Friday, November 27, 2009


As the title ought to imply, VEGirl standing for Vegan, Environmentalist, Gluten-intolerant girl, I am an environmentalist. I strive to use no plastic products, reuse paper with a blank side, and much more.

Although I home school, I go to a few clubs at the local middle school and am the student president of the environmental club, so it's my job to make the agenda, organize projects, etc. I have found, and am still finding, that eco-harming products are around every corner! When looking to save the earth, of course there's reusing, recycling, donating to organizations, you know, the obvious stuff. But then there's shopping, for food, I mean. Plastic packaged chips, cookies, bread, crackers, cereals, flour, dried fruit, chocolate chips around every corner. Some of these problems can solved with buying bulk (though those products come from bigger plastic bags sometimes), or ordering from companies that sell food in paper products.

These are helpful and all, however some baking ventures are made very difficult when you don't want to contribute to global warming. Such plastic packaged products as silken tofu (normal tofu, for that matter) and soy yogurt are being used by like minded bakers for texture and form. I have begun setting out on a VEGirl adventure to make gluten-free, vegan, sugar-free, low-fat, environmentally friendly baking. Sound impossible? Well, it's far from perfect, but I discover new eco-baking 'things' every day. Consider this post a little "progress report".

Eco-Baking, in the flesh (non-animal derived)

So, here are five tips on making your baking eco-baking:

Make your own tofu. When you buy tofu in individual block, they come in plastic, as does silken tofu. Even the tofu in the bulk bins are from large plastic bags. It may take some effort to make your own tofu, but if your a tofu-monster, like me, and eat about a block of tofu a day, that's gets pretty expensive and plastic-y. It actually ends up being cheaper to make it yourself, but just be sure to buy organic soybeans, to avoid the nasty GMO's (genetically modified organisms). You can't make silken tofu, but you can adjust the softness and hardness of the tofu.

#2 Agave nectar has been a real problem. It is such a great sweetener, and it's suitable for my diabetic grandmother, who I want to make deserts for! The agave nectar available at grocery stores comes in a small plastic bottles, and they don't sell it in glass online. So, we ordered a five gallon bucket of nectar. I figure the whole pail will last me about a year, and at least I can reuse the bucket.

#3 I love brown rice syrup! It comes in a small glass jar at my local health food store, although I'm thinking to order it in a 5 gallon bucket online. First, though, I have to try brown rice syrup SOLIDS. How cool is that? I'll let you know how that goes. Brown rice syrup is a really great sweetener in baked goods. With a mellow flavor, a texture and consistency like caramel sauce, brown rice syrup dries brittle, so it's great in crispy cookies, such as my Snazzy Ginger Snaps. It also makes for a fantastic nut bar. Just toss together your favorite nuts and seeds (chopping is optional), your choice dried fruit, and if your feeling mischievous, a few chocolate chips. Add just enough brown rice syrup to coat and hold its shape in a pan. Let dry completely, or overnight. Cut into bars and enjoy!

#4 Buy fresh, loose, and ideally: local. Fresh produce is the best way to go, and you can buy loose, meaning you don't need to carry them in an icky old plastic bag. Try not to buy canned products, as they are lined with plastic, both harming to the environment and you! Things like coconut milk are difficult to make yourself, so experiment with a fresh coconut. When using fresh produce, you may find that a pleasant more intense flavor emerges in your baked goods.

#5 Buy bulk! In my Five Ways To Slash Your Plastic Intake, I talked about bringing a large bag of reusable shopping bags, bulk bags and empty jars to the grocery store for bulk buying. I highly encourage you to do this. It's all in one bag and has everything you need. Buying bulk, instead of buying individual (plastic) packages of food is so much better for the environment and creates much less cluttering garbage on your part. To store your bulk items, keep them in an airtight container. My family uses glass jars, which enable us to see what's inside, and we can label them with permanent marker, which washes off with a bit of effort. Glass storage jars are available online, but I think some are very overpriced (not all, but some). We just use old pickle jars (funny story, we got tons of them since my grandfathers friend used to own an Orange Julius), as well as half gallon jars, quart jars, and other miscellaneous ones.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Before you eat, give thanks for something good in your life. At least your not eating a turkey!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Gobbling without the Gobblers

If you visit this blog, you may be vegan. If you're not, check out an article on turkey living (and dying) conditions here. Anyway, I hope you have decided to have a compassionate holiday this year, and gobble your food without the gobbling turkeys on your table.

I recently bought "The Inner World of Farm Animals" by Amy Hatkoff, and am blown away. Complete with beautiful full color photos, clear and concise writing, and stories about individual animals, this book is a wonderful addition to your shelf, to say the least. It is a message; farm animals do indeed have feelings, feel pain, and large social and intellectual capacities. There are even studies to back it all up! The book covers chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, cows, pigs, sheep, and goats. Each species of animal has unique behavior and characteristics.

Receiving the book so near to Thanksgiving, I jumped to turkeys section of the book and read eagerly. If you have met turkeys before, I am jealous, because I have never really met one. Turkeys are so amazing! I knew they had lots of vocalizations, could recognize each other, etc. but seeing it in print was very gratifying. I enjoyed reading that a turkeys snood, which hangs down from her forehead, changes color according to mood. They know the lay of the land they live on, are extremely curious, and their memory is impeccable. They also apply their knowledge and change themselves accordingly. I want to include a couple quotes about turkeys from the book. Again, I recommend you purchase it, you'll be glad you did.

"If I had to sum up my experience with the wild turkey, the most profound thing I discovered is that they are so much more complex in their intelligence, their behavior, and their problem solving ability than I ever imagined. They are sentient beings. By every measure and definition of intelligence, in their environment and in their world, they were without question so much more intelligent than I was. The time I spent with them was this wonderful kind of humiliation. We are not superior beings, we are just different beings. We are not more interesting creatures."

-Joe Hutto

"Turkeys display immense affection towards humans. They love to be caressed, and people often remark that they respond like their own dogs and cats. Turkeys even make a purring sound when they are content.

Some turkeys are more affectionate then others, climbing into your lap and making themselves comfortable as can be. At Farm Sanctuary in California, a particularly friendly turkey named Lydia became known for propensity of a hug. As soon as you crouched down, she would run over to you, press her body against yours, and crane her head over your shoulders, clucking all the while. It's amazing how so generous a hug can be given my something with no arms."
-Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, founder of Compassionate Cooks

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pecan Joins the Party

I'm looking forward to Thanksgiving, and I love nearly every dish my family has on the menu: tofu loaf, broccoli, Waldorf salad, stuffing, cranberry sauce (yum...), mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, and apple pie. But wait, you say, what about pecan pie? In the past, pecan pie has been an unpleasant eating experience, with it's sickly sweet taste, non-existent nut flavor, and the tooth ache afterward. Hey, I didn't even know I liked the taste of pecans until yesterday!

This Thanksgiving, though, that's all going to change. Never having made the traditional pecan pie, I went with my gut feeling and the dessert took a turn for the better! With the mild sweet taste of brown rice syrup, the pecan flavor is apparent, and rampant, as there is quite a large helping. The sweet taste of maple syrup, both in the filling and the crust, speaks of autumn leaves and whispering winds. This pie left my whole family wanting more, and I'm sure you'll enjoy this new twist on the old icky stuff!

New Age Pecan Pie
vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free

For crust:
1 c. sorghum flour
2 scant tablespoons maple syrup
4-6 tablespoons water

For filling:
2 c. brown rice syrup
1/2 c. maple syrup
1 teaspoon guar gum
3 c. pecan pieces

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a small bowl, "cut together" the flour and maple syrup with a fork until the mixture resembles course crumbs. Adding one tablespoon of water at a time, combine it with the flour "crumbs" until the resulting dough holds together well. Press the dough into a pie pan, building it 3/4 inch up the sides. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until it is slightly cracked and beginning to tan lightly on the edges. Let cool while your prepare the filling.

In a medium saucepan, bring both the syrups to a boil over medium heat, whisking frequently. Once boiling, turn the heat to low and whisk the mixture constantly for one minute. Let simmer, whisking often, until a bit of cooked syrup dropped in a cup of cold water is stringy and brittle.

Now, don't waist any time, take the cooked syrup off heat and immediately add the guar gum and pecans. Mix thoroughly, but quickly so the mixture doesn't set in the pan, and pour into the crust. Refrigerate the pie until it is chilled through. For best cutting results, pop the pie out of the pan and carefully carve out slices.

Makes one pie

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Breaking all the Rules

When you are gluten-free, some aspects of baking just get missed altogether. Like, for example, kneading dough. I have very fond memories as a small child- kneading my own little bread dough ball, for my own personal bread loaf. Gluten-free dough is generaly too sticky. And rolling out dough- you can just through that out the window. If you ever roll out a gluten-free dough, it's between wax paper and it's really difficult. Reminiscing about these things, I seem to have accidentally made a baked good that does both, breaking all the seemingly inescapable "laws" of gluten-free baking! Oops!

The fun about his cookie is that you have to work it into a ball, roll it out, "cookie cutter" it, and then you can enjoy a tasty snack 20 minutes later (which, by the way, are delicious with a cup of hot chocolate.)

I have never been too fond of ginger snaps, but this particular cookie won my heart at once. Thinking I was making a spicy snicker doodle, what slid out of the oven was most certainly not a snicker doodle, but spicy gingersnaps! I have high hopes for this particular concoction, as it could be the base (without the spices) for a cracker. Only time will tell.....

Snazzy Spicy Gingersnaps
gluten-free, vegan, sugar-free, oil-free

1/2 c. soy flour, lightly packed
1 c. sorghum flour
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 c. whole almonds, ground OR 1/4 cup leftover almonds grits from Basic Almond Milk, dried out and ground down
1/4 c. + 2 tablespoons brown rice syrup
2 tablespoons fresh ginger root, diced
scant tablespoon agave nectar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and get out a cookie sheet. You don't need to grease it.

Heat a pan over medium heat. Once hot, add the ginger and agave nectar until the ginger has absorbed all the nectar and has begun to brown. Scoop out of pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the soy flour, sorghum flour, ground almonds or almond grit, cayenne, curry, cinnamon, and salt. Add the brown rice syrup and the candied ginger and mix/knead the dough with your hands (yes, your hands. Just wash them before you do this) until it forms into a ball. This can take 3-5 minutes, so don't give up or be tempted to add extra liquid.

Place the dough ball on a floured surface (use more sorghum flour) and roll the dough out anywhere between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick. If if begins to crack, dab a bit of water on it and continue rolling. The thinner the dough, the more crispy a cookie you're going to get. Using your choice cookie cutter(s), shape the dough and place them on a cookie sheet, you can pack the raw dough together, since the cookies won't spread. Re-roll the leftover scraps and "cookie cutter" them, you may have to add a bit of water to get it the dough to hold.

Bake the cookies for 15-20 minutes, until they become firm and, if you have a thinner cookie, begins to brown on the edges. Let cool briefly before serving, so the cookies can become firm and crunchy.

Makes 20-25 cookies (depending on the size of your cookie cutters)

Printable recipe

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Five favorite foods

It's a lazy Sunday, I have had a buckwheat pancake brunch, and now have to face the fact that I am horrible at posting on this blog regularly! I will try harder, but since today is Sunday, and food is on my mind, I'll tell you about my five favorite foods.

I am modeling this after the "Vegetarian Food for Thought" podcast called, you guessed it, five favorite foods. Using the criteria of foods I eat almost every day, I have compiled my own personal list of favorites, what I do with them, and what's so great about them. What's the appeal for you? Well, for me, apart from loving to make lists, I hope you gleam some information from this.

#1 Bananas. I love bananas. I eat at least one, if not two or three, bananas every day. They contain lots of different vitamins and all 8 amino acids our body cannot produce itself. They're also high in potassium, vitamin c, and vitamin B6. Bananas also have fiber (duh!), which is good for healthy bowl movement. Fiber also gives you a full feeling, even though the banana has no fat!

My favorite way to eat a banana is to:
(a) Slice it onto my breakfast, weather it be cold or hot.
(b) Snack on one to "hold me off" until my next meal, normally accompanied with a couple nuts and some dried fruit.
(c) In a fruit smoothie, yummmmmmmy......
(d) In a baked good. Banana bread is good!

#2 Carrots. Though it may seem a simple and obvious food, carrots are just so amazing! There is so much you can do them, and they have a huge health benefit. Their orange color should clue you in to the fact that carrots are high in beta-carotene (vitamin A), in addition to vitamins C, D, E, K, B1, and B6. they are also rich with in potassium, biotin, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, including lots of phytonutrients. And, of course, they are high in fiber.

Carrots are good....
(a) Shredded raw on salads,
(b) Cooked in tofu scramble and beans
(c) Heavenly when steamed in an oven roast (with potatoes, tofu, pumpkin, and onions)
(d) Juiced. We recently picked up a used juicer, and the only time we've used it so far was for an apple carrot juice. It was great!

#3 Tofu. I am so glad I'm not allergic to soy, because if I were, I wouldn't be able to eat tofu. The soybean is so nutritious, and is most notable for it's high protein content. Tofu is so delicious just crumbled up and eaten plain, but I love to do other things with. Here are some things you can try with tofu:
(a) Crumble it up plain on a salad or a bowl of rice.
(b) Slice it and fry it until it's really crispy, and eat it in a sandwich.
(c) Tofu scramble!!
(d) Use it in a stir fry
(e) Grill it! (Especially on 4th of July)

#4 Rice. Rice rocks. It is one of my favorite grains. When I first became vegan, I practically lived on rice, but have now expanded my love to millet and kasha. Oh, and buckwheat (despite the name, their is no wheat in buckwheat. It is kasha in it's not-toasted form, and is delicious in pancakes). After all this, my love for rice still persists. Brown rice is preferable to white rice, since it is a whole grain, and has all it's nutrients and fiber will intact. However, white rice will do in a pinch.

To cook brown rice, heat up your water in the appropriate sized pot, and meanwhile wash your rice. The ratio is 1 cup of uncooked brown rice to 1 1/2 cups of water. If you are using basmati brown rice, let the water come to a boil, then dump in the rice, turn the heat down to low and close the lid for an hour, or until rice is sticking to the bottom of the pot. For all other varieties of brown rice, use the same procedures, but it doesn't matter if you heat the water with the rice, or dump it in afterward.

When your rice is finished cooking, your can eat in in many ways:
(a) Serve it with beans, tofu, salad, or any other dish dish that needs some grain with it
(b) Make a rice pilaf! You would just cook the rice with all the ingredients and flavors.
(c) Re-heat it with non-dairy milk, nuts, fruit, and spices for a tasty, hearty breakfast
(d) Use it in a stir fry
(e) Serve it with soup, as a replacement for bread
(f) Use it for a rice pudding

#5 Almonds. Almonds are so healthful, and have a fantastic taste. They contains all the "good fats" that our body needs, protein, can help prevent diseases, and much more. Check out this page for more nutrition information.

My favorite way to eat almonds? Well.....
(a) Eat 'em straight up! They taste so great, why not?
(b) Chop them up and put on hot cereals, along with some sliced fruit.
(c) Use them in baked goods. Muffins, scones, cakes, cookies, the possibilities are endless! pssst- add some almonds to my banana bread. Talk about tasty!
(d) Use them in a stir fry. Frankly, all nuts taste wonderful in stir fries.
(e) Make marzipan. I have not yet mastered a marzipan, well, my first and only try flopped miserably, but I'll get there!
(f) Make trail mix. Throw some almonds, walnuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, raisins (or whatever dried fruit you have on hand), and chocolate chips together and, voila!, you have a scrumptious trail mix! It's a great on-the-go snack, and very filling.
(h) Make almond milk, here is my basic recipe:

Basic Almond Milk

1 cup almonds, rinsed
5 cups water

Toss the almonds and 1 cup of water into your blender, and puree until smooth. You may need to add a little more water so it doesn't get too thick. Add the remaining water and blend briefly. Strain the milk through a cheesecloth, or a porous bag.

If you want to get more milk out of the grits, toss them in the blender with a couple more cups of water, and blend. Strain the liquid and mix it with the first batch of almond milk. Note that this milk will be more watery. Store milk in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to one week. Pour over cereal, or drink straight up with a cookie!

Yields 5-7 cups of almond milk

Printable recipe

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A memorial

It's Veterans day, when people honor the dead and living who fought (or who are fighting) in the war. However, I would like to honor another, who did not die in battle. She fought her own silent war, as a victim of disease. I would like to honor and memorialize the passing of Pepper Junior, PJ for short- a rat with spunk, spark, silliness, and spirit.

Last year, I had been web surfing on Petfinder, a site for shelters to post adoptable animals, when I saw that there was a litter of baby rats at an animal rescue center a few hours away. At this time I was still in public school, so the day after school ended, we hopped in the car and picked up our friends Vi and PJ on June 14th, 2008. Vi was the spunkiest one in the cage, but PJ was the one set apart from the others. She huddled in the corner of the tank, and did not want to have anything to do with the other rats. My heart reached out to her, and we took Vi and PJ home. The little rats were only two months old, and still in awe of the world.

Once they were home, we promptly took them camping. Our family had never taken rats on camping trips, but it proved to be exciting for them. Once last summer, they camped for two weeks straight, when my mother had a forest service job, and my sister and I traveled with her to a small (and boring) town. Mom would drive two hours to tromp around the woods identifying plants for the service, and my sister and I would hang around the camp site and town. When the rats were let out each night, they loved nothing more that to jump off our heads onto hanging fabric and screen windows in the tent. Other shorter camping trips that same summer were just as fun for the girls.

PJ, who had originally been super shy, came out of her shell one day and became the leader of the two rodents. Vi, who had previously been top rat, was booted down a social level as PJ took command. She was always so athletic, and excited to do anything. The two girls were hilarious. hopping around their play areas. They especially liked the Christmas tree when it arrived that winter, climbing it and seeing the house in a whole new light. PJ enjoyed skittering down the branches, and going back up to hop on our shoulders and get carried somewhere else that was fun.

Beautiful, athletic PJ, Christmas 2008

Vi and PJ, enjoying their 2008 Christmas present- decorated rat sized ginger cookies. (top- PJ, bottom- Vi)

Spring and summer passed, and PJ was still in top form. She liked to crawl onto the floor and chase passing bunnies, and was always fascinated with the degus. Until early October. We began to notice a bulge at her stomach, but dismissed it as some excess fat. But she became less active, just eating and walking around a bit. It was hard for her to do exercise. She became obsessed with staring at the degus, and would do nothing else. It continued to get worse and worse, until finally, Friday November 6th, we took her to the vet. She could hardly get her feet to move her body because her tummy was so swollen. Her breathing was labored, and she was in obvious pain. After taking an x-ray and an ultrasound, the vet diagnosed uterine cancer. Without our knowing, cancer had sneaked into her body, entwining it's merciless fingers around her organs, and pushing on her spine and lungs. The veterinarian took PJ to surgery. But although we hoped for her to come home safely, the cancer was so severe and far gone, she had to be euthanize in her sleep. We received the call on the afternoon of Friday, November 6th, 2009.

PJ, 2 weeks prior to her passing

The whole family is so glad for the time we spent with PJ, but to me, death at one and a half years old still seems so young, even for a rat. Vi will hopefully be okay without the company of her sibling. We are spending lots of time with her.

PJ was such a beautiful rat, and a wonderful friend. I'll never forget her.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Branch, anyone?

The summer months, having rushed out to be replaced by an instantly chilly autumn, has seemed to sadden the rabbits in our household even more than it saddens me. With piles upon piles of plain parsley topped with carrot chunks, and a couple other miscellaneous things, the past couple weeks has shown little variation for the rabbit's breakfasts and dinners, which ordinarily include things like freshly picked dandelion greens, clover, and other free goodies of nature. By comparisons, the food options have recently been very limited. I don't wish to tell them that it will be the same for the months to come. The family is anticipating high costs this winter just to meet the rabbits palate needs, let alone our own herbivorous ones.

A house rabbits diet should mainly consist of hay and lots of vegetables and leafy greens, as well as fruit. Pellets, supposedly, too. We started making our own mix with vitamin powders after hearing a shocking story from our friends at River's Wish Animal Sanctuary, in Spokane, WA about a bunny who died of a pellet plug-up in his system. Ever seen a pellet expand in water? Well, imagine what unlimited pellets can do in a bunny tummy. After hearing that story, we stopped giving our three young rabbits (they about 8 months old now) unlimited commercial pellets, and made our own mix, which we currently dish out about a 1/4 cup morning and evening to for them share.

But though store bought produce goodies will be rare, my mother has found some bunny snacks on her morning walks. Such as a thin apple tree branch! Just as horses, rabbits would naturally eat bark, branches, tree buds, etc.- certainly in the winter days, I would imagine, when food is scarce. Whatever the case, all three rabbits munched on the sticks until they were gone, it seems it's time to restock already. Another interesting thing- the degus like the branches as well! Today, I thought you might enjoy meeting the three little musketeers. (All these pictures were taken in late August, 2009, in the outside pen my mom and I set up)

Nancy, who plows ahead with life with no regard for her personal safety. She is quite the personality!

Sweet little Lizzie!

Shy Smidge, who is famous for his high and twisting jumps around the living room.

Ahhhh...... life is good. With lots of tree branches.

(By the way, for those who are wondering, all three rabbits are mini-Rex siblings who were rescued from a breeder who shows rabbits, and then sells them to be turned into dog food. Luckily, these bunnies were rescued by River's Wish Animal Sanctuary, and found a loving life-long home with us)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Bananas for Bread

Get it? After having the inclination to make a banana baked good, I quickly found out that banana bread traditionally contains sugar, butter, eggs, and wheat flour- everything I work to exclude from my baking! Well, after a few different loafs, I came out with this baby. Made without the nuts that had previously been in it, using almost black bananas, as well as a couple dry ingredient tweaks, this mildly sweet bread is great with breakfast or just as a snack.

The millet flour, which gives an almost earthy aftertaste, could most likely be omitted and replaced with brown rice flour, however, I like the millet flour- it gives the taste of whole food goodness- reflecting the healthfulness of this delicious baked bread.

Banana Bread
gluten-free, vegan, soy-free, sugar-free, fat-free

1 1/2 c. brown rice flour
1/2 c. millet flour
3/4 teaspoon stevia powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon apple cider vineger
4 over-ripe bananas, medium-sized

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and grease a bread loaf pan.
Sift together the rice flour, millet flour, stevia, baking powder, and salt. Peel the bananas into a separate bowl, and mix and mash them until there are no lumps left. blend in the cider vinegar. Add the wet mixture to the dry blend and mix until just combined. Transfer the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake until a toothpick comes out clean. This takes about an hour to bake in my oven, but, like I've said before, our ancient oven isn't good at holding heat and several other things could be wrong as well. I wouldn't be able to tell. So- just trust the toothpick. This is great hot or cold, however it's easier to slice when cooled. But who cares, right?

Makes one loaf of bread

Printable Recipe

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