Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Taste Testing the Bean

Despite being somewhat of a reclusive miser, I am no stranger to the Sentient Bean. My roommate and I make a habit of a leisurely walk there every Sunday to catch up with each over coffee and sweets. In line, our hearts race as we select a baked good to break our weekly budget of money and calories, and we feel like royalty walking with plates that glitter with sugar. It’s a two-step over computer cords and in between conversations to find a table or couch that we can occupy with brainstorms and gossip, and we sit there too long stealing refills and wishing work wasn’t awaiting us when we left. Everything about the event is painstakingly choreographed, but it’s a choreography I love to dance. In all honesty, it’s probably my favorite part of the week.

My experiences at the Bean have been largely limited to these Sunday mornings and specifically limited to that bakery case. Occasionally, I’ll find myself there on a weekday afternoon, a table all to myself where I scramble to meet some deadline instead of dissecting a Robert Downey Jr. movie like I usually would; but even on those rare occasions where I’ve come to work instead of play, if I’ve got anything sitting beside my coffee, it’s something sweet.

I always go for something sweet because I’m vegan, and finding a homemade vegan treat is difficult to do even in my much-more-metropolitan hometown. (We won’t mention my outrageous sweet tooth.) The novelty of vegan sweets right here in Savannah suckers me in almost every trip - even though every time I know that half the time I’m wasting me $1.50 - $4.00 because their baked goods are so hit-or-miss. It’s that option of lifestyle compatible treats, though; I find it too compelling to avoid! I find it especially compelling because the Bean fails to offer “real” food I see worth paying for.

I’ve eyed the Sentient Bean’s meal options more than once, but it’s never grabbed my attention. Nothing has ever looked good or interesting enough to pound my fist and say, “Give me something I can’t dunk in coffee!” When I look at their menu, I see largely generic vegetarian fanfare at sort of exorbitant prices. I’ll concede that the portions are fairly decent and the ingredients are fairly quality (they use things like demera sugar, whole wheat flour, and some organic produce); but when appealing to a broke college student who’s skilled with a skillet, I need them to give me soups, salads, and sandwiches that sizzle – and I need them vegan, not vegetarian!

Okay, I admit, Sentient Beans gives a lone vegan option that’s gotten my salivary glands pumping from time to time: the barbecue tofu wrap. Sometimes when I catch a glance of it on the menu, my stomach checks itself for hunger so it can try to convince my brain that I need that sandwich. The board describes it as tomato, mixed greens, and tofu dressed in a combination of Vegenaise, sriracha, and barbecue sauce wrapped in a tortilla and pressed like a panini. My stomach usually pleads with my brain, “Doesn’t that sound good?!” but my brain had never given in – that is, until recently.

I ate the barbecue tofu wrap in the shade of the Bean’s back patio with a breeze blowing that simply smelled like sunshine. If there was ever a more perfect time for eating this sandwich, it was that afternoon, and I was dancing inside when my plate arrived. The wrap’s presentation was elegant in its simplicity: a bouquet of color bundled inside a tortilla and ribboned with the crisp impressions of a panini press. The cook had laid it out in a sort of pyramid of thirds and trimmed it with a modest side salad. It looked so fresh and flavorful, my eyes were as happy to consume the sandwich as my mouth was, and when I took my first bite, I was expecting an explosion of flavor.

The flavor was so flat, the side salad was a serious adventure by comparison. The barbecue tofu wrap had always caught my attention because it struck me as cleverly complex. After all, could one ordinary tortilla contain such three distinctly different condiments? Suffice it to say, I wasn’t expecting the condiments to fuse together into something that functioned more like lubricant and less like dressing, but my instinct was to blame the bland tofu and chock the whole sandwich up to poor tofu preparation.

The Bean doesn’t press this protein-packed meat analogue like most veg restaurants do. Without pressing tofu, it maintains that notoriously wet texture tofu that most people are turned off by, and its residual water can drown accompanying flavors. I think that’s what happened here, and it happened in such a profound way, I was halfway through the wrap before I remembered it was called barbecue. The wrap would have been a lot better had the Sentient Bean’s kitchen staff pressed the tofu and then marinated it in barbecue sauce. Then the tofu could do what tofu does best: absorb all that delicious flavor. Now, the wrap would have been perfect had they baked the tofu after marinating it so those cute little cubes would have had crisp little outsides to contrast with the smooth of the sauces they wind up dressed in. But, the Bean didn’t do that, resulting in an underwhelming sandwich that tasted like amateur tofu skills.

As I sat debating whether it was worth the six dollars to have only my curiosity satiated, I watched people traverse the alley paralleling the patio. The Bean’s outback is somewhat secluded by greenery and trellising, but there’s an implied doorway from the alley into the dining area with lots of places where neighbors can spot diners and shout hellos as they walk past with their dogs. Several times during my meal, people would be casually shuffling along only to look over at a friend nose-deep in a book on the patio. The person would re-route themselves to grab a seat, and soon laughter would mix with the faint aromas wafting from the open backdoor of the Bean’s kitchen.

It reminded me that no one goes to the Bean for the food. People go to the Sentient Bean because it faces Forsythe Park. They go because it has fair trade coffee, and the coffee is actually good. They go because the dishwashers will ask you how your cake is - tell you it’s a new recipe tried just that morning, and they’re as eager as you were to try it. People go because the atmosphere at the Bean is as warm as its red walls, especially with events like open-mic comedy nights, weekly film screenings, and performances by underground and indie performers of every stripe. It’s the kind of place where Sunday mornings see children crawling away from their parents and tattooed strangers carrying them back with a smile. If you want a really good vegan sandwich, wait in line at Zunzi’s for half an hour to get the mushroom one without cheese; but if you want a pleasant afternoon that might unexpectedly involve five of your favorite friends, grab something at the Sentient Bean.

Sentient Bean
13 East Park Avenue
Savannah, GA 31401-6436
(912) 232-4447

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Resurrected? Or the living dead?

I have a blog? Fuck, I have a blog.

When I got an email from Scrumptious reminding me, yes, I have a blog, I decided I could no longer call watching Weeds while studying anatomy textbooks "too busy." My absence isn't just avoidance, though. It also owes to a lot of self reflecting.

I started the blog with the life I was leading at the time in mind. I felt like there was a lot about it that said, "Hey, my life's a fuckin' party!" and I wanted to share that along with lots of recipes and ideas. Shortly thereafter, though, I got accepted to art school and was awarded a huge scholarship - conditional on starting right then. I had a week and a half to quit my job, pack my life, and say good bye, and instead of pausing to adjust when I got there, I scrambled to find a job and dove deep into the ten-week terms. Three quarters and a whirlwind of excuses later, I still haven't adjusted, and what can I say? I'm broke, I'm busy, and I'm reclusive. Point being, it's hardly the model of fun vegan straight edge living anymore, and that coupled with some lifestyle dilemmas I've finally resolved (I second-guess my choices every couple years - still vegan! still edge!) leaves me at a loss when I think about this here blog.

So, I might change its direction, give it a face lift - something when school gets out in five weeks, but I haven't decided. If you've got some thoughts, I'm all ears.

Now, I was going to reward your patience with a restaurant review, but I just realized it's not on my hard drive. Damn. I guess you'll have to accept these posi living suggestions instead, then tune back in tomorrow to read what I think of a coffee shop in Georgia. (I know you're marking the days off your calendar in anticipation of a Savannah ghost tour, by the way. Don't lie. That is so up your alley, it is the alley, so this review is going to be VERY relevant to you. As relevant as this code for living..!)

Friday, February 26, 2010

Tips for Being Awesome at Life

Being in art school (as well as being committed to the idea of freelance after art school), staying motivated and "inspired" is a constant struggle for me. It's been an especially big struggle this quarter because even before I'd come back from break, life had gotten kind of messy; and then after break, well, the mess just sort of shot downhill. In addition to stresses like breaking my glasses and having my car hit, I'm not enjoying my classes as much and I'm bumping heads with more people than I'm used to. As my day gears up, I sit down to do work only to find myself saying "UGHGHGHHHH" a lot. That's when I start tapping into my bookmarks.

I've got a bookmark for just about every creative problem: coming up with an idea, implementing the idea, staying on task with the idea... When I'm dragging my feet going, "Ugh, I'm so uncreative! Ugh, I'll never get this done! Ugh, everything I do is shit!", there's always a link to put a skip in my step. So today, I'm sharing some of my link gold mine with you. The links aren't exclusive to cranky "creative" types and their "creative" projects (read: me/art students). Everyone's life requires creativity, and these are the links that help you tap into that, that help you realize your ideas - the links that keep you on track! If you want to do something about this cause but you can't decide what, these links will help. If you're trying to come up with a way to get more folks involved in a project, these links will help. If you're trying to get a project off the ground but you keep getting distracted, these links will help. Even if your only creative outlets are the kitchen, the blogosphere, the zine world - trust me, these links will help. So take a minute, browse through, and if you've got any to add, let me know.

+ Brainstorming 101: How to Get Creative - this is a four-minute video from the writer/motivational speaker Danielle Laport on how to get the most from your creative side. Danielle runs the blog White Hot Truth, which also has this great article on the perils of justifying yourself. (Because you may not be aware of this, but your constant excuse-making is holding you back..!)

+ Nine Tips to Be More Creative

+ Nubby Twiglet's Guide to Overcoming Artist's Block: Seven Methods

+ Scott Hansen's Guide to Overcoming Creative Blocks

+ 13 Tried & True Ways of Making Ideas Happen - because once you've overcome that creative block and you've got that idea, you need to know how to realize it. DUHZ.

+ 33 Ways to Get & Keep Yourself Motivated

+ The Art of the Self Imposed Deadline - short and sweet and cuts right to the point.

+ Self Discipline - this is from Steve Pavilina's blog, who is another writer/self-help type whose website YOU NEED TO EXPLORE if you like these kinds of links. I would also recommend the article Eliminate a Limiting Belief, but there are lots of not-so-hidden gems like Ten Reasons Never to Get a Job and How Intentions Manifest. Seriously, look through this shit.

+ Goals Shape the Present, Not the Future - sound familiar? I'm telling you, goal-setting will change your life. CHANGE.YOUR.LIFE.

+ Overcoming the Fear of Failure

What are your best links or tips for coming up with ideas and getting work done?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Vegan Zombies

click for larger view

He was out dumpstering during the zombie apocalypse. The stakes were high, but food was scarce. Usually, his best friend kept watch while he rifled through Trader Joe's residual inventory, but she had expired about the same time as the dumpster's contents so he was on his own tonight. He had to hurry. Being outside and alone always meant a hurry. The sound of a trash can tipping over. He looked up only to be descended upon by a round woman in stretch pants and a Garfield tshirt with teeth like tombstones and smoke where the sparkle in her eyes should have been. It was all over. Garfield-tee dragged her heft across the pavement, leaving him prone and still. Except, he wasn't still. His body was beginning to pulse with the fervor of a second life. His eyes opened, and he pulled himself off the ground, stumbling as the stiffness set into his joints. He hungered, he ached. All he could think was, "GRRRRAIIIIIINNNNS!!!"


Yesterday, the blog turned one. I haven't had time to write anything in celebration, so this was my gift to you. I enjoy making art about being vegan. I enjoy making art about a lot of stuff. You can always see what I'm up to via my flickr.


Also, you could win an ice cream maker over here.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Healthy Size

Anyone that's known me for a long time knows that my weight fluctuates... a lot. If you've been following this blog since its inception, you've even caught me talking about it a few times. When I started school last March, I put on a lot of weight my first quarter and really struggled with the sudden change. I wound up sharing a little bit of that struggle here, then realized weight loss can never be a posi topic and therefore didn't belong on the blog. (And I've since gone back and altered those entries.) The only thing I'm interested in promoting here is size acceptance and body positivity, so that's what I've focused on.

And yet, every blogger knows they're never 100% the person they try to be on their blog. So, even though I stopped writing about my weight, it never stopped being an issue for me. After a year of maintaining that weight gain, I finally managed to lose some of those ghosts of stresses passed this quarter, but now I'm at this in-between size where a lot of my clothes are either too big or too small. The other day, I caught myself complaining, "I'm too small for my fat pants and too big for my thin pants!" - which horrified me once I heard it because my clothes don't need those kinds of value judgments, especially when they're only a size or two apart.

That's why I was really glad when, only a few days later, I discovered one of my favorite blogs having a Size Healthy contest. The name makes it sound like some absurd mission to manipulate one's body into aesthetic standards of what it means to be "healthy," but it's not. It's just an incentive to promote body acceptance and health at any size. How does it promote that? By telling folks to take their clothes, cross out the sizes, and replace them with the words "healthy size." After all, it's not about the number on the tag (or on the scale or on the measuring tape...); it's about living a healthy lifestyle and accepting the version of you that you are at this moment - because there is no better version! It was exactly the kind of push I needed to deal with my absurd pants dichotomy.

My "fat pants" no longer have a number to stare at me every time I put them on. Now the wonderfully obvious cleaning-instructions tag screams "HEALTHY SIZE!!!" before I can even consider that number hidden beneath the sharpie. Every time I put on those pants - or any clothes I write this on - I've got that affirmation that I am enough and that my size is perfect, no matter what that size actually is. This isn't going to alleviate my weight concerns, but I know the constant reminder will be an important step in training myself to stop judging my shape. (And to stop valuing certain clothes more than others!) It's a step I encourage you to take as well because, if that's not a posi message or a posi pro-active move towards body acceptance, I don't know what is.

With that in mind, these are my four favorite body-positive blogs:

Oh She Glows
Operation Beautiful
ED Bites
The F-Word (Don't miss the links in her sidebar!)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Single-Serving Vegan Rice Pudding

When I woke up this morning, all I could hear was the tapping of rain against my window. I pulled down my blinds to see soggy grey clouds and umbrellas shuffling down the street; it made me immediately fall back into bed and pull the sheets over my head. Cold was already kissing at my cheeks. Schoolwork was already causing a tension headache. It felt like nothing could drag me out of bed. And then it donned on me, the comfiest of southern comforts that could revive even the most weather-worn northerners trapped in the south: RICE PUDDING.

The first time I can recall having rice pudding was about nine years ago. I was in North Carolina for a film festival, and one morning, there was a panel with a buffet trimmed in all the southern standards. I had just gone vegetarian a few months before, so the pickings were slim: drippy bacon over here, messy biscuits'n'gravy over there, home fries flecked with putrid pink ham. What was a vegetarian to do? But there, hidden in the corner, were these fluffy, fragrant dishes of gelatinous rice cozied with juicy little raisins that just called to me. Within one bite, I was hooked. My mouth reveled in the harmonies of flavors and textures, hints of cinnamon and cardamom mixed in a sweet cream delicately punctuated with rice grains. Oh, this was southern comfort, at its finest.

Suffice it to say, southern comfort is what makes me feel better about life down south, so rice pudding was definitely in order today. The best part about rice pudding is, it's extraordinarily easy to make. Even better, it's soooo adaptable. I make mine with brown rice and unsweetened soymilk so it's just as much about nutrition as it is about taste - and suitable for breakfast or dessert. I also make it without sugar. This recipe is single-serving because I've been super into single-serving dishes lately; they mean I don't have to worry about mindlessly snacking on leftovers, but more importantly, I can vary the recipe if I want to make it again. Thus, I offer a short list of variations afterward that I encourage you to experiment with. Get bold and come up with your own flavor combinations. (Then come back and tell me about them...)

Happy cooking!


+ 1/2 c water
+ 1/4 c rice*
+ 1/4 c non-dairy milk
+ 1/2 t cornstarch
+ 1 packet Purevia**
+ 1/2 t vanilla

* I recommend short-grain brown rice. While more toothsome than its white counterpart, it has more starch than long-grain, making it more fluffy and sticky while still maintaining the health benefits of brown rice.
** I happened to have some packets lying around from a restaurant and didn't want to futz with figuring how much Stevia. If you want to use good ol' fashioned sugar - or sucanat or agave or maple syrup or whatever - 2 T should be about right.

01. In a pot on high heat, bring the water to a boil. Add the rice, cover, reduce the heat, and let simmer for about fifteen minutes. After fifteen minutes, there should still be a little bit of water but not much - at least, this is the case with brown rice.

02. Whisk together the soymilk and cornstarch before adding them to the pot of rice. Then add your sweetener and vanilla, raise the heat to about medium, and stir constantly as it comes to its second boil. Reduce the heat and return the lid, keeping a watchful eye and stirring occasionally to prevent any burning or clumping.

03. When your pudding looks ever so slightly thinner than your "ideal" pudding texture, pull it from the stove and switch it to the fridge. (It will thicken as it cools.) Be sure to use a wire shelf/remember to put a pot holder beneath your pot! If you want to enjoy your pudding warm, it only needs to sit in the fridge for maybe three minutes. Otherwise, give it at least an hour before savoring most serenely.

coconut rice pudding: substitute coconut milk for your usual "milk." Sprinkle with cinnamon and serve with sliced bananas.

chocolate rice pudding: when adding the milk and cornstarch, throw in a tablespoon of cocoa powder, too. For a richer chocolate experience, add 1/4 - 1/2 t almond extract, and for REALLY decadent rice pudding, toss in 1 - 2 T chocolate chips. To make it seasonal, try peppermint extract instead of almond.

berry rice pudding: in the last five for ten minutes, toss in a handful of your favorite frozen berries and maybe 1/2 t lemon juice. Give 'em a gentle stir, and let their flavors BURST onto every rice grain. This would be an excellent way to start the day.

chai rice pudding: add 1/2 t cinnamon, 1/4 t cardamom, and a splash of ginger, clove, pepper, and nutmeg when adding the milk. You might also try mixing chai concentrate with the milk before adding it or cooking the rice in brewed chai tea instead of water.

pumpkin rice pudding: mix together 1/8 c pumpkin puree with 1/8 c soymilk and omit the cornstarch. Use brown sugar as a sweetener and add 1/2 - 1 t pumpkin pie spice. Perhaps substitute (or add!) almond extract for vanilla.

Indian rice pudding: substitute the coconut milk for your usual "milk," and add a handful of raisins in the last five or ten minutes of cooking. Serve with a dash of cardamom and ground pistachios.

lemon rice pudding: add the finely ground zest of one lemon along with the water when cooking the rice. When adding the milk, add 1 - 2 tsp rum/rum extract. To make it a little fruitier, add dried cranberries in the last five or ten minutes of cooking, or serve with fresh raspberries or strawberries.

Italian rice pudding: add a splash of amaretto with the milk (or almond extract and a half t sugar). Then throw in chopped or finely ground hazelnuts (about a handful) five minutes before serving. Enjoy lightly dusted with cocoa and cinnamon with a soy latte on the side.

How do you make your rice pudding?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Wheat-Free, Sugar-Free Vegan Carob Muffins

Note: these are tagged gluten-free but are not actually gluten-free, as they contain spelt. To make them gluten-free, substituting an equivalent amount of gluten-free all-purpose flour would likely suffice.

Don't you just loved fresh baked goods in the morning? Lately, every day's begun with the same protein smoothie, but today, my body hit a wall and demanded something more. It could be the tremendous amount of work I'm doing; last night I stayed up until one thirty working on an illustration for a magazine (!!) that I have to put the finishing touches on today. This morning, I woke up at eight to finish a paper and brainstorm ideas for my next 3D project (we're fusing organic forms with things traditionally worn on the head or neck, and we have to make it out of paper!). Plus, I have a giant, elaborate drawing to do and a short story to write -- all of which need to be finished by early next week! (Except the paper and the magazine drawing; those are due today.) I think muffins entered the scene because I either need the extra fuel, or I need the extra feeling of reward. Either way, I thought they were so worth it that forty minutes of my morning have already disappeared. Yikes!

So, I won't proceed with over-adulating descriptions of what they taste like or how to serve them because I really need to work! Plus, they're just carob muffins. They're high-fiber, and they're sweetened with stevia. There's not much more I can say. HOWEVER, I did design the recipe to be sort of single-serving - as in, it only makes four. If you want more, double or triple the recipe, but for me, four is plenty because I don't want to eat carob muffins clear through next week. (Of course I - or you - could always freeze any extras...) If you're a wizard in the kitchen, I think hiding nut butter in the middle of these - especially peanut or cashew-macademia butter - would be sublime. Anyway, give these a whirl one morning when you need that extra "oompf" in your gut to get you through the day.

+ 1/2 c spelt
+ 1/4 c oat bran
+ 1/8 c carob powder
+ 1 1/2 t baking powder
+ 1/2 t powdered stevia*
+ dash of salt
+ 1 t vanilla
+ 3 T oil (coconut would be amazing!)
+ 1/2 c water

* If you want to use sugar, 1/4 - 1/3 c would probably suffice.

01. Preheat the oven to 350º. Throw the dry ingredients in a bowl, and give them a quick stir with a fork so they're evenly distributed and well combined.

02. Add the wet. Stir! Stir! (With your fork - to prevent lumps. Stop stirring when there are no lumps. Remember, spelt is a cousin of flour, so gluten can still form from over-stirring. These aren't light muffins by any stretch, so don't add to that with vigorous shoulder work.)

03. Grease up or line four of the cups in a muffin tin, then fill them three-quarters of the way full. Shove the muffin tin in the oven and wait 25 - 30 minutes before pulling the muffins, cooling them, and EATING THEM!!!

04. Yes, it's just that simple.

Again - this recipe makes four servings.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Recreate, Don't Procrastinate! (Or: How to Get Shit Done so You Can Enjoy Your Effin Life)

Click to enlarge this pretty amazing flow-chart on internet procrastination. So fresh, so apt, so true.

Procrastinating: it's what I'm doing right now. I've got a really intense project looming over my head (gosh, when don't I..), but there's something about a four-day weekend that screams, "Take a day for yourself!" So here I am, sipping strawberry chocolate smoothies, having a Robert Downey Jr marathon (one of my New Year's resolutions is to watch his complete filmography), and telling you how I'm going to rectify this once I'm smoothie-d out. Because, ordinarily, I'm pretty good at getting things done once I've resolved to do them. If you want to stop procrastinating, all you need is a game plan.

If you're going to do something, you need to know exactly what you're doing. So for example, if you wanted to bake a cake, you'd need a certain amount of time, certain ingredients, certain cooking utensils - a working oven, even. So before you could even think about the actual cake, maybe you'd need to clear an afternoon, go grocery shopping, run the dishwasher, and pay your gas bill so they'll turn the electricity back on. Baking a cake can be so much more than simply baking a cake because even simple tasks can (and often do) have sub-tasks. Figure out your sub-tasks, how you're going to complete them, and the time necessary for each one - because doing this is like making an activity-specific recipe for success. And if you've got a recipe, you can save a lot of time and frustration in you're life's "kitchen."

Nothing gives you a quick kick in the ass quite like a deadline, and there's a very obvious reason for this: deadlines make time finite. Even if we're apt to put things off until the very last minute, deadlines ensure that there is a last minute; so rather than being some ambiguous goal bobbing in the currents of our subconscious, deadlines push tasks right into the forefront of our thoughts and timetables. They make our goals real and thus more manageable, which makes them easier to accomplish. Deadlines also create some sort of consequence (even if it's just a matter of letting ourselves down) if we don't do things when we say we're going to.

Maybe you have a to-do list a mile long. Speaking from my own experience, the longer my to-do lists become, the more daunting they seem, so that's why I get the most important things done first. Obstacles can creep up from the most unlikely places and we can lose our steam halfway through our list. With the most important things done and out of the way, you guarantee that something gets done (which is satisfying), and you alleviate the stress of Really Important Tasks looming over you. Plus, if something's really time sensitive and you tackle it as soon as possible, you leave room for those unexpected delays that could have really messed things up.

If the reason you're not getting something done is that you have too many distractions, get rid of them. It's just that simple. Set up a separate account on your computer where you can't get online. Block your time-wasting websites. Get out of the house to a quiet spot. Turn on music so it's not too quite. Whatever you need to avoid, figure out a way to avoid it because willpower isn't always enough. Basically, you're shooting yourself in the foot just letting those distractions dangle like carrots, so throw them away and get on with your life.

What happens if you don't get certain things done? Some things come with their own obvious consequences: if you don't pay rent on time, you get a fine. If you don't turn in an assignment on time, you get points taken off. If you don't meet your friends on time, you lose their confidence. But some consequences aren't as obvious. Maybe there's something you really want to do, but it's much easier to talk about than to pursue. But hey, who's it really hurting besides you? Well, "you" should be enough.

Chronic procrastinators get stuck in chronically letting themselves down. Instead of living in the now (working towards goals, celebrating accomplishments), chronic procrastinators wind up spending a lot of time in the past and the future, lamenting all the things they haven't done, idly planning more things they won't do. Another frequent and unintended consequence of abandoning personal goals is having only boring shit to talk about - because all you did instead of what you said you were going to do, was boring shit. Personally, I'd rather talk about a totally rad zine I wrote or some cool band I put together (chya, like I have any musical talent...) than the video games I played or movies I watched instead. So reminding ourselves why we do things - and what happens if we don't - can be a very helpful tool in motivating us to get them done.

There's nothing quite as satisfying as having something I really, really, REALLY didn't want to do, done and over with. The sooner an unpleasant task is behind me, the sooner I can look forward to, you know, pleasant things. Procrastinating always seems kind of fun when I'm doing it because anything is better than that unpleasant activity I'm avoiding, but here's the catch: whatever I'm doing instead of what I need to do is never as satisfying as it could be because I'm being nagged by that other thing. Even fun things get easier when I think of that feeling of accomplishment I get finishing them because accomplishment in and of itself is a useful motivation.

... so with the whole "getting unpleasant things behind me" thing in mind, I'm now going to check on the pasta I have drying for the pasta sculpture I'm shooting for a C on! (Me? A C-student? That's exactly what this project means to me...)

What do you do when procrastination starts getting the best of you?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tropical Gluten-Free Muffins

Believe it or not, I've actually been generating a lot of content for this here blog; I just haven't been posting it. Part of it is that, you know, I get ideas but I don't type them. Mostly, though, I've been developing TOP SECRET RECIPES that I think I'll put online and then decide I'd rather preserve for my zine. I know that I win World's Most Unreliable Blogger (what with promising you cookie recipes and then not updating for a month), but believe me, my little darlings, I have not forgotten you.

In fact, I've so far from forgotten you that I thought the best way to kick off the new year would be with a super healthy recipe. Year after year, the number one New Year's Resolution is "lose weight," but I prefer the more health conscious goal of "eat better, get fitter." After all, if you're eating properly and getting regular exercise, your body will naturally settle at a healthy, sustainable weight - no calorie counting required. So with that in mind, I decided to make some improvements in my own lifestyle: no more high-fructose corn syrup; no more hydrogenated oils; and no more artificial sweeteners. Right now, I'm also experimenting with completely wheat- and sugar-free cooking, and though it's only been maybe a week (I'm trying to make it at least month), I'm feeling pretty good. Some improvements I've noticed are my skin being a little clearer, my energy being a little more even, and my focus being a little better. This is all conducive to my ultimate 2010 goal: looking like Linda Hamilton a la Sara Conner in T2. Gotta have priorities, right?

So with these new(ish?) lifestyle efforts in mind, I conjured this recipe for gluten-free tropical bran muffins. I made some similar to these before I came back to school two weeks ago, and while those were just pineapple, they were amazing - amazing! Unfortunately, I didn't write down the recipe, and they were full of a little bit of sugar and a lot of wheat. Obviously, these babies have none of those things - just lots of good-for-you fats, fiber, and protein. They've got a little added sweetness from a scant half cup of maple syrup, but most of it comes from the tropical fruits, sweet flours, and coconut oil. These muffins get a nice, crisp exterior with a dense but fluffy interior. Plus, their tropical flavors warm your mouth on cool winter days, teasing you with daydreams of summer. Enjoy with some cold juice or an aromatic tea.

+ 1 c oat bran
+ 1/2 c coconut flour
+ 1/4 c sorghum flour
+ 1/4 c brown rice flour
+ 1 tsp xantham or guar gum
+ 2 tsp baking powder
+ 1 tsp baking soda
+ salt
+ cinnamon
+ cardamom

+ 1/2 c coconut oil
+ 1 1/2 c "milk" or water
+ 1/2 c maple syrup or agave
+ 1 tsp vanilla

+ 1 - 1 1/2 c fresh or frozen tropical fruit

01. Preheat the oven to 350º, and sift together the dry ingredients (bran through cardamom). Sifting can produce a lighter, fluffier baked good, but it can also make the ingredients more evenly distributed, which yields more uniform and delicious baked goods. If you don't want folks fighting for the bigger muffin or biting into a nugget of baking soda, sift your ingredients.

02. Cut in the coconut oil with a fork until you have a bowl of crumbles, then add the rest of the wet ingredients. Stir until well combined. Your batter should look like a medium between cupcake and biscuit batter - maybe somewhere in the scone neighborhood but, you know, not like your typical muffin batter. Now, the cool thing about gluten-free baking is that you can stir and stir without much concern with how all that stirring will affect the texture. The fact is, it won't, really, because no gluten is forming! So add that fruit, then stir some more.

03. Grease or line a muffin tin, and then plop that batter in there. Feel free to fill the containers almost completely full because these babies don't get a lot of rise. Then throw them in the oven for twenty to twenty-five minutes, rotating them 180º halfway through the baking process. A fork or toothpick won't necessarily come out clean when these are ready, but the tops will look firm and maybe even a little brown on the edges. (Pull them before they get too brown!) Your oven will also RADIATE with the smell of these wonderful (and wonderfully healthy!) treats.

04. Let the muffins cool completely before enjoying. This is important because, while I'm with you on enjoying certain things all hot from the oven, these can still seem a little wet when they're fresh from the oven - kind of in the same way cookies are still all soft when you pull them. That cooling part's important. You can let them cool in their tray for five or ten minutes, then pop them out and transfer them to a cooling rack or even a plate. (Obviously, cooling rack gets preference.) Give them maybe a half hour, then grab some tea and a good book and dig in.

Makes twelve to fifteen muffins.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Secular Holiday Party? How About a Cookie Swap!

Even being a godless vegan straight edge heathen, I love Christmas. I'll be the first to admit there's a lot not to love about it. For instance, I don't exactly love how wasteful it is: dead trees resurrected as Christmas cards; wrapping paper mountains that disappear overnight; families on the news pleaing for help with their electric bill because their light display captures the "Christmas spirit" better than anyone else's. I also don't love how commercial it is: buy this or your daughter will hate you! buy that or your house won't be Christmas-y enough! buy something or you're a total Scrooge! It's all very insulting.

And yet, I am smitten. For me, Christmas means snow-kissed landscapes and jazz in unexpected places. It means strange holiday crafts and complementary color schemes (hello, art nerd here!). It means pausing to appreciate your loved ones and pressure to be a little kinder. It also means a wealth of cookie recipes. For those of us compelled towards Christmas by something other than Christian faith, there's only one way to celebrate this odd cultural melange of Christian mythology and Pagan tradition. And that way to celebrate is... a cookie swap.

In my mind, cookie swaps are everything Christmas should be - and best of all, they don't even have to be about Christmas. (True story! You could host a cookie swap in July!) They're intimate because the best ones stay relatively small, and they're selfless because everyone has to do something for everyone else. Plus, the cookies are a built-in conversation-starter: "Man, how did you get those cookies to look like stained glass? That's so neat!", "Hey, these are amazing. What's your recipe?", "Don't take any of those home; they taste like feet." Cookie swaps are such a relaxed, no-fuss social occasion.

The formula for a cookie swap is simple:

01. Assemble a small guest list - maybe five to twelve people - and send out invitations. Be sure to specify how many cookies everyone should bake and any dietary restrictions/allergies they need to be sensitive of. Also remind folks to bring a container if you won't be providing them. If you're really amazing, tell them to wear one of those amazing holiday sweaters, too.

Pro tip: the dollar store sells cookie tins and large stacks of those Chinese take-out looking boxes, so if you want to provide containers for guests, there are options.

02. Make sure to have a table ready for all the cookies. You can dress it up with a cloth, candles, whatever (there are always fancy table settings on Hostess with the Mostess if you're into that), but having that surface is what's important. If you're feeling up to it, decorate your home, too. The dollar store and thriftstore are great sources for materials, but it's easy to make your own decorations, too. For bonus points, put on some of that sweet holiday jazz. (The library is an excellent source for said music.)

03. Provide beverages. Most of the cookies will probably go home with folks, but some will definitely be eaten at the party. That's why you need to provide soymilk, at the very least, and maybe some coffees and teas. Vegg nog, hot chocolate, chocolate chai rice milk, chai, chocolate peppermint soymilk - all good options, too! If you want to get crazy, throw in some juices and whatnot.

04. Plan games. Yeah, catching up and eating cookies are activities unto themselves - and in your case, that just might be enough - but if you really want to mark your party as an occasion, throw in some party games. Pin the nose on Rudolph! White elephant! Name that (Christmas) tune! Holiday charades! Stock the stockings! And on and on and on...

05. Have fun. Because that's what it's about, after all. And don't forget to remind your guests to take home some cookies!

Next week, I'm going to give some holiday cookie recipes perfect for gift-giving and cookie-swapping, so STAY TUNED.