Almond Milk — Homemade?!

A couple of weeks ago, my partner and I hosted our very first Thanksgiving dinner. In order to make this dinner as special as possible, we decided to make our own (vegan) ice cream. But not just any ice cream. Ice cream with a homemade almond milk base.

Was it ambitious? It sure seemed like it!

In actual fact: it wasn’t that hard! I was stunned to discover that making almond milk was not only pretty easy, but also kind of fun. Something about squishing that bag of warm-ish water soaked nut mash was kind of cathartic. And the resulting milk was so rich and flavourful!

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It was so awesome, that we even decided to try to make it on a regular basis, instead of always buying our almond milk with its additives.

And for those of you who are thinking “But what about the calcium and vitamin D fortification?!” — fear not! It is entirely possible to just throw a couple of supplements into the milk while you’re blending it up!

I haven’t even gotten to my favourite discovery in this process, though.

The ice cream recipe with its homemade almond milk called for a very high percentage of almonds (almost 1 to 1 with water). Which seemed very expensive to do in the long run. I compared it to other recipes and found that most recipes are closer to 1 cup almonds to 4 cups water, which seemed much more affordable. What was the difference?

Look at all that almond meal from that concentrated milk!

Look at all that almond meal from that concentrated milk!

Having that high concentration of almonds rendered an ultra-thick creamy, rich almond milk. The “cream” of almond milks. It was so rich that I didn’t want to drink it. You see, I decided at the age of 2 that I didn’t like anything other than skim milk, no joke! And I’ve never felt differently after all those years, I just don’t like the rich/thickness of it on its own (in hot chocolate or ice cream, that is a different story…). I had to dilute that ultra-rich almond milk way down until it seemed drinkable. And voila, my own skimmed-almond milk.

But it blew my mind–the fact that you can make almond milk according to your richness preferences! Does that blow your mind or is it just me?

The moral of the story: homemade can be better, and fun. And, of course, customizable!

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Book Review: Vegan Ice Cream

Image courtesy of amazon.com

  • Author: Jeff Rogers
  • Publisher: Ten Speed Press
  • Publish Date: May 13, 2014
  • 144 Pages

I cannot quite emphasize how much I love ice cream. Dairy ice cream was one of two reasons I held onto vegetarianism as long as I did before making the jump to veganism. If I had been presented with ice cream made from one of the recipes in Vegan Ice Cream, I would have given up that reason in a heartbeat.

The ice creams in this book are divided into two categories: “Ice Cream” and “Raw Ice Cream”. The regular ice creams are cashew-based and usually sweetened with maple syrup (my favourite!). The raw ice creams are true to the raw manifesto and don’t contain any kind of processed ingredients–they are sweetened with dates (or other fruit). Overall, the ingredients are mainly easy to find in this household, except the non-alcoholic vanilla flavouring. I had to go to whole foods for that, and I gave up on finding a non-alcoholic almond flavouring altogether. (The alcohol content in regular flavouring interferes with the freezing process.)

After poring over all of the recipes and trying to decide among the endlessly delicious options, I finally made Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip ice cream. This ice cream was wonderful. It was rich, full of flavour, and had that airy quality that a lot of vegan ice creams are missing (I’m looking at you coconut-based ice cream). My only issue was that the ice cream was a bit too sweet for me. If I were to make it again, I would use a 3/4 cup of maple syrup instead of a whole cup. I suspect the same sweetness level will be found in all of the recipes, but there’s only one way to find out…

I would definitely, definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves making delicious ice cream. Even the non-vegans. Because the world needs more delicious ice cream. And I am seriously considering buying a copy of this for myself–after all, it’s almost time for fresh, local peaches, and there are 3 different recipes just for those…

Rating: 4.5/5

Disclaimer: I did not receive any compensation for this post. I did receive a free preview copy for review from netgalley, which will expire and force me to buy the book for myself!

Book Review: How To Be Vegan

Image from Amazon.com

  • Author: Elizabeth Castoria
  • Publisher: Artisan
  • Publish Date: April 22, 2014
  • 224 Pages

Even though I’ve been vegan for over a year now, I’m by far not an expert. Since it’s a lifestyle choice, everyone does it a bit differently. I think one of the best parts of How to be Vegan is that the author embraces this and advises readers to do what feels most comfortable for them.

That said, my vegan lifestyle looks a bit different than the one described in the book. For me, shoes aren’t vegan just because they don’t have leather. The glue that binds the sole of the shoe is often made of animal products, so that needs to be taken into account. I don’t go under the assumption that all bagels and bread are vegan. After scouring the bread aisles at the grocery store, I can definitively say that it is actually quiet difficult to find vegan bread and bagels. Lastly, I try to take into account human welfare as well as animal welfare–and there’s a reason those $10 shoes are so cheap.

Regardless of those belief differences, I did enjoy her writing style. It had some humour in it and that made it a breeze to read. She also had some excellent basics in food education (what one can and can’t eat) and what a vegan lifestyle requires. I learned that B12 is the hardest thing to get in a vegan diet (fortunately, that means I get to eat more nutritional yeast).

I think the best asset to this book is the tips for dealing with other people, vegans and non-vegans alike. She definitely had some excellent ways to deal with that ever-present question, “But where do you get your protein?”

At the end of the book are some great-looking vegan recipes. While I wouldn’t say they look particularly healthy, I daresay they’d be tasty even to a non-vegan. It is a really good way to round out this how-to book.

In conclusion, I think that this book is a great starting point for anyone starting out, or even just interested in knowing more about veganism. As the cutest cow ever from Herbivore says, “A little veganism never hurt anybody.”

Rating: 4/5

Update Feb 20, 2015:

I have recently been thinking a lot about this blog post and how unfair it was, for multiple reasons.

Firstly, I realized that despite the “vegan” label on a menu item at a restaurant, I doubt they checked the bread for monoglycerides. While I still try to make sure the ingredients I buy are vegan, I can respect just picking up some bread from a vendor in a pinch–they might have a “vegan” sandwich that’s not really vegan anyway, so what’s the difference?

Secondly, I got schooled recently by the lovely Nice Shoes and they informed me that the glue used to make all shoes these days is vegan, as it’s tougher than the animal based glue. So really the main concern is just the use of leather.

As a result, I’d like to increase my rating to 4.5, and seriously recommend this book to the newly vegan or the vegan-curious.

May Contain Traces of Sarcasm

I get a lot of questions about veganism. Some are more about lifestyle, but most are about food, and what is and isn’t vegan. I appreciate these questions, because usually it is someone either trying to understand, or even better, trying to include my dietary preferences in something they’re making.

One of the most common that I get is whether a food that “may contain [traces of]” something non-vegan (milk, whey, egg, etc.) is vegan or not. (“May contain” means that the given food item was made on the same equipment that also handles a different food item containing that non-vegan ingredient.)

My answer is usually, “it is to me!” Why do I make this distinction? Because this is one of those borderline issues, where it’s really a choice for each person to decide. Some people aren’t comfortable with (or, are allergic to) cross-contamination. And that’s totally fine. For me, I decided to let this one pass, after I read someone say, “If vegans avoid all products that “may contain” non-vegan ingredients, no one will make them, because it won’t be financially worth it for them avoid cross-contamination.” It makes sense for me, because I really want people to make vegan things! More vegan items facilitates a possible transition into a state where it is financially viable to avoid cross contamination.

And now, some of my favourite vegan items, which may (or may not) contain traces of non-vegan ingredients.

  • Annies Gluten Free Snickerdoodle Bunny Cookies – okay, they’re not quite like snickerdoodles, but they’re tasty and highly portable
  • So Delicious Coconut-Based Ice Cream – Definitely the type we get when we are too lazy to make ice cream in a pinch! Also, I’m just noticing how many delicious-looking flavours aren’t available here. For shame.
  • Camino Fair Trade Drinking Chocolate Mix – Chocolate. So much chocolate.
  • Larabars – I have been off these for awhile, but recently rediscovered them. They are awesome, wholesome, and portable.
  • Daiya Cheddar Cheese Slices – no gluten, no soy, and it melts. However, don’t go in expecting an exact cheddar cheese replica, or you will be sorely disappointed. Think Kraft Singles and Cheez Whiz. (Do they even still sell Cheez Whiz?)
  • Earth’s Own Almond Fresh – this almond milk is hands down the best out there. It’s fortified and it doesn’t have any of those weird bad-tasting chemical thickeners. Their chocolate milk makes me all kinds of happy, but usually I stick to unsweetened.

Do you have a favourite vegan product? And, for the non-vegans–when’s the last time you had Cheez Whiz?

Starting From Scratch

I am a dessert person. I love dessert.  There is no doubt that I got my love of desserts entirely from my mom. My dad is not a “dessert person”, at all. Apparently, when it came to dessert at a restaurant, they did the “she gets the dessert, he tastes a couple of bites” routine. And I don’t mean “he actually eats half”, I actually mean a couple of bites. If I let my husband share my dessert, I generally cut it in half first because a) I don’t share well, and b) he also loves dessert (although slightly less than me).

Since it was my dad’s birthday a few days ago, I wanted to make him a cake that was, well, healthy. Something he would actually eat. I wanted to make a super fancy raw cake, but didn’t have the time to do all the prep (i.e. learn how to make 8 cups of almond milk from scratch). I resorted to making a “regular” cake. I figured an apple cake. Between applesauce and apple bits, if I searched for a healthy vegan apple cake, there would be something, right? Wrong. Apparently “healthy” includes at least 1/2 cup of oil, usually more like 1 full cup. After nearly an hour of searching, I gave up. I did some research. I built my own recipe from scratch. Nearly 1/3 of the recipe volume was applesauce.

And it tastes and looks delicious!

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Except for one itsy bitsy problem…it’s super dry and crumbly. Half of me wants to just try upping the applesauce, as it was a pretty thick batter. The other half of me is fairly sure I will have to increase the coconut oil from 2 tbsp to 3 or 4 tbsp. The tragedy! Unfortunately, until this fiasco is resolved, I will be keeping this recipe to myself. I don’t think there’s a huge demand for healthy, crumbly apple cakes.

I suppose the problem could be covered up solved by slathering it in icing…but where’s the fun in that?

What’s your favourite “healthy” dessert recipe?

Natural Vegan Rainbow Cake

My sister turned 19 this past week. Much to my relief, she didn’t immediately go out and get drunk (19 is the legal age in BC). I like to think she had a good birthday anyway.

I realized a few days beforehand that a rainbow cake was the perfect type of cake to make for her. If you knew her, this would make sense to you. If you don’t…well, she’s a very special 19 year old. One thing I’ve discovered in the past year, though, is that what they make the food dye out of is nasty business. Not only what it’s made from, but how they test it…pass, thanks. It’s not to say I never buy premade food with food dye in it, because that wouldn’t be true. But I do try and avoid it when possible. Besides, it’s much more exciting to try and colour things naturally.

After a lot of research, I decided to double a 9″ white cake recipe and split the resulting batter into 5 parts.

  1. Pink / Red – Raspberries
  2. Orange – Carrot juice
  3. “Yellow” – Mango (It wasn’t very yellow at all)
  4. Green – Matcha powder
  5. Purple / Blue – Blueberries

For the raspberries, blueberries and mango, I put 3/4 of a cup (approximately) worth of frozen fruit into a mug and threw it into the microwave until everything was thawed and mushy. Then, I squished the fruit into a fine-mesh strainer with a spoon, draining all the juice out into the batter.

Because I was putting extra liquid into the batter, I cut out 1/4 cup of milk for each layer. Then add in 1/4 cup of milk to any layer that isn’t getting extra juice put into it (i.e. the Matcha layer).

It was SO much fun, watching the batter turn colours and then seeing how everything turned out in the end!

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The best part was that the berry layers actually tasted like blueberry and raspberry!

The worst part was, my measurement skills sucked, so the layers are 3 different sizes. I don’t even know how I did it, I was using a scale.

Also, the icing job went very poorly, since there just wasn’t quite enough. I shaved down the cakes since somehow, despite being baked in the same pans, they were different sizes. Regardless, I think I covered it up nicely.

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All I can say is, thank goodness for large coconut shavings. And cake shavings, I guess?

The icing was very very sweet, so in the end, it was a good thing there was only a thin layer on everything. It was delcious though, and you can find it over on instructables. The cake recipe turned out amazingly, even with my tinkering (we ran out of butter so I subbed in some applesauce, and I also used nearly 1/2 c less sugar). It is the Vanilla Cupcakes recipe from The Joy Of Vegan Baking, which is a cookbook I highly recommend. The recipes aren’t “healthy versions”, but they are accurate vegan replicas of the classics, which is really useful to have on hand. And I must confess, the colouring ideas weren’t my own (except for the mango…which didn’t work…), I found a lot of helpful information on Growing A Green Family.

Verdict? I highly recommend making this cake; it’s fun to make and to eat!

 

The Vegan Lifestyle

Most of what comes up when you announce that you’re vegan is food-related choices. What has kind of been lost in translation, is that vegan really is a lifestyle, not just a dietary choice.

Technically speaking, vegetarianism is eating a plant-based diet. So, what is commonly considered vegetarian these days is actually an “ovo-lacto-vegetarian”, meaning a vegetarian who also consumes eggs (ovo) and dairy (lacto). Then, there are the people who are ovo-lacto-vegetarians plus fish, called pescetarians. What strikes me as funny is that there’s such a wealth of terms out there, but they’re falling into disuse–just when they’re needed most.

I try to be a strict vegan. Everyone makes mistakes, and sometimes I get home, read the ingredients and find I missed that ever-popular “milk ingredients”. It happens infrequently, but it still happens.

As a strict vegan, I avoid all products made from animals, not just those I eat, but also those I wear, craft with and use in my home. What I want to do here is talk about a few common products that I avoid, and why, because a lot of questions come up about them.

1. Bee products – including honey, beeswax and pollen

A lot of people think that bees aren’t harmed in the harvesting of these products, but it’s just not true. With commercialization comes corner cutting. So while I cannot speak for the smaller, more considerate operations, the larger ones use smoke that hurts the bees, have pollen collectors that can take off wings or legs, and the replacement for the consumed honey is a cheap sugar syrup that isn’t enough to sustain them through the winter months. I don’t think that’s okay, so I don’t consume the bee related products.

2. Silk

Some silk is harvested quite nicely, without injuring the silkworms. But, the majority is harvested by boiling the worms alive in their silk cacoons. Since I really don’t like the idea of being boiled alive, I try to avoid these products too.

3. Wool

I was actually a couple of months into being a vegan before I realized what the commercial industry has done to enhance wool production. In order to produce more wool, the sheep, especially merino, have been bred to have extra folds in their skin. More surface area means more wool. But the folds come with their own problems, including having flies nest in them. The solution that farmers have come up with, which is more than a little disturbing to me, is known as mulesing.

As a knitter, not being able to use silk or wool is frustrating, although the vegan varieties of yarn are still impressing me. What I find even more frustrating is when the woman at my local yarn store questions my beliefs and reminds me that the sheep are not killed to produce the wool. It is not the first time I’ve hard that argument, and it probably won’t be the last. But! it is my choice and definitely not her problem, it only makes it more difficult for me.

What I really, really want to emphasize here is that if done carefully, those three types of products are totally achievable in a humane and wonderful way. But because there is just SO MUCH demand, corner cutting has led to some (what I consider) nasty practices, even in what are considered innocuous products in large scale operations.

And that is why I don’t consume those products.

Are there any other ingredients you’ve been wondering about where they fall on vegan/non-vegan and why?