Budget Vegan Tips: Spice Mixes

I promised this post for you guys last week but due to my prior fiction writing commitments, I ended up pushing it off until today. That said, I hope it’s worth the wait!

As I mentioned in last weeks Budget Vegan Tips on grinding your own spices, getting them whole and in bulk can save you a TON of money. Ditto for spice mixes as well! If you enjoy ethnic food, you’ll know that there are PLENTY of spice mixes, condiments, and sauces that are used around the world and sold in little jars for exorbitant prices here in the States and in Europe. It’s pretty easy to make quite a few of them at home, and once you start making your own, you can tweak it to your liking.

Below I’d like to share with you a few of my favorites. Some have been passed down in my family, others I’ve picked up from books and other places but lost the original source. Anything that has been directly adapted from a book or website I’ll make sure to credit the author and link the book so you can check it out. That said, here you go:

Thai Curry Pastes

Indian Spice Mixes

General/Domestic Spice mixes

Red Curry Paste

  • 10 dried chiles de arbol or chiles japones
  • 1 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 stalk lemongrass
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh cilantro
  • 2 tbsp minced shallots
  • 1 tbsp chopped garlic
  • 1 1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger, or 2 tsp minced pickled ginger
  • 1/2 tsp grated lime peel
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Stem the chiles and remove the seeds, if you would like to mellow out the heat. Break apart and soak in warm water for 20-30 minutes.

Toast the coriander and cumin in a dry skillet over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, then remove to a small bowl or spice grinder. Combine with the pepper and grind finely, then set aside.

Trim and discard the roots before the bulb base of the lemongrass along with the top leaves, then finely chop the stalk. Drain the chiles and combine them with the lemongrass, toasted spices, and the remaining ingredients in a food processor. Grind until you have a fine puree, even if you have to scrape the mixture down the sides every so often. Scrape into a small jar and keep refrigerated for up to a month.

Green Curry Paste

  • 2 fresh jalapenos
  • 1 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 stalk lemongrass
  • 2 tbsp minced cilantro
  • 2 tbsp minced shallots or red onion
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Remove the seeds and ribs in the jalapenos, then mince. Set aside.

Toast the coriander and cumin in a dry skillet over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, then remove to a small bowl or spice grinder. Combine with the pepper and grind finely, then set aside.

Trim and discard the roots before the bulb base of the lemongrass along with the top leaves, then finely chop the stalk.Combine the chiles with the lemongrass, toasted spices, and the remaining ingredients in a food processor. Grind until you have a fine puree, even if you have to scrape the mixture down the sides every so often. Scrape into a small jar and keep refrigerated for up to a month.

Yellow Curry Paste

  • 10 dried chiles de arbol or chiles japones
  • 1 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 stalk lemongrass
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh cilantro
  • 2 tbsp minced shallots
  • 1 tbsp chopped garlic
  • 1 1/2 tsp minced fresh ginger, or 2 tsp minced pickled ginger
  • 1/2 tsp grated lime peel
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp Hot Yellow Curry Powder (see above)
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric

Stem the chiles and remove the seeds, if you would like to mellow out the heat. Break apart and soak in warm water for 20-30 minutes.

Toast the coriander and cumin in a dry skillet over medium heat for 2-3 minutes, then remove to a small bowl or spice grinder. Combine with the pepper and grind finely, then set aside.

Trim and discard the roots before the bulb base of the lemongrass along with the top leaves, then finely chop the stalk. Drain the chiles and combine them with the lemongrass, toasted spices, and the remaining ingredients in a food processor. Grind until you have a fine puree, even if you have to scrape the mixture down the sides every so often. Scrape into a small jar and keep refrigerated for up to a month.

Garam Masala

  • 1/4 cup coriander seeds (whole)
  • 2 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 3 2″ cinnamon sticks
  • 4 cardamom pods (preferably black) seeded
  • 1 tbsp green cardamom pods
  • 1 tbsp cloves
  • 1.5 tsp peppercorns
  • 5 bay leaves

Toast all of the spices for 2-4 minutes on medium heat, until very fragrant. Cool fully, then grind the cinnamon sticks into a fine powder. Add the rest of the ingredients to the spice grinder one at a time, grind each into a fine powdered mix. Store for up to a year in an airtight container.

Hot Yellow Curry Powder

  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp powdered ginger
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp garam masala (above)
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp yellow mustard seeds
  • 3/4 tsp sea salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1 clove
  • 2 green cardamom pods

Toast the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cardamom pods, clove, yellow mustard seeds, cayenne, and bay leaves over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, until fragrant. Combine in a spice grinder with the rest of the ingredients, blend until a fine powder. Use in curries, with rice, and anywhere curry powder is called for. Feel free to adjust the cayenne if it’s too spicy!

Panch Phoron

  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp anise
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp nigella
  • 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds

Combine the whole spices and store in an airtight container. When using, cook in hot oil for a few minutes first, then add vegetables or the beginnings of a dal and proceed with cooking as normal. Adds a nice spicy kick to many Indian side dishes!

Old Bay Seasoning

  • • 2 tbsp celery salt
  • • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • • 1/8 tsp ground dry mustard
  • • 1/8 tsp  ground mace (may substitute a teensy pinch nutmeg)
  • • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • • 1/8 tsp ground cardamom
  • • 1/8 tsp ground allspice
  • • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • • 1/8 tsp ground ginger

This one actually came from Epicurious, but the mix is perfect and I wanted to share it with you all anyhow. Combine all of the ingredients above and seal in an airtight container for up to a year.

Italian Seasoning

  • 1 tbsp dried basil
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 tsp garlic granules
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp dried marjoram
  • 1/2 tsp dried tarragon

Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container or jar for up to 6 months.

Pumpkin Pie Spice

  • 3 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves

Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container or jar for up to 6 months.

Chili Powder

  • 2 tbsp ground ancho chiles
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder

Combine all ingredients and store in an airtight container or jar for up to 6 months.

Taco Seasoning

  • 1 tbsp chili powder (see above)
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp regular paprika
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vegan sugar
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp chipotle chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin

Combine all ingredients in a spice grinder and grind until powdered. Store in an airtight container or jar for up to 6 months

Vegan Product Review: Daiya White Cheddar With Vegetable Cheezy Mac

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The title is incredibly long for this review, but I’ll start with a disclaimer: Daiya sent me three coupons, one for each flavor, so I could try out their cheezy mac and do a review on it. Obviously this isn’t going to influence my review, but I wanted to let my readers know in case it would influence your opinion on said review.

That said, I was pretty impressed with the white cheddar cheezy mac. The first thing that I noticed on the package was that, like the Daiya pizzas, it is also gluten free and nut free. That meant that my hubby could have some too, so I let him try a bowl himself when I cooked it up to review it.

The noodles had a nice texture for rice noodles, I was pretty impressed. Some prepackaged rice noodles that I have tried have ended up mushy even at recommended cooking times, or overly starchy, but after 7 minutes in lightly salted boiling water in my stockpot, I could hardly tell the difference from the whole wheat noodles that I used to eat. The sauce packet is a liquid, so all I had to do was dump it over the strained noodles and stir after returning them to the pot. The vegetables were in the packet with the noodles, so I had to use a fine-mesh strainer so I didn’t lose them. I wish I would have taken photos, because the final product looked very similar to the box art, and that alone impressed me!

The sauce smelled strongly like Velveeta, but had a delicious white cheddar taste. The consistency of the sauce would land a 9/10 from me, it was sticky and gooey and cheese-like. Much better than the Kraft packets I ate as an omnivore! I enjoyed the vegetables in the mac n’ cheese because I often grew up with carrots and peas in mine, but my husband complained that he didn’t think they belonged in it. I think a major improvement for future use might be to put the veggies in a separate packet, so those like me that like them can add them, and those like Steve who don’t can avoid them. With the way that they’re mixed into the same packet with the noodles, it would be quite a hassle to pick them out.

The noodles cooked to a perfect al-dente, so the texture gets an 8/10. They were still a little slippery, but brown rice noodles usually are. The sauce stuck to them beautifully, though it also stuck heavily to the pot. Without a good soaking or an immediate cleaning it would be difficult to un-stick it, but so would a mac n’ cheese made with “real cheese,” so I guess it gets a pass.

In terms of quantity, the little box came with 1 cup (approximately) of dry noodles and the sauce to cover them. For most families, even as a side dish, you would need two boxes, and though the quality is spectacular the price may be a sticking point. I would have paid just shy of six dollars had I not had my coupons, and though the food was amazing, the value may have been a bit lower. If they could find a way to manufacture it cheaper, my 6/10 for value would bump up to an 8, because it was most definitely delicious.

Budget Vegan Tips: Grinding Spices

One of the most beautiful parts of becoming vegan for me has always been the exposure to so many different cultural flavors, particularly when I think of the number of new spices I’ve added to my cabinet as a result. When I began to explore Indian food for example, cumin, coriander seeds, fenugreek leaves and seeds, anise, cloves, dried hot peppers, curry leaves, mustard seeds, cardamom, turmeric, saffron, and cassia bark all made their way into my cabinets. For Thai, suddenly fresh lemongrass, small Thai chiles, prickly ash, star anise, and Thai basil were regulars in my spice mixes. Chinese cooking brought a homemade five spice mix, plum sauce, and homemade vegan versions of oyster and hoisin into my kitchen.

The first time I purchased these spices, however, I was naive, and bought them in the small bottles that one finds in the spice aisle of the supermarket. A few of them, I learned later, could be acquired in a similar manner cheaper at ethnic markets, but regardless the cost began to add up as more and more ethnic food began to make its way onto my table. Gone were the days that I had to go to my favorite Indian place and make several substitutions in order to have a vegan version of my favorite cream sauces! Yet still the expense remained, particularly when you consider that spices have a shelf life of about dix months before they begin to lose potency. What’s a girl to do?

The answer came when I was exploring Bed Bath and Beyond, and noticed for the first time a little contraption that claimed to grind both spices and coffee. I picked it up for about $20, and that investment alone has saved me hundreds of dollars over the last few years. What I learned later was that many of my favorite ground spices, like cumin and coriander, when not found whole in traditional dishes, were usually toasted and then hand ground in a mortar with a pestle. I don’t always have time to do that with my spice mixes, but I do have time to toast a large amount of my favorite spice and put it through the grinder, then bottle it up in all those little glass jars that I’ve racked up over the years from purchasing the spices for far more money than I should have.

This is an advantage for three reasons. One: the flavor of fresh ground spices, toasted or no, is FAR superior to the pre-ground versions at the store. The aroma alone is enough to convince anyone! Two: whole spices keep for closer to a year, which extends the shelf life on spices you may only use a few times over the course of said year. If you’re an ethnic food junkie and use those spices every week like I do then this might not be as much of an issue, but for many of us, this is a major advantage of the DIY mentality. Three: With time and practice, you can also opt to grind precisely what you need for a given recipe, which can increase the flavor reaction from point one. I often opt to grind and store my spices for a couple of weeks, but I have friends who grind exactly what they need for every recipe, and the results are wonderful.

So, where can you find these whole spices? That depends on where you live. Several of the big box grocers here have fenugreek seeds, cloves, coriander, cumin, bay leaves, and anise in the “Mexican” aisle in bags for a fraction of the price per oz that one would find the ground versions in the spice aisle. Coriander is often sold as “cilantro seeds” in this fashion, which is accurate: many people don’t know that fresh cilantro is actually the plant that produces delicate coriander! Chinese markets, Indian markets, Mexican markets, and some bulk sections also often house whole spices in bags or in bulk. You can also order them online, but I would check with some of your local businesses first. Even when saving money, it really pays to support the local economy, and sometimes local businesses are willing to cut deals if you buy a lot.

Next week I’ll do an article on spice mixes for all of you that are either sick of the prices for them at the store or would like to save money on your own. Let me know in the comments if you would like to see any particular mix such as garam masala, chili powder, etc. Happy cooking!

Vegan Product Review: Daiya Strawberry Cream Cheeze

I’ve decided that I’m going to open up a new column while I work on the development of my gluten free ravioli recipe, and what better to start with than a product review column on one of the more well known cheeze substitute brands? One of the beautiful things about Daiya is that their entire purpose is to be as allergen free as possible, and their cream cheeze is no exception. Soy free, gluten free, and of course, dairy free, their cream cheeze is main primarily with canola/safflower oil, xanthan gum, glycerin, potato starch, and pea protein.

For spreadabilty, I would give it a 10/10. It almost seems a little too thin at times to be a good cream cheeze substitute for cheezecake, but for bagels? It’s perfect.

Mouthfeel on the other hand leaves a little to be desired, maybe 6/10. When it’s completely cold fresh out of the fridge it’s pretty good texture-wise, but if it lingers in your mouth or on the table too long, it starts to get a more “melted” consistency that’s a little too liquid for my liking. I would call it more of a winter treat than a summer one, and I would use something else if you want to use it as a base for cake frosting. I actually attempted to use it in a cake frosting recipe for a gluten free “pink lady” cake, and it required a bit of time in the fridge before it stuck well enough to be easily edible.

In terms of taste, the initial taste is good, and I can taste the cultured sugar, but the entire thing doesn’t taste sharp so much as it tastes tart. There is a lingering sweetness there, but if you taste it too long, the canola oil taste shows through. The initial bite is delicious and tastes a great deal like cream cheese, but the aftertaste can linger if you eat it on an entire bagel. It’s one of the better ones on the market and great for people with soy allergies, but I’d give the taste a 7/10.

Price wise, it’s one of the less expensive cream cheese substitutes, so in terms of value and availability I’d say it’s pretty good. 8/10 on price versus quality and availability.

It’s more of a snacking or breakfast cream cheese, less a cooking or full substitute. If you treat it as a spreadable treat rather than a true substitute, the rating goes up to 8.5 or 9. As a full substitute and try to use it in places where cream cheese is called for, I’d drop the rating to a 6, as it doesn’t hold up very well in that regard. I believe it was created to compete with the spreadable cheeses such as Philadelphia, Kraft, and Lucerne, so in that regard it performs its function well.

I would love to see a block cream cheeze from Daiya, similar to the ones from Miyoko’s Creamery and Tofutti, that could be used in cooking situations where heat is involved more easily. For now, in terms of something yummy to stick on my bagel in the morning when I’m too lazy to cook a full breakfast, Daiya strawberry cream cheeze does the trick.

Cross Country Vegan Tips!

I apologize to all of my followers for my longer than one week hiatus in posting, I found out one of my grandmothers had passed away and it hit me pretty hard. Following that, I had a short story that needed to get done by a certain deadline for an anthology, and my friends asked me to help them move across the country, which took up a lot of my time and energy to plan for. That said, it did actually give me a wonderful new topic to talk about!

I just finished a beautiful cross-country trip from Philadelphia back to Seattle to help a couple of (omnivorous) friends move in. Boy was it an experience! We took the northern route via I-90, and after one pit stop in Ann Arbor, MI we basically only stopped at rest stops and gas stations for the rest of the trip.

Despite crossing through several “food deserts,” I was able to find food thanks to a couple of wonderful apps, some ingenuity, and some creative problem solving. My first recommendation for a cross country trip: HappyCow Veginout. This little app is FANTASTIC, it has a free and paid version (I use it so much I paid for it because ad-free veg surfing is da bomb), and it has options for vegan, vegetarian, and veg options. The app creators have reviews of their own, and places that are vegan-friendly (meaning at least 5 vegan options on the menu) are clearly marked, which really helped in some of the meat-heavy states we crossed through, like South Dakota and Montana. They also allow for user reviews in case anything changes between when the app makers wrote theirs and when people visit, so that’s a major plus as well.

When it came to gas stations and rest stops, fresh fruit, bean dip, and hummus became our best friends. Most tortilla chip brands were vegan, though it was hard to find anything other than candy, bean dip, and fresh fruit to eat. Most wraps had cheese or mayonnaise, and the salads? Well, I didn’t know that salad needed meat and dairy to function, but apparently most gas stations think they do.

Most major cities did have restaurants with veg options though, and it doesn’t take many tweaks to make them vegan. A lot of Chinese places for example, if you tell them you’re allergic to fish, will prepare tofu dishes minus the fish sauce. Not a lot of sauces have meat broths in them from Chinese places, so if you check a basic recipe online and don’t see them, chances are you won’t eat them. Indian places often have daals and other vegan options due to the large Hindu constituency that they serve, so they’re usually a relatively safe bet when HappyCow can’t find anything. The most difficult states to get through are in the midwest, so if you pick up shelf stable food (vegetable soups became a favorite of ours, as did shelf stable hemp and almond milk with vegan granola) and keep it in an ice chest for a day or two after you open it, you can make it through these areas.

Whole Foods, when we found them, often had vegan options in their deli, which became a staple as well. I had a wonderful vegan veggie burger at one of them, as well as a General Tsao’s Seitan that was divine! Making sure you replace the ice in ice chests every day is important. We had a mishap where it melted and got everywhere in the back seat, which was not only not fun to clean up, it also contaminated some of our food. Thankfully we mostly just had bottled water in the ice chest, so not too much damage was done, but being prepared is important. There are enough wild areas to dump the ice water in, given that it isn’t contaminated with any food, that you should be good to dump it near the rest stops. Be mindful though of local wildlife!

Overall, with some planning a vegan road trip is definitely manageable. In the future, I’d probably bring a camping burner and some vegan MRE’s or quick-heat meals with me so that I can make it more easily through food deserts without having to eat so many bean dip/hummus meals, but lesson learned.

Have you gone on a cross country trip as a vegan? Any lessons learned, tips, or mishaps? Let me know in the comments!

Gearing Up For Vacation!

So I’m gearing up for a week long vacation in Michigan starting Monday, so I won’t be posting any new recipes or anything next week. I just don’t want anyone to think the blog went defunct!

I’ve been working on a gluten free ravioli recipe, as well as a lasagne recipe conversion, a really yummy pineapple tofu sweet and sour stir fry, and a thinkpiece on letter writing campaigns and how to start one. I’m going to miss writing for all of you even if I’m having a blast down there, and I want everyone to know that I will be back with some fun and amazing recipes the following Monday.

If you have any requests, feel free to shoot me an email via the link at the top of the page for Contact, and I’ll let you know a timetable on when I should have it done. I also want to get involved with some more size activism, as I’ve been feeling like I’ve been neglecting that half of my blog a bit.

So, thank you for subscribing, and I’ll see you all again in a week!

Budget Vegan Tips: Slow Cookers

One of the most fantastic time and money saving devices I have ever discovered is my slow cooker. Just like the pressure cooker that I use on my stove top, on days that I really just don’t want to cook, tossing a few ingredients into the slow cooker before setting about on my daily tasks is extremely appealing and can guarantee dinner on the table during nights I would be severely tempted to go out.

Beyond that though, I feel like these machines are severely under appreciated for what they can do. Most people, for example, only associate slow cookers with chilli, pot roast (if they’re omnivorous that is), and bland, overcooked soup. There is so much more that you can do with a slow cooker!

For just under $50 for a decent sized cooker, you have a machine that can prep beans overnight so you don’t have to worry about them, cook steel cut oats overnight with fruit so you have a fantastic breakfast in the morning, keep food warm for a potluck so you know you’ll have a vegan option, and make sure dinner will be on the table when you get home from a rough day’s work. I’ve even used it to make a homemade boullion for when I don’t feel like making broth, and you can even make broth in them too!

Slow cookers actually helped get me into cooking. The ease of use really helped me explore a wide range of different flavors. Below is a delicious dish to get you started. It uses either soy curls (I get them from Butler and really like their texture) or TVP chunks and relatively easy to find, inexpensive ingredients to bring together a fantastic stir fry.

Kung Bao Beefy TVP

  • 2 cups tvp chunks or Butler Soy Curls
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored and sliced into strips
  • 8 oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 can (8 oz) water chestnuts, drained and rinsed
  • 3 carrots, diagonally sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, diagonally sliced
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1.5 tbsp minced ginger
  • 1 1/2 cups veggie broth
  • 1/4 cup + 1/3 cup Braggs liquid aminos or soy sauce, divided
  • 1-2 tsp black bean chili sauce or sriracha
  • 2-3 tbsp corn starch
  • 1-2 scallions, including green parts, chopped
  • 2 tbsp chopped peanuts
  • Brown rice, for serving
  1. Combine the tvp chunks in a large bowl with 2 cups boiling water and 1/3 cup soy sauce, stir and let reconstitute for 10 minutes. Drain. Roughly chop the soy curls/tvp chunks into 1 inch pieces.
  2. Whisk together the garlic, ginger, veggie broth, chilli paste, and 1/4 cup soy sauce. Pour into the bottom of the cooker.
  3. Place the bell pepper, chopped tvp chunks, water chestnuts, carrots, celery, and mushrooms in the cooker. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.
  4. During the last 1/2 hour of cooking, whisk corn starch into 3 tbsp water, then stir into the cooker along with the sesame oil. Turn up to high and let the sauce thicken.
  5. Serve over rice and sprinkle with scallions and peanuts. Makes 4-6 servings

Recipe Request: Gluten Free Vegan Pasta

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The biggest problem that my hubby and I have had with going gluten free has been pasta. Most of the ones available on the market have either a serious aftertaste or a problem with filling the pot with an excessive amount of starch, no matter how large a pot I use to cook them – resulting in gummy noodles. After discussing the issue with several other gluten free people on various forums, I decided that there weren’t quite enough recipes for vegans who were gluten free and didn’t quite like spinach in their pasta.

I started with the base that I knew was the most common – brown rice flour. Layering some relatively neutral flavored sorghum flour with it gave the noodles a better texture, while tapioca starch became a nice binder to compliment the flax that I used to replace eggs in traditional pasta. Add some xanthan gum in the mix to mimic the gluten, and the only thing I had left was to figure out the liquid levels…which was the hardest part.

After extensive testing using the attachments for my stand mixed, I settled on 3/4 of a cup of water, + or – 1-2 tbsp of additional water if the dough didn’t want to stick to itself well. All in all the recipe makes just over a pound of pasta and worked for fettuccine, spaghetti, and lasagne applications! The pic above is fettuccine coated in a sun-dried tomato pesto, which I’ll include the recipe for below the pasta. The noodles before sauce look like whole wheat ones. They can be slightly slimy immediately out of the pot, but if you cool them and let them rest for 2-4 minutes after cooking this clears up completely. Sauce sticks to them wonderfully and they cook to a perfect al dente in just 3 minutes!

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Gluten Free Brown Rice and Sorghum Pasta

  • 1 cup brown rice flour
  • 2/3 cup sorghum flour
  • 1/3 cup tapioca starch
  • 3 tbsp ground flax seeds
  • 1 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup warm water, plus a little more on the side and more for boiling
  1. Combine 3/4 cup warm water with flax seeds, let sit for 5 minutes until thickened.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flours, tapioca starch, xanthan gum, and salt. Whisk until fully combined. You might want to whisk for a few minutes to make sure everything is uniform, even a couple of “chunks” can mess up the consistency of the dough.
  3. With a wooden spoon, slowly stir the flax mixture into the flour mixture until a dough ball forms. Knead for 4-6 minutes, until slightly sticky, uniform, and thick.
  4. Put through an electric or hand pasta machine and follow the directions for the type of pasta you want. If you’re using a Kitchenaid stand mixer, I’ve found that it works best on setting 4 for spaghetti and fettuccine, as well as lasagne.
  5. When you’re ready to cook it, bring water to a boil with a pinch of salt. You’ll want about 3 quarts of water at least for 1/2 lb of pasta. Cook for 3 minutes, drain and cool immediately with cool water. Let rest for a few minutes before serving.

Sun-dried Tomato Basil Pesto

  • 8 oz basil leaves, stems trimmed, and chopped
  • 4 sun dried tomatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3-1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp chopped cashews
  • 3 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until thoroughly combined and basil is minced.

Making a Difference: Animal Rescues

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The picture above is from an LA times article detailing how John Fiske, a lawyer, decided that eating meat was wrong and dedicated some of his fortune to opening an animal rescue for factory farm animals. Many of us don’t have the sort of salary a lawyer does to undertake such a project, but we still feel the need to contribute in a way beyond deliberate non-participation in the meat system.

Enter vegan animal rescues and farm sanctuaries. Volunteer work can be extremely rewarding, particularly for those of us that have a harder time proselytizing due to social anxiety. In a rescue we find ourselves making direct impact on rescued animal’s lives, surrounded by a community of like-minded individuals. It can be extremely empowering to visit and volunteer each week or month as well, because even in moments of activist burnout, we know we made a direct impact, no matter how small.

Working at an animal sanctuary can be hard work, but often ends up being therapeutic. It can instill a feeling of hope, in that at least the animals in the rescue and those like it get to live out their lives freely in recovery for their experiences. If you’ve ever suffered trauma or other issues, working with animals can also help re-instill a sense of purpose in your life. For those of us of size, the animals don’t care, and neither do the other volunteers. We’re all here for them, so generally the sort of petty squabbling that we see in other segments of the vegan community is absent. Not always, but usually.

Some people also find reward in working for pounds and companion animal shelters. Generally, it’s better to work for no-kill shelters than for state run facilities that euthanize, but the decision is really left to the volunteer. Some people find solace in making an animal’s last moments wonderful, while others have experienced mild PTSD from the sight of many euthanized animals. If there are volunteer positions open at a no-kill, it’s often the safest choice.

Even if you don’t live near a farm sanctuary or animal rescue, you can still make a difference by contributing to one. Many are 501(c)3, so your donation might even be tax deductible! As a lot of rescues run entirely on donation money, these contributions can be said to be equally important to time spent with the animals themselves, as without them the sanctuaries could never exist. Plus, if you ever get around to visiting, you might even get to meet the animal or animals you’ve been sponsoring, which in and of itself is an amazing feeling.

Locating a sanctuary can be a tricky thing, but a quick google search usually brings up a few of them. Many are in rural areas, so travel time might vary, but quite a few host “work parties” that don’t even require a prior commitment. Some shelters have monthly work program sign-up lists, which helps when you want to make a regular commitment but can’t make the drive every week. If you live in the heart of a city, a no-kill companion animal shelter may be easier to locate for volunteer work.

Here are a couple of directories to get you started:

Feel free to comment or message me about organizations or directories you’d like to see included in this post, along with volunteer stories! I plan on compiling them for a future column on volunteer work and contributions to the vegan cause, if you’d like to be included let me know.

Good luck, and happy volunteer/sponsoring!

Finding Strength In Weakness

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Learning to love yourself, in my experience, comes in waves and stages. You can often start with affirmations (even if they feel hokey), staring in the mirror every day and telling yourself, “I love you,” despite how you may feel at the time, or work through body positivity exercises in a journal, whatever strikes your fancy. Things will go great for some time, until the moment comes when something major will challenge you.

It’s these challenges that really define us. Mine came from the in-law visit from a previous post, triggered my eating disorder for days. Today is the first day I’ve come out of it, and I want to share my experiences for any and all of us struggling with self worth, as a person and as a vegan.

I’ve realized that my darker feelings of self-damnation are like a canary in a coalmine, as are the eating disorder symptoms. Part of treatment early on was to recognize fat-and-ugly attacks (which for some my come in the form of I-haven’t-done-enough attacks) as what they were: an attempt at self-care. Sounds crazy? Let me explain.

At some point in most of our lives, we’ve been told that to stand up for the things we believe in, prioritize ourselves, or take pride in ourselves and accomplishments is somehow selfish or self-centered. Nothing could be further from the truth, but often, those messages come at such a young age or so repeatedly that we internalize them. Start to come close to success in your career? Suddenly your thighs are too fat for that dress and you need to focus on dieting. Bad fight with your partner or parents? Suddenly you find yourself consumed with thoughts of inadequacy. Activists fighting for animal rights can experience this sort of burnout as well, where everything they do feels like a drop of water in the pond and ultimately “amounts to nothing.” I can tell you that all of the statements above are false, but I’m sure, somewhere deep down, you already know that.

I’ve come to believe that these thoughts are indeed a form of self care, an attempt to distract ourselves from something uncomfortable with something familiar and “safe.” Self-depreciating comments are acceptable in most societies, where confidence is often equated with narcissism unless it’s socially justified. These views are ultimately false and self-destructive.

So what can we do to break out of these sorts of moments and renew our determination to help the animals and ourselves? Here’s what I’ve found:

  1. Approach the thoughts with a sense of curiosity. Ask yourself what has happened recently that might cause you to feel that way. Have you eaten within the last 4 hours? Are you hungry? If you have medication, have you taken it? Has there been an emotionally compromising event on your mind, be it success, failure, or a fight? Is there something you’re obsessively worrying about? Try brainstorming and make a list of possible culprits.
  2. Make a quick plan of action. Start with the most likely, and think of something you can do about it right now. If you haven’t eaten anything, find something filling and really focus on it. Savor the flavor. If stray thoughts wander into your mind, thank and dismiss them and return to it. If it’s a thought or event issue, try writing a letter to the person involved in a journal or on a word document you never intend to send. Crumple it up and burn it when you’re done, if you like. If you have fears of success or feelings of inadequacy stemming from a lack of accomplishment, try mapping out your goals and make a list of small steps you can use to move towards them. Then pick one thing you can do now and do it.
  3. Check in with yourself. Did the thing you did make you feel better? If not, go back to your list. If you exhaust all of your options, try talking to a friend or family member about it, someone you know and trust who might have an insight that you may have missed. If all else fails, find something you love, like a favorite video game, movie, or craft/hobby, and set aside a half hour to an hour to do it. Immerse yourself in it. When you’re done, see how you feel again.
  4. Congratulate yourself on your self-care skills. Finish out with a self-love technique, such as affirmations or an expression of verbal self love in the mirror. I know these things feel strange, but they really do help.

No matter what your size or involvement, these things are important, whether you’re having a fat day, a triggered eating disorder, activist burnout, or insecurity issues. I know you can make it through it, and I hope this helps you do so. I believe in you.