Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fridge Full o' Frosting = Fail

Those aren't the only F-words I've been thinking the last few days.

I am having NO success trying to make Babycakes vanilla icing. Three batches and they are not working out anywhere near as well as I had hoped.

Because of my brilliant success with the vast majority of The Kind Diet recipes I've tried, I assumed that I'd have just as much success with Babycakes.

Beautifully laid out cookbook with mouth-watering pictures and clear instructions...

A lovely chef with a wonderfully engaging writer's voice, whose stories, explanations, and blurbs are super entertaining to read...

 Incredible celebrity endorsements, including my Natalie

and the adorable Zooey Deschanel...

Voted #1 cupcake in New York.
Frosting so delectable they sell it by the shot...

How could I go wrong?

I totally went wrong.

Of course, the first recipe I tried was the vanilla cupcake. But before I made the cake part I figured I'd give the icing a go, because it needed to set for 6 hours before using it.

I had never prepared icing in a blender before, but who am I to question the #1 cupcake in New York? It came out as a sauce (as it was supposed to before setting) and I poured it into a bowl to put in the fridge. Not before licking the spoon, of course.

This is the part where I would be expecting myself to launch into a rambling ode to this frosting, rife with grandiose adjectives describing its heavenly flavour, barely able to contain my exhilaration over the very likely possibility that it has just changed my life forever.

Yah. Not gonna happen.

Much to my shock and chagrin, I was not impressed. Not impressed at all.

The sauce had a chalky, overwhelmingly soy-y taste. I waited for it to set, hoping that maybe something would change flavour-wise as it thickened, but even though the texture turned out lovely, the flavour was still hugely disappointing.

It was like when I showed up for my first day of high school, and it was NOTHING like Saved by the Bell.

There had to be a mistake. Rob the Husband sampled the frosting, and he said it was all right. He understood what I meant about the soy flavour, but it didn't bother him too much. "It's all right." This still wasn't the reaction I'd been expecting for friggen BABYCAKES vanilla frosting.

My mom tried it, and she too understood what I meant about the soy. She actually liked it. But she likes anything I don't and vice versa, so that doesn't count.

I decided to try again. My biggest problem was the icky soy taste, so I substituted rice milk for the soy milk in the recipe (like author Erin McKenna says you can). I still used the required 3/4 cup dry soy milk powder in the recipe, figuring that the rice milk substitution would balance the flavour.

Nope. Wrong again.

It was like when I showed up for my first day of work as a young lady doctor at a maximum security all male prison and it was NOTHING like Prison Break.

This stuff still tasted bleh. I had to be missing something. At this point, before losing all faith, I did some digging on the Babycakes website, and discovered that they claim to be soy free! How the hell are they soy free if the recipes in the book contain soy?? I did some more digging, and it appears that soy milk powder is much more accessible than rice milk powder, hence its use in the cookbook.

As disgruntled as I was that the recipe in the book wasn't the actual recipe babycakes uses and the recipe that won them Best Cupcake, my faith in the true Babycakes vanilla cupcake was restored! All I had to do was substitute rice milk powder to replace the soy, and my problems would be solved! My elation was shortlived, however, after I tried to actually FIND a place in the lower mainland that carries rice milk powder.

You know why? Because that place doesn't exist.

No organic grocers, bakeries, gluten-free shops or vegan retailers carry this stuff. I tried to order it at Planet Organic, but their distributor no longer carries it. Currently out of stock on Amazon. Even my local Rice Milk Powder Store down the street (that only specializes in rice milk powder and rice milk powder products) didn't carry it.

I was screwed.

I kept investigating, reading blogs, until I found a recommendation for coconut milk powder. This had potential. I perked up a bit, and set out on my quest. Searched high and low, including Asian and Indian grocery stores.

No luck.

I had become obsessed. I needed to make this icing. It consumed me. I kept digging online.

I discovered this site, where the Babycakes people themselves responded to someone's query about the icing and suggested a potato based milk replacer. Rob the husband remembered seeing something at Save on Foods, so we promptly rushed over there to buy the potato based DariFree, and I proceeded to make a third batch of frosting, sans soy.

Third time's a charm, right?

WRONG!! So, so wrong.

Even though the flavour turned out much better (gone was the icky soy taste), now the frosting was really sweet (I assume because of the fructose in the milk replacer), had a grainy texture, and was pretty watery, even after setting overnight. The DariFree, while much tastier than the soy milk powder, was definitely not a suitable replacement.

I could just give up. But I love cupcakes too much to do that. And I'll be a much happier wannabe vegan if I've got excellent cupcake recipes to bust out whenever I feel like it. Plus, I've been feeling extra motivated since my friend Mushie recently got back from New York, where she visited Babycakes and sang their praises upon her return home. I have faith in you Babycakes! I will make this work, dammit!

So where does that leave me now? Still on the hunt for rice milk powder or coconut milk powder, and hopeful that when I attempt this frosting recipe again I will be able to bust out my Borat Great Success clip while rambling off a litany of complimentary adjectives and dancing the Dance of Joy.

Until then, I'll just sit in my dark corner, hugging my knees and rocking back and forth as I try to figure out what to do with three unfortunate batches of frosting.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Vegan Veggin' in Banff

Week the Ninth.

Spring Break.

Banff Springs Hotel.

Shopping, Spa-ing and Stuffing my face. 'Twas a swell 4 days indeed.

**Before you proceed (all three of you...haha...just some poorly executed self-deprecating humour...I'd stick in a sideways happy face here but it would just look weird before the end parentheses), be forewarned that I took pictures of pretty much everything we ate on this trip, so you will be bombarded by a crapload of images of ridiculously delicious food**

Banff, Alberta is one of Rob the Husband's favourite places on the planet, and it has definitely become one of mine. It certainly helps that it's the home of the spectacular Banff Springs Hotel, which just happened to be having a room promotion over Spring Break, which we just happened to take advantage of. This was our first vacation together since embarking upon the vegan journey, and I was a bit skeptical about how the eating was going to go over in terms of interesting vegan options in Banff. I had pretty much resigned myself to having to do a lot of cheating if we were going to get to enjoy ourselves.

As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about, and this trip was just full of pleasant surprises. 

As we were checking in to the Banff Springs, the concierge proceeded to inform us that there was a promotion going on, and we could upgrade to the fancy shmancy Gold Floor for significantly less than the upgrade usually costs, so I was totally like, Yes please! The Gold Floor is just like all the other floors in the Springs, except even more has its own concierge, check in and check out, lounge, complimentary movies, breakfast buffet, hors d'oeuvres, and just really stellar service overall. The room was top-notch and even had one of those crazy euro-showers that sprays from all angles. Crazy. 

We were a bit concerned about the breakfast buffet and hors d'oeuvres since it was unlikely that there would be too many vegan options, and we were right, but there was enough to make due. Oatmeal and I became good friends. Some breakfast snapshots over the course of our stay... can see Rob's face in the reflection above my grapes :)

Yah, there was definitely a lot of oatmeal consumption.  

We actually bought some Earth Balance Butter so we could put it on our toast in the mornings at the buffet. 

I am such a nerd. 

Hors d'oeuvres were served every evening at 5pm, and this was when I found myself really missing prosciutto, but there were lots of fruits and veggies and hummus to keep us happy, with the occasional non-meat item that we figured wasn't glaringly dairy-oriented.

The majority of the food, sadly, we had to leave on the buffet table, unsampled.

But enough lamentation.

For our first dinner out, Monday 9.0, we checked out Nourish Vegetarian Bistro. The reviews were incredible, so we were super excited to give it a go. 

The place is cute...hippie and cozy and really chill, and the menu featured some really creative items. There were a lot of vegan options, and most things that weren't vegan could be made vegan for you. We ordered the Shepard's Pie and Gourmet Falafel, with Apple Pie for dessert.

Holy. Shit. 

The reviews were not unjustified. This was seriously some of the best food I've ever tasted. 

Not just vegan food, but food. Period. I am seriously in love with Nourish. 

There are a TON of ingredients packed into each dish...things that you would never expect to go well together, like strawberries and falafel, coexist beautifully. The food is SO INCREDIBLY CREATIVE and flavourful, and I can't get over how much each dish has going on to make it what it is. 

For the rest of the trip, whenever we mentioned Nourish to locals, they only had incredible things to say about it. You know a veggie restaurant is special when you hear people say, "I'm not even vegetarian, but [insert wonderful food review here]." And it is rated the number one restaurant in Banff

Just sayin'.

Nourish is closed on Tuesdays, so on Tuesday 9.0 (shopping day!) we had lunch at Coyotes, another Banff staple. Love this place too, and it was pretty easy to get a vegan meal with a few menu substitutions...veggie burger, black bean quesadilla, and lentil soup. 

Thumbs up. 

Which brings us to dinner. And another visit from my good buddy, Motivation. 

Since I started this vegan thing two months ago, there have been some pretty awesomely timed, vegan-friendly "motivators" that have encouraged me to stay on this path. A week into my journey, Oprah aired her one week vegan challenge show. Vancouver's first vegan shoe store, Nice Shoes, opened this month. Natalie Portman (the most beautiful vegan on the planet) won the Best Actress Oscar a few weeks ago. 

Coincidence? Perhaps, but I prefer to think that my buddy, Motivation, has some pull in high places.

Case in point: Fairmont hotels are now, as of January 2011, offering a Lifestyle Cuisine Plus menu for their guests, providing various dining options for those with health conditions, allergies, and lifestyle choices that would prevent them from being able to order off a conventional menu at one of the hotel's restaurants. Vegan options are included on this menu. Which means I can eat at any Fairmont restaurant (including our absolute favourite at the Springs, Grapes) and order a vegan meal. 

Which we totally did... Thai Carrot & Ginger Veloute and Miso Soup...

...Vegetable Coconut Curry and Vegetable Napoleon...

...and Peach Melba with Lemon Sorbet for dessert...

Was it as good as our meal at Nourish? Nope, not by a long shot. And it was more expensive. But it was a vegan option, we were thrilled that they offered it, and we got to enjoy it at Grapes. Maybe in the future, Fairmont will have an even more extensive Lifestyle Choices menu with even more creative options and more exciting flavours. But for now, what they offered was definitely appreciated, and it's so cool to see such an awesome hotel chain taking a step in this direction.

Now if only they'd get rid of the friggen foie gras at all of their restaurants. 

But I digress. We ordered off the Lifestle Choices menu again for lunch on Wednesday 9.0 (spa day!). 

These Thai wraps were not only vegan, they were also raw. Light and crisp...perfect spa-ing food, and once again I was grateful to have a convenient vegan option available. 

But what I was really excited about was going back to Nourish for dinner that night. A little too excited, it would seem, since I totally overdid it when it came to the food for our Wednesday 9.0 dinner...

Soup of the day (Kaffir Lime Yam Coconut):

Yam Tenders:

King Kong Noodles (if a name like that doesn't limit the amount of food you order, you've got issues. Apparantly I have issues):

Beautiful Burrito:

And you bet your ass I ordered dessert...

Steamed Chocolate Banana Bread Pudding:

OK, how pretty is this food? Seriously, you can tell that it's made with love. Every time our waitress put something down on the table I was like, Awwww, it's so pretty! (Yes, I am totally annoying and girlie like that.)

And it tastes just amazing. For real, this food is SO GOOD, and it's fascinating to observe what comes out of each dish as you're eating. Like the noodles, for example. They have blood orange in them. Friggen blood orange! Who would have thought of putting blood orange into a bowl of noodles?? The brilliantly talented folks at Nourish, that's who. 

See that? That's a piece of pineapple in the lychee garnish of my pina colada smoothie. Yes, pineapple stuffed lychee excites me. 

In my defense, I ordered the noodles and burrito with the intention of taking most of it to go, since I knew we'd be hungry later and it would make an awesome late night snack. Which it totally did. Plus I wanted to try as many things on the menu as possible since we had to leave the next day. 

Wanna guess where we went for lunch on Thursday 9.0 before heading home? 

Stuffed Mushrooms on greens:

Gourmet Falafel (again...this was our favourite for sure):

Portabella Mushroom Melt with Yam Tenders:

I think I've raved enough about Nourish for one blog post, but yes, it really was THAT awesome, and made eating Kind in Banff totally easy.

My one slip up was a chocolate chip yogurt cookie from Evelyn's cafe. I always look forward to these cookies every time I come to Banff, and I got one on our last day this time around. But it turned out that the cookie really doesn't thrill me anymore as much as it did in the past, so I think it's safe to say it's out of my system now.

I even got to shop Kind on this trip....six pairs of Toms Shoes and some awesome finds at a thrift store. Alicia's first shopping stop is always used clothes, and considering that I spent $26 on a pair of jeans, a cute skirt, and a Paul Smith shirt, I might have to start exploring the previously enjoyed clothing world more extensively. 

AND we got up close and personal with a deer...

Just another reason not to eat Bambi. It just seems odd to marvel at her beauty and grace and then floss her out of my teeth the next day. 

Oh Banff, how I miss you already. 

Monday-Thursday of Week the Ninth was stupendous, and I'm seriously bummed that four days of shopping, spa-ing and stuffing my face had to end.

But on the plus side, it's Friday!

 Oh shut secretly love it. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

St. Paddy's Day Cave & Cooking for Non-Vegans

I was feeling super inspired last weekend to get back to Kind cooking after a hectic school play production week during which I didn't cook at all, but still managed to eat *mostly* vegan (a pox on you Millenium Falcon!).

I ended off that weekend on a good note...On Sunday 7.0 I finally made the Sicilian Collard Greens (p. 176) I had been craving (craving veggies...freaky, I know), and they were perfect with a simple side of rice. I also added some faux chicken cordon bleu a la Gardein from the Nasty Food #4 category (processed), but it was the closest thing to a home cooked meal I had all of Week the Seventh, so I was pretty happy.

I don't know how Gardein does it...this stuff pretty much tastes like chicken and has a very similar texture to chicken. Of course it's better to prepare *real* foods, but I'm happy to put Gardein in the "once in a while" category...definitely a worthy indulgence.

Rob the Husband was at a conference in Vegas for most of Week the Eighth, so my motivation to engage in some Kind cooking waned pretty quickly. It's more interesting trying out new recipes with him around to critique them, therefore it became apparent very early in the week that there wasn't going to be much cooking going on...unless you consider making sandwiches cooking. My 9 year old nieces would totally consider making sandwiches cooking, so yah, on second thought, I totally cooked.

Monday 8.0: Sandwiches! Vegan sandwiches kick ass. Once again there was some indulgence in the Nasty Food #4 category here with the processed Yves veggie deli "meats", but oh well...whole wheat Cobbs bread, Nayonnaise, vegan cheddar, avocado, cucumber, and lettuce = thumbs up.

Tuesday 8.0: Sushi! No cooking this night either, unless you consider ordering takeout cooking. My wealthy socialite friends (if I had any) would totally consider ordering takeout cooking (especially if they phoned in the order themselves instead of getting Jeeves to do's a well-known fact that all wealthy socialites have butlers named Jeeves), so yah, once again, I totally cooked...yam tempura roll, avocado roll, edamame beans, and my favourite Yoko green salad = thumbs up again.

Wednesday 8.0: Sandwiches! Again. Don't judge...I had bread to use up, ok?

And that brings us to Thursday 8.0.

St. Patrick's Day.

Cheerleading Bake Sale.

I was screwed.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Official Cave #3.

The thing is, I knew I was going to cave. Unlike the Valentine's bake sale, I didn't even try to resist. I even brought Tupperware to facilitate the cave. I used the excuse that family, including my two nieces, were coming to dinner, and they would totally want cupcakes. But I had already made three Kind Diet desserts for dinner that night, so...yahhh...

I ended up eating two non-vegan cupcakes, plus the non-vegan chocolate marshmallow thing, and I brought the rest home to share.

Worth it. And my $22 went towards the Cheerleading Anaheim trip, so it was for a good cause. I'll just keep telling myself that.

Rob's brother and his family were actually in town to meet their new puppy and were indeed coming to dinner that night along with Rob's cousin and her kids (no, it wasn't all just a lie so I could justify buying cheerleading cupcakes), and I was excited to cook my first vegan meal for people other than Rob and my mom. But first we went to meet the newest member of the family...

Meet Marley :) My new furry niece (Abigail is the one without the fur). They get to bring her home on Monday :) Here's another sideways happy face just because puppies are so cute :)

Anyhoo, back to dinner.

For dinner that night I didn't try anything new...I wanted to go with recipes with which I had already experimented and could officially claim as Great Success in my Borat voice. The menu:
-Warm Potato, Soybean, and Cucumber Salad (p. 178)
-Caesar Salad (p. 175)
-Rustic Pasta (p. 147)
-Barley Casserole (p. 150)
-Cornbread (p. 163)
-Oatmeal batch with vegan chocolate chips and one with dates, almonds & raisins (p. 186)
-Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups (p. 183)
-Lemon-Poppy Seed Poundcake (p. 188)

A bit overboard, I know. I was making up for my lack of cooking earlier in the week, plus I wanted to show the non-vegan world that Vegan does not equal Deprivation. Plus I'm on a secret mission to convert the world to a kinder life. Plus I'm Polish and we tend to overdo it when it comes to food.

Because Rob the Husband wasn't coming home until late that night, and we hadn't had a Happy Tongue rating all week, I explained the rating system to my two gorgeous nieces and asked them to rate each of the dishes on the Happy Tongue scale.

They were pleased to oblige.

Abigail & Brittany's ratings:

-Warm Potato Salad-    Abigail - 3 Happy Tongues / Brittany - 3 Happy Tongues
-Caesar Salad-                  Abigail - 5 Happy Tongues / Brittany - 5 Happy Tongues
-Rustic Pasta-                   Abigail - 4 Happy Tongues / Brittany - 4.5 Happy Tongues
-Barley Casserole-         Abigail - 5 Happy Tongues / Brittany - 2.5 Happy Tongues
-Cornbread-                     Abigail - 5 Happy Tongues / Brittany - 5.5 Happy Tongues (wow...5.5!)
-Oatmeal Cookies-        Abigail - 5 Happy Tongues / Brittany - 3 Happy Tongues
-Lemon-Poppyseed-    Abigail - 4 Happy Tongues / Brittany - 4 Happy Tongues

Unfortunately, I took the Peanut Butter Cups out of the fridge too early and left them out, so they were too soft to serve. Abigail didn't get to rate them, but Brittany was over yesterday and was kind enough to rate them for me.

Peanut Butter Cup-          Brittany - 4 Happy Tongues

So overall, the best reviews of the night (from both the children and adults) went to the Caesar Salad and the Cornbread. And the three dishes I still remain the most excited over two months into The Kind Diet are those two plus the PB Cups. 

Here's what really excites me though. Kids are picky. I've eaten dinner with both of these blonde monkeys many times, and had them sleep over, and believe me, they are NOT shy about telling me when they don't like something. But they were willing to try absolutely EVERYTHING on the table and give me their honest opinions, and the reviews were good! Just like my experiences with the Kind Diet recipes, there are some dishes the girls were more enthused about than others, but there was nothing that they hated or thought was gross or wouldn't finish eating. And they LOVED the Caesar Salad and Cornbread, which I knew would definitely become staples in my house the first time I made them.

First vegan cooking experience for non-vegans = Great Success indeed.

I was feeling pretty good the morning of Friday 8.0. Thursday's dinner had gone well, Rob had come home, I had some killer leftovers for lunch, and it was the last day of school before Spring Break. I knew that yesterday was Thursday, today it is Friday, tomorrow is Saturday, and Sunday comes afterwards. I thought my biggest dilemma that day was going to be deciding Which seat can I take? when my underage friends picked me up on the way to school that morning in their convertible (if you are furrowing your eyebrows in confusion right now, consider yourself blessed...if you're not, I hope your Friday was fun fun fun fun). Then I arrived in the staff room to discover these:

Seriously? SERIOUSLY?? 

But I didn't cave. One cave that week was enough, as my buddy Motivation was kind enough to remind me. And he had to remind me of that again on Saturday 8.0 as we hosted a baptism reception for my goddaughter at our house with LOTS of amazing non-vegan polish food. We didn't prepare any of it...just got to look at it, and smell it, and avoid it. I tried a spinach perogi, but that was it. 

Overall it was an eventful eighth week on this vegan journey...ridin' solo for a while, cooking for non-vegans, and officially caving for the third time at the mercy of the St. Paddy's Day cheerleading bake sale. I did forget to put those cupcakes out at dinner on Thursday night, so I sent them to work with Rob the next morning, where he proceeded to inform everyone that they were vegan cupcakes...oops. Rob further burst my bubble when he informed me that the Whole Foods 365 brand marinara sauce I had been using for the Rustic Pasta had parmesan in it. Oops again.

But whatever. I'm trying, I'm learning, and I'm still loving this way of life. I love it even more now that Rob bought me these super awesome awesome t-shirts in Vegas...

Very nice :)