faux leather meets simple, striking patterns in this shop. I particularly like the eye-catching patterns of their cross-body bags.

Disturbingly Adorable

I couldn’t not include this shop, if only because their bags come in happy soy print. Who doesn’t want smiling tofus on their purse?!

Sinem Inugur

Sometimes you just need a simple all-purpose bag, and this one would certainly fit the bill. Sinem Inugur offers clean lines, classic designs, and quality construction.

Twill and Print

The light, airy colors, sweet designs, and nature-inspired prints in this shop are a breath of fresh air. I just adore the look of this purple clutch — that tessellation pattern in gold is killer!

 ~~~

Let me know whether you found this list helpful or felt like something was missing! Feel free to share your favorite Etsy sellers… and happy vegan shopping. :)

How to Make Lentil Soup Without a Recipe

lentil soup template

As the DC area grimly prepares for its first blizzard of the season (and, really, our first significant snowfall of the season!), I’m positively gleeful about the impending weather. It weirds me out that we’ve made it halfway through January without snow, and I’m ready to get snowed in. I’ve got good books, good coffee, and good soup to see me through.

Call me plain, but I love a solid lentil soup. I don’t know the last time I’ve used a recipe to make one, though; I usually see what I’ve got in the fridge and the pantry and go from there. And my blizzard batch is no exception. It’s chock-full of add-ins: carrots, celery, potatoes, kale, mushrooms, diced tomatoes, and more. I thought it might be fun to share a modular, customizable template for making lentil soup for those times when you don’t want to follow a recipe but do want a little guidance.

Following this template is pretty simple. I’ve divided the ingredients into different sections and indicated how many items from each section you should choose. You can, of course, add more or less depending on what’s in your pantry — this is just a guide. But by sticking to ingredients from each section, you should end up with a hearty, filling soup with diverse textures and flavors. Note that the white wine is highly recommended but not essential. The same goes for most ingredients. Your soup won’t be ruined if you don’t have celery, and the measurements are just suggestions. Be flexible, play with the template, and enjoy.

lentil_soup_template

One-Pot Lentil Soup (a Template)
Serves 4-6

The basics (use all)

  • 1 T olive oil (you can use more if you prefer, or even just water-sauté the mirepoix if you want to avoid added oil)
  • Mirepoix (diced onion, carrot, and celery — the amounts don’t really matter, but aim for about 1/2 cup of each)
  • 3-5 cloves minced garlic
  • Low-sodium vegetable broth (3-4 cups, depending on how soup-y vs. stew-y you want it to be)
  • 1 1/2 cups dried green or brown lentils
  •  1/3 cup dry white wine

The veggies (choose 2-3)

  • 1 cup mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 2 medium golden potatoes, diced into 1/2” cubes
  • 1-2 cups canned diced tomatoes (use the juice, too)
  • 2 cups kale, roughly chopped
  • 2 cups baby spinach

The additional protein (choose 1)

  • 1/2 cup Beyond Meat chicken, shredded gently
  • 1/2 cup soy curls
  • 1/2 cup vegan beef chunks, chopped if too large
  • 2 vegan sausages, sliced into rounds and cut in half (sautéed ahead of time, if you prefer)
  • 1/2 cup quinoa
  • Additional 1/2 cup lentils

The spices (choose 1 blend or make your own)

  • Basic blend
    • 1 T nutritional yeast
    • 1 tsp cumin
    • 1 tsp paprika (smoked or sweet)
    • 1/2 tsp chili powder
    • Salt and pepper to taste
  • “Beef stew” blend
    • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
    • 1/2 tsp ginger
    • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
    • 1/4 tsp allspice
    • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
    • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Curry blend
    • 1 T curry powder
    • 1 tsp garam masala
    • 1 tsp cumin
    • Salt and pepper to taste

To start, heat the olive oil in a large stockpot on medium. When it begins to shimmer, add the mirepoix (onion, carrot, and celery) and garlic. Heat for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently so nothing burns, until the onion is translucent.

Add your spice blend and give everything a good stir, then add the veggies to the pot UNLESS you’re using kale, spinach, or another green. Hold those till later. Add the lentils (including the additional half cup, if using) and the quinoa, if using. Stir everything again and then add your broth. The broth should cover all your ingredients with about an extra inch of liquid.

Bring everything to a boil, give it a good stir, and then turn it down to low. Let simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Around the 30 minute mark, add your protein (unless you’re using quinoa or additional lentils) and greens, if using. Add more broth or water, if necessary. Give everything a good stir and cook for another 15 minutes.

After 15 more minutes, check the soup to see if the lentils and potatoes (if using) are soft. At this point, you can also taste for seasonings and adjust accordingly. You could also add more liquid if you want it soupier. Simmer for longer if necessary.

When all ingredients are cooked to your taste, add the white wine. Cook for another 2-3 minutes and then serve.

~~~

What kind of meals do you like to create off the cuff? Would a template for something else be helpful?

Vegan in Auckland, New Zealand

Vegan in Auckland

It’s been nearly six (!) months since my trip to New Zealand, and I’ve neglected an important post-travel duty: reporting back on the vegan-friendliness of my destination! Auckland was my home base on the North Island, since that’s where my friend K. was living and working at the time. Neither of us is much of a spendthrift, so we cooked and ate quite a few meals at her house, simple stuff like pasta, mostly. But Auckland proper is definitely vegan-friendly; when I was out and about, I ate perfectly well. I’ll share some of my favorites here, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention An Auckland Vegan, an Auckland-based blog where Moira highlights pretty much everything vegan you can get in Auckland. I used it as research before my trip and wrote down the addresses to have on hand, since I didn’t have a working smartphone with me in New Zealand, and free WiFi access is pretty rare. If you’re heading to Auckland, these are the places I recommend!

Little Bird

My favorite eatery, hands-down, was Little Bird. This brand includes a few brick-and-mortar locations of their Unbakery, along with products sold throughout the North Island. Little Bird offers organic, raw, and mostly gluten-free delicacies, mostly of the sweet variety. Everything is creative, fresh, and absolutely scrumptious.

For the vegan traveler, the Unbakery location at the Britomart Transport Centre is superbly convenient. Britomart is Auckland’s transit hub, where you can catch a local bus or any of the tourist lines. It also houses a railway station, and it’s just across the street from Queen’s Wharf, where you can hop a ferry to loads of locations. If you take the airport bus, you’ll get dropped off right across the street from Britomart.

I sought refuge from the rain at the Unbakery one extremely stormy morning after a failed attempt to visit Tiritiri Matangi, an open wildlife sanctuary on an island accessible only by ferry. The storms were too heavy to safely run the ferry that morning, which I only discovered after getting up early and schlepping down to the wharf from my home base in Kohimarama. Not to be discouraged, I changed my plans, bought ferry tickets to Waiheke Island instead, and made my way across the street to Little Bird to warm up and get a sweet treat while I waited for the ferry.

On that particular morning, I was the first patron, and the two women at the till were friendly and chatty. They pointed out which items in the bakery case included honey so I could avoid those. I selected a coconut berry slice and a cup of English breakfast tea for right then, and a caramel slice and a Matcha and Mint Almond Milk for later.

Little Bird Unbakery

Although the Britomart location is meant to be take-out only (it’s a smidge of a shop!), my new bakery friends graciously let me sit inside and eat since it was pouring buckets outdoors. The tea was perfect for my cold self, and the berry slice was heavenly. I ended up drinking the Matcha-Mint milk then too, and it was by far one of the best raw nut milks I’ve ever had: incredibly smooth, which just a hint of mint. Heavenly! These snacks weren’t cheap, but I considered them wholly worth the money. And isn’t that little glass jar so sweet? I kept it and keep it my kitchen to store dried rosemary — you can see it in a photo from my VeganMoFo kitchen tour!

I went back to Little Bird the very next morning while I waited to catch a bus down to Rotorua. The weather was much nicer that day, so I got a chia pudding to go and ate it in a nearby parkLittle Bird Chia Seed PuddingLittle Bird’s chia pudding is incredible. It’s made with coconut milk and topped with coconut cream, chocolate sauce, raspberry jam, fresh pineapple, granola, and goji berries — all raw. This healthy breakfast felt tasted a decadent dessert! It was easily the best thing I ate in New Zealand. No joke! Can you see why Little Bird was my favorite place to eat in Auckland?!

Himalaya

One night, on the way back from a long day on Rangitoto and in the city, K. and I decided to forgo cooking dinner. Instead, we stopped at an Indian takeaway shop right near her place in Kohimarama. If you find yourself in the suburbs, Himalaya offers lots of options that can be made dairy-free. It’s your standard Indian fare, perhaps a bit less spicy than what you get stateside, but I thoroughly enjoyed the two curries we picked up. They’re pricy, but you’ll have leftovers!

 Revive Café

K. clued me in to Revive and took me out for lunch there right before I caught the bus back to the airport to head home. I love the concept: fresh, healthy, mostly plant-based salads and soups served a la carte. For a (low!) set price, you can choose a combination of soups and salads, usually two salads and one soup. The menu changes daily, and ingredients are clearly labeled. I wish I could remember exactly what I ate (and I wish I took photos!), but I know I had an Israeli couscous-butternut squash salad that was scrumptious. K. confessed that she ate lunch there more often than she’d like, but she couldn’t resist the low price and uber-healthy options! The lunch hour crowd proved that Revive’s mission is a welcome one, especially to folks who want something nourishing and filling on their lunch break.

La Cigale French Market

Don’t let the name fool you — La Cigale French Market is really just a farmer’s market in disguise. In a bit of a post-long-haul-flight haze on my first morning in New Zealand, I assented to a trip to the market to meet up with some of K.’s work friends. My jet lag and the walk — which was uphill, seemingly both ways — rendered me nearly delirious, but I still managed to muster up the energy to be suitably impressed at the French Market’s offerings. With dozens of stalls, both indoors and out, La Cigale has lots to offer vegans. I opted for a cold grain salad from a deli stall, and later kicked myself for not investigating further — there were chocolates, juices, raw vegan sweets, fermented foods, breads, and more! This would be a great place to stock up on snacks for your stay in Auckland. Even though I felt grungy and unfit for public viewing the whole time I was there (my luggage was delayed, so I hadn’t had a chance to shower and change clothes), I enjoyed the vibrant atmosphere and bevy of vegan options.

~~~

Needless to say, this is just a tiny sampling of the options on offer for vegans visiting Auckland. I can’t recommend An Auckland Vegan enough when planning your trip; Moira even has a Google map with all the vegan-friendly joints marked up. If you go, tell me your favorite Auckland eats — I’ll have to try them next time I’m in New Zealand!

Fusion Challenge: Pumpkin Biscuits for Humans and Dogs

VeganMoFo 2015 banner

Day 30: Fusion Challenge!

Oh boy, I am taking some LIBERTIES with this prompt.

Typically, “fusion” food combines elements of two (or more) culinary traditions — like curry burritos or Thai pineapple pizza (!). I’m all for merging the best of the best to create super-delicious meals with bold flavors. I even recipe tested for Joni Marie Newman’s fusion-inspired cookbook, Fusion Food in the Vegan Kitchen. But I’m looking at fusion food from a different lens today… the lens of “combining human and dog food.”

HEAR ME OUT.

Backstory first. Working at The Humane Society of the United States means that I get to bring my dogs to work. We have a strong Pets in the Workplace policy, along with a committee that governs it. It’s a win for humans and dogs alike, in so many ways. But a few weeks ago, we learned that at least one office dog had bordatella, a highly contagious bacterial infection. On the advice of our staff veterinarians, the committee temporarily suspended the PIW policy. For two weeks, our canine companions stayed home, and we humans remembered what it’s like to work somewhere that doesn’t allow dogs. I missed the frequent excuses to get outside, the sound of the occasional bark from somewhere in the building, and the morning rituals when my coworkers (dogs and humans!) greet each other. Of course we all appreciated the caution that prompted the suspension, but it was no fun. And I wished I could explain to Moria and Luna that we weren’t abandoning them at home; they’d be able to return eventually.

Pups

My babies!

Tomorrow, though, the dogs are back! And I couldn’t be more excited. I knew I wanted to bake some dog treats to give out to any pup I see tomorrow, and then I thought… why not make some people treats, too? The ultimate fusion food!

(Am I stretching it? Eh. Too bad.)

Dog and People Biscuits

My strategy was to create a base dough that’s then separated in half and flavored for each species. The human variety has sugar and spices, while the dog variety has oats and extra molasses. Note that although you can definitely eat your canine companion’s biscuits, she shouldn’t eat yours — at least not if you include the nutmeg, which isn’t good for pups. And no, these aren’t the most exciting human biscuits, but I have a secret love for chewy, doughy, mildly flavored things I can snack on!

Ed. note: Okay, this is embarrassing. The human biscuits are… not great… the day after baking, so I can’t really recommend them. Instead, you can double the dog-biscuit ingredients and make a LOT of dog treats, or halve the first set of ingredients. I’m sorry!

Pumpkin Biscuits Two Ways
Makes many tiny biscuits

  • 1 15 oz. can pumpkin puree
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil, softened
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ
  • 1 1/2 T blackstrap molasses
  • 1 T cinnamon

For the human biscuits (not recommended)

  • 1 cup + 1 T all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp cloves

For the dog biscuits

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cup rolled oats

Combine the first set of ingredients in a large bowl, then split the dough and move one half into a new bowl. Preheat the oven to 350˚ and oil two cookie pans.

This second bowl will be your human-biscuit bowl. Add all the human-biscuit (HB) ingredients and mix until well-combined; it will take a few minutes to come together. Refrigerate this dough while you prepare the dog-biscuit (DB) dough. To do that, mix in all the DB ingredients. Refrigerate that dough while you roll out the HB dough.

Roll out he HB dough on a well-floured surface with a rolling pin. Using your favorite cookie cutters, cut the dough into shapes. Repeat the process with the DB dough. If your cookie cutters are vastly different sizes, try to group the small biscuits on a single sheet and the large biscuits on another sheet.

Bake small biscuits for about 15 minutes and larger ones for about 18. They’ll harden as they cool, so don’t worry if they’re soft when they come out of the oven.

~~~

And with that, I say goodbye to Mofo 2015! I’ve been a little burned out this past week, so honestly I’m not sorry it’s over! But I do like the prompts — Steven and I are already musing about ways to incorporate fun/surprise prompts into my blogging practice, and I have some good ideas. Stay tuned!

…and now I’m gonna go eat some roasted potatoes and Gardein tenders. Night, y’all!