Vegan Vanilla Bean Cake

This may or may not have been the size of the first piece. As in, it totally was. AND we had seconds.

I wanted to make an entirely vegan and whole wheat cake, so I adapted this recipe from Whole Foods’… My adaptations are italicized. Essentially, I wanted to make sure this was a sweet, whole wheat, and fluffy cake – not a dense, heavy, and boring wanna-be dessert.  I was honestly a bit shocked that it turned out as well as it did, and we ate the entire cake (just the two of us) in less than 12 hours. Ha. Maybe I shouldn’t be sharing that with you? 🙂 But I think the key was the vegan chocolate “buttercream” icing and fresh blueberries that made it. (I’ll add the recipe for the icing, from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, at the end.) It’s a delicious cake, but that extra bit of decadence did wonders. Another idea is you could drizzle it in Maple Syrup or powder it with confectioner’s sugar. Whatever do you, enjoy it 🙂

I had a hard time waiting for the cake to completely cool... Plus, a warm cake is just so good. If only it didn't cause the icing to melt! 🙂

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons egg replacer (equivalent to substituting for three eggs, I used Bob’s Red Mill Egg Replacer
  • 1 cup almond or soy milk (I used plain, whole fat, unsweetened, organic soy)
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup agave nectar
  • 1/4 cup expeller pressed canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons white or apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 a real vanilla bean (removing the beans and leaving the stalk for other use)
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour 
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder 
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Method

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray and flour a 9-inch round or square cake pan using olive or canola oil spray. Set aside. In a large bowl whisk together egg replacer, almond or soy milk, maple syrup, oil, vinegar and vanilla until completely combined. In a separate bowl, mix flours, baking powder, salt and baking soda, then add to bowl with milk mixture, stirring to combine. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake approximately 35 to 40 minutes, or until done when tested with a toothpick.

The cake turned out perfectly! (And yes, that's my humble, and mostly obedient oven and yes. It was a late night treat.)

Chocolate “Buttercream” Icing from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World:

1/4 cup vegan margarine, softened
1/4 cup vegan shortening
1/2 cup cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
3 tablespoons soymilk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Cream together the margarine and the shortening until well combined. Add the cocoa powder and incorporate well. Add the confectioners sugar in about 1/2 cup batches and beat well, adding a little splash of soymilk after each addition. When all ingredients have been incorporated, add the vanilla and beat until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes with a mixer, 7 minutes with a fork.)

Pan-Fried Tofu & Greens with Almond Ginger Drizzle (aka “Bathing Rama”)

This recipe comes from a wonderful cookbook intended for the whole family, which is a great resource for healthful meals (with meat and dairy included in some of the recipes, mind you – it’s not a vegan cookbook but does have a good number of vegan recipes) for parents of young toddlers and children. It’s called “Feeding the Whole Family: Recipes for Babies, Young Children, and Their Parents

Page One: Ingredients & Some Directions (Sorry it's a bit fuzzy)

Page Two: Final Instructions

This delicious recipe from Feeding the Whole Family was so much easier than I anticipated (and tasty, to boot) that I made it twice in one week. Despite much of that week being spent in the hospital caring for my toddler. It was that good, and as long as you prepare the marinated tofu in advance, that fast and easy!

Round One: Big Fried Tofu Pieces on Collard Greens with Soba

Round Two! This time I used spinach instead of collard greens, and sliced the tofu into smaller and more identical triangles.

I hope you’ll try it and love it as much as I did. Who knows? Maybe you’ll even make it twice in one week! 🙂

Keys to a Good Recipe

Recently, I’ve come to a few conclusions about what makes a good recipe in my (figurative) book. I thought I’d share with you some of these basics, so that you might be encouraged to share some with me that you think fit a good number of the criterion and so that you know why I’m sharing them here. Occasionally I revamp a recipe based on what I want to use or what I have on hand so that I don’t have to go to the store or buy a singular ingredient that I’m unlikely to use again in the near future, but most of the time, I assume I’ll be sharing recipes from other sources. I don’t think I’m a chef. I’m just someone who wants to live healthily for a long time with as few medical issues as possible, while enjoying delicious meals and not having to work all that hard to achieve these delectable delights. I’m not trying to be someone or present myself as the creator of these recipes. I just want to share goodness!

My keys to a good recipe: 

1) It doesn’t use animal products. (Or I can adapt it to be animal-product free, like substituting Butler’s Soy Curls for chicken, for example.)

2) Ideally, it doesn’t take longer than about 30 minutes. I will never cook anything that takes longer than an hour (unless that’s just accounting for a marinade or you’re using a crock pot).

3) It tastes delicious and would be worthy of serving to guests. Generally, I judge this based on whether or not my husband goes back for seconds. Or better yet, thirds and fourths. If leftovers are fought over, I take that as a good sign.

4) It does a body good. It should use whole grains, natural ingredients, and ideally avoid refined sugar or at least only use minimal amounts of it. However, I’ve got a mouth full of sweet-tooths, so… sugar is somewhat negotiable. I do not use white flour – the closest I’ll go is “white-whole-wheat flour“.

5) I feel good when I eat it, and I want to make it again.

Of course, I’m not big on rules but these are the guidelines I try to follow and will try my best to keep on this blog. Since I’ve been so obsessed with food lately, my Instagram account has been replete with images of food I have enjoyed at home lately. I feel silly being so obsessed with food, but IT’S SO GOOD. I kind of can’t help it. As a result, friends have been asking me for the recipes and I figured this would be an easy forum to share them. I started out making note of recipes to rewrite and store in my family recipe binder so that we’ll make them over and over again. Now, I’ll be using this blog similarly – and you can share with me in enjoying these great recipes. May we enjoy good health and may our taste buds rejoice.

From Vegetarians to Meat Eaters to Vegans!

This is the tale of how our eating has evolved, and why. It’s about the permutations of thought, the pursuit of good health, and best of all, the adoration of delicious meals. What I share with you below is a sort of testimony as to why my husband and I now aspire to be vegan and how we got here. 

[DISCLAIMER: This should be the longest post on the blog, explaining the back story.  I will surely write about things other than recipes from time to time, but hopefully they will be much more brief.]

My husband and I met over 11 years ago, in France. It’s a romantic story, but not the one I want to tell here. When we met, we were both vegetarians. I loved vegetables and had never really eaten much meat since I became a vegetarian when I was only 10 years old after seeing a movie about animal cruelty and crying my eyes out. My doctors were fine with it, and I was perfectly healthy… When we started dating seven years later, we were both eating meat. We had grown tired of not being able to eat whatever was offered to us, of having to place special orders, and what can I say? My husband LOVES bacon. I did, too. He makes amazing bacon-grease fried tacos. Can’t lie.

We were happily wed, and blissfully eating whatever we pleased. We ate out frequently, I ate a lot of pizza as a youth minister, and we generally didn’t think much about our food. Sure, we debated over menus and drooled whenever we smelled the mexican food cooking from our favorite restaurant (inconveniently located just a block away from our tiny shoebox of an apartment in downtown DC)… but our thoughts were primarily based upon what would taste best.

I thought of myself as a healthy person. I had been vegetarian for 10 years, and I loved veggies. I thought milk was good because it gave me calcium, and always tried to get my mother to drink more of it. Not the usual kid, I guess. My parents were interested in nutrition, but as much as my dad would talk about the benefits of vitamins and whatnot… the random bags from McDonald’s or a candy wrapper I’d find in his car seemed to take away from his presentation of seeking good health. I don’t blame him for that. I definitely take after him, and Matt reminds me that randomly having terrible foods for you is still terrible. Even if it’s less frequent than the average joe’s consumption.

While I was pregnant with our first child, we took a fantastic natural birth class which did wonderfully to prepare us for labor (it’s called the Bradley Method). To their credit, they also include teachings on nutrition during pregnancy. However, I think the information they share is sadly outdated and mistaken. Despite following many of their recommendations, I did have to laugh out loud when we discussed ways to make sure we got our necessary daily requirement of butter. I couldn’t believe they weren’t joking.

After giving birth to our daughter, we were elated to have successfully had an all natural, vaginal birth in a hospital. But I felt huge, and my body felt like a giant blob that was somewhat out of control. We went to the wedding of two of our friends only four weeks later, and I felt like I couldn’t dance; as if I were a squid trying to stand on my legs. As the months passed, I grew more and more tired of this peculiar feeling of not fitting into my body. I wanted to lose the baby weight. I didn’t want it to take years, and I didn’t want to do it by eating LESS bad food. I wanted to learn about proper nutrition and lose weight healthily.

Thanks to google, I purchased the book Eat to Live, by Dr. Fuhrman. My husband made fun of me as I ate some raw cookie dough while reading about nutrition… but it hadn’t yet sunk in yet, and perhaps some of me knew that this was going to change the way I consumed food. And part of me didn’t want to change. I love cookie dough! But this book enchanted me. It was factual, compelling, and not ashamed. It didn’t just blindly tell me what was “bad” for me (which really translates to “when you eat this, feel guilty”) and what was “good” for me (what you OUGHT to be eating, and ought is never a fun word to hear)… He was pretty in-your-face, and at one time even compared eating these poisonous substances allowed in food (like hydrogenated oils) to going into an alleyway to shoot up with some heroine. He said that it’s your choice, but don’t be delusional and think it’s anything better than that. You’re essentially doing drugs.

This shocked me. In a way that I very much believe I needed, even wanted, to be shocked. I didn’t want to just pour on the guilt or irrationally limit myself to “fist sized portions”. I have small hands. Does that mean I get to eat less? And why the size of a fist? How is a fist of ice cream about as good as a fist of broccoli? I wanted a fist in my FACE, from the frustration of years of meaningless formulas and judgement. My mother wanted me to lose weight to be prettier, for her sake as well as my own; my dad wanted us to be healthy, but would gladly indulge in anything delicious and bad for you if it was readily available. I love them both, and owe them much credit to having started me on a healthy path… but none of us are perfect, and I think I got confusing messages from them about what it meant to be healthy. This book wasn’t confusing. It opened my eyes.

And I quickly, healthily, lost weight and began to feel fantastic. I did Dr. Fuhrman’s intensive six-week weight loss plan (while breastfeeding!), which was almost more of a challenge than a diet. Eat as many vegetables and fruits as you possibly can, in part by eliminating unhealthy things you would otherwise use to fill up your stomach. I lost about 30 pounds thanks to eating well, and realized that I was pursuing optimum nutrition. My husband did it with me after reading the book, and also lost some weight – though not as much. I blame it on the amount of raw cashews he enjoyed daily 😉 But really, I’m sure it was because he was much closer to a healthy weight than I had been. I now weighed less than I had before I got pregnant. It was a pleasant surprise to me.

But I was admittedly really happy when those six weeks were over. I hadn’t been creative about how to make what I could eat delicious. I’d make nice salads, but I didn’t have dressing because you can’t have oil on the diet. There are ways to make fantastic dressings without any oil, but I didn’t make them. So I happily enjoyed meat from time to time after that, enjoying cheese and flexibility.

As friends began to read this book too, the ripple of my pursuit of health and contented-ness in my own body seemed to influence others. It was exciting. One friend, Brin, who also read and was moved by Eat to Live, highly suggested that I follow it up by reading Eating Animals by Jonathan SafranFoer. She went from being a big meat and cheese person to eating a vegan diet and encouraging her family to do the same. (She now writes about “matters of food and faith“) Though I liked eating meat, I decided I ought to at least give it a try.

I was happily surprised by how creatively written and personable the book revealed itself to be, and appreciated the evolution of factual information paired with personal testimonies from people with varying views. It wasn’t as one-sided as I had expected, but it was definitely a bit traumatizing to learn about factory farming in-depth. I found that I couldn’t read it before bed anymore… but I still really wanted to read it, and felt like I needed to. My husband, Matt, read it also. I think the most powerful conclusion I took from reading this book (after Eat to Live), was that the only reason remaining for me to eat meat/dairy/fish was for taste or sheer laziness. After all I’d learned about the disastrous effects of trolling the ocean for fish and killing such a tremendous magnitude of sea creatures to produce a comparatively minuscule “catch”, I couldn’t really justify my love of sushi. Is a momentary bite of decadence worth brutally damaging our biodiversity? Essentially, his ethical and environmental reasons behind not consuming animal products compelled me deeply.

It has been just over a year since Matt and I did our intensive six diet. This New Year, instead of trying out a temporary diet, we decided to try to make a permanent life change and see how it goes. We decided to see what it would be like to be vegan. Could we really do it? We know we fail, and we have learned all too easily that animal products are used in almost everything. It tends to cost more to buy the few options that don’t have casein, butter, eggs, or milk in them… But we were compelled more by our convictions than our pathetic bank accounts.

I used to think that vegans were silly, in a way. Surely, they were misguided for thinking it was a healthier lifestyle. It seemed so unnecessarily complicated to me. So uninviting, so limiting, so narrow. I thought vegans were just trying to be counter-cultural. To stick it to the man, as it were, with food. In fact, I even told a co-worker when I was a barista and drank all the free milk and fancy lattes I wanted, that I knew God didn’t want me to be vegan because I loved cheese too much, milk was so good and my body responded so well to it!

But I had never lived without milk. How did I know? I was shocked when I stopped consuming milk and noticed that I could sing more easily. My voice would soar over high notes when just a few weeks prior, I would have had a hard time reaching it. I had never experienced life without dairy. In the same way that I thought it was silly when people told me they could “never live without meat” while I was vegetarian and knew they surely could if they wanted to try, I began to realize that maybe I had been just as closed-minded about being vegan. I was judging something I’d never tried before.

As the information piled up, Matt and I were more and more moved towards veganism. The big kicker for us was watching the documentary “Forks Over Knives.” After seeing that, we knew we had gone too far and couldn’t go back. We were in a new land, and we were surprised to find that we were rather happy about it.

We feel fantastic, and in the past year, I have noticed my ability and interest in cooking as well as baking skyrocket. Learning to cook vegan meals and trying to use less oil, salt, and refined sugars has been a bit like learning a new language. But I’ve found that our food is actually tasting better: both because taste buds have grown more sensitive now that we aren’t relying on excess salt, fat and sugar to appease them as well as because we’re making great recipes. I don’t see things as “off limits”, instead finding vegan variations or adapting recipes to be healthier (like using whole wheat pastry flour instead of white flour). For example, I want to try making vegan homemade Bailey’s, and have already made vegan mac n’ cheese and vegan pizzas.  I never thought of myself as a cook, but now I find that I actually kind of miss it when Matt cooks for us. It’s an exciting new adventure, and being able to eat meals and desserts without any guilt or portion limitation while feeling fantastic, looking better than I have in years, and not having to worry about a scale has been exhilarating.

We refer to ourselves as “aspiring vegans” now, because although we do want to be vegan, I think it’s a striving process: a continuing evolution that shouldn’t be more about my identity than it is about eating for optimum nutrition and enjoyment. We aspire to be vegan because we know that unfortunately, we will fail sometimes. And maybe, just to be polite or out of ignorance, we’ll allow a little animal product to enter our bodies. We anticipate some failure, but strive to attain our goal. And so far, it’s been a delicious one.

I decided to start this blog because my interest in food has become an obsession of sorts. (Yes, I am currently pregnant, and that certainly adds to this fascination) As I share more about what I learn about food, health, and awesome recipes, I find that using my family centric blog probably isn’t as logical.

So my goal for this blog isn’t to be preachy, overly informative, or wordy. I mostly want to share my enthusiasm and adoration of food with you, as well as having an easy format for sharing my favorite recipes. If it’s too complicated or takes too long, I don’t find it very enjoyable. I prefer simple, nutrient-dense, delicious recipes and these are the sorts of things I will share here from many different sources and I hope you (and your families!) will enjoy them, too. I won’t share anything I haven’t made (and adored!) myself, and I’ll try to always include a picture of how it turned out.