Playing With Recipes: Vegan Easter Pie

There’s not much I miss from my days as an omnivore, but one thing I still have fond memories of is ricotta pie.  Growing up exactly one-half Italian meant that there was a lot of cheese to be had, and ricotta pie, being made largely of ricotta cheese, was no exception.  It had a sweet taste, thick texture, and flaky crust–all enjoyable in their own ways, but definitely not friendly to the lactose intolerant system.

After giving up dairy, I figured I’d never see the likes of such a pie again.  Enter the Italian Easter Pie out of Vegan Fire & Spice by Robin Robertson.  While not a veganized version of the ricotta pie I remember, it is a pie of similar type.  Savory instead of sweet, and meant for dinner rather than breakfast or snack, Robertson’s Easter pie is fully loaded with tofu, vegan sausage, and tons of great seasonings inside a flaky crust.

Since it’s a bit heavy on the protein, I served it with a simple side of kale.  The preparation of the pie itself wasn’t difficult, the most time-consuming part being crumbling the tofu and sausage.  Overall, another dinner success with plenty left over to share!

Playing With Recipes: Chickpea Culets & Roasted Brussels Sprouts

chickpea cutlet & roasted brussels sprouts

I’m the sort of person who prefers one-pot meals, for several reasons. One, they’re much easier to coordinate than a meal that requires cooking a lot of different things at once; and two, there are fewer dishes to worry about afterwards! However, sometimes I like to do my version of going all out and make a multi-dish dinner.

Last night was one of those times. Ever since my mom got me Veganomicon for Christmas, I’ve had my eye on the recipe for chickpea cutlets. I love chickpeas and get a major kick out of playing with vital wheat gluten. Plus, making patties, burgers, or cutlets from scratch gives me control over how much salt goes into the final product.

I knew I wanted something green to go along with the cutlets, and since my entire family has been suckers for Brussels sprouts lately, I went searching for a suitable recipe. Enter my favorite vegan recipe guru, Robin Robertson. I’ve been known to gush at length about her cookbooks, so that’s best left for another entry. Let’s just say that I’ve never gone wrong with one of her recipes. A quick glance through 1,000 Vegan Recipes yielded a fast, easy recipe for roasted Brussels sprouts with lemon juice. Fast, easy, and Brussels sprouts? Yes please.

The rice was the easiest part. All I did was cook brown rice as per the package instructions, with a little veggie bullion, thyme, marjoram, and basil thrown in to spice it up.

My only complaint was that the cutlets were underdone after the amount of time recommended by the recipe for pan-frying. I may have made them too thick. Other than that, the meal was tasty and well-received by all! Next time, I may try baking the cutlets in the oven to see if they cook through better.

Tonight I’m going to go for something easier, but it was nice to experiment with a little of this and a little of that from different cookbooks in my collection. My family has definitely found a new favorite in those roasted Brussels sprouts!

The Necessity of Humor

With all the focus on and hype about getting healthy these days, I’m surprised at how little people talk about humor.  What good is a healthy lifestyle if you can’t have a laugh once and a while?

The old adage that laughter is the best medicine may not be so far off the mark.  Anyone who has had a seriously good laugh knows how it makes you feel: lighthearted, happy, silly, and less stressed.  Research shows that laughing raises endorphin levels, creating that happy feeling.  Laughing can also reduce pain, boost the immune system, and lower stress!

In my experience, there’s nothing better than having a laugh with your friends.  When you laugh together, you can feed off of each other’s sense of humor for maximum silliness.  I think as we get older, a lot of us forget that being silly is not only okay, but also an essential part of life!

I’d like to share three of my favorite ways to be silly and get a laugh out of life.

1) Killer Bunnies
Yep, Killer Bunnies.  More specifically, Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot.  There’s a lot about this card game that fits my personal brand of humor and fun.  It’s complex while still being easy to learn, and the multiple available expansion decks keep gameplay fresh.  Plus, it’s chock-full of oblique, amusing pop culture references–everything from Back to the Future and Bill and Ted to Red Dwarf and Dukes of Hazard.  I especially love to bring my deck when hanging out with friends.  The looks people will give this game when you play it in public are priceless.

2) Random humor
I have a close friend who is one of the most random people on earth.  I’ll admit that, at first, I couldn’t always see the humor in this, but over time she’s taught me to appreciate how truly great a dose of randomness can be.

Take, for example, viral videos like Charlie the Unicorn and They’re Taking the Hobbits to Isengard:


Charlie goes to Candy Mountain


G-g-gard!

Of course, the humor in randomness has a far broader scope than that.  Random can be stupid and silly or dry and witty; both are great in their own way as long as they’re funny.  Take this video from Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry’s British variety show, A Bit of Fry and Laurie (warning: NSFW unless you have a boss with a weird sense of humor):

Despite its potty humor nature, Fry and Laurie deliver the sketch, especially the punchline, with dry British wit and straight faces. How? Beats me; I never saw the punch line coming the first time, and still crack up at it now!

3) Kid stuff

For some sad reason, there comes a point in most people’s lives when they believe they’re “too old” for activities like coloring, building Lego models, and playing with Play-Doh.  Sure, after a certain age it stops being practical to have “kid stuff” as a major source of entertainment, but I’ve found that taking the time to do something you enjoyed when you were little has several benefits:

  • It reminds you how it felt to be a kid and can bring back memories of other fun times in your childhood. 
  • Engaging in an uncomplicated creative activity forces your brain to slow down and focus.  This is especially important in today’s “adult” world, where things have a tendency to become overwhelming.
  • Things like crayons and Play-Doh are meant to engage kid’s artistic sides; why not yours?  You’ll find yourself breaking away from the more complex ideas of adulthood and thinking in simpler terms, which can give your brain a much-needed rest.

So don’t be afraid to be silly, goofy, lighthearted, and random!  Mixing a healthy dose of levity into your day whenever it’s appropriate is one of the best ways to unwind, relax, and remind yourself not to take life too seriously.  Make time to laugh with friends, or indulge your own sense of humor after a long day at work.

Recipe: "Dandy" Chocolate Chip Walnut Bars

Sometimes you just need dessert!

Though dessert consumption has declined considerably in my household over the last year or so, both my mother and I are still fond of making and eating baked goods. Most recipes we used to enjoy can be made vegan-friendly with a few easy substitutions!

One of the things I used to be a fiend for was brownies. Chocolate, chocolate chip, peanut butter; I loved them all. Looking back, I cringe at the amount of dairy- and egg-laiden desserts consumed as a kid. But that doesn’t stop me from breaking out the mixing bowl and making updated versions of the old favorites.

On a recent trip to AZ, I picked up a bag of Dandies vegan marshmallows from Green. I’ve been dying to make something with them ever since, and lurking in my brain was a memory of making “blizzard” cookie bars in 6th grade Home Ec.

After a little tweaking, the result isn’t the same, but the taste is just as fantastic! I made mine with applesauce and find that the lighter texture compliments the chewiness of the walnuts quite well.

“Dandy” Chocolate Chip Walnut Bars
makes 24 bars

1/2 cup Earth Balance, softened (I like the kind with olive oil)
1/2 cup applesauce
*note: using applesauce will result in a “puffier” bar–if you prefer a more traditional cookie texture, use 1 cup Earth Balance
1/2 cup sugar or Xylitol
1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. baking soda
equivalent of 2 eggs
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup Dandies marshmallows, cut into small pieces

1) Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. This makes for easier bar removal and less cleanup later on!

2) Mix the Earth Balance, applesauce, and sugars together until combined.

3) Add the “eggs”, vanilla, and baking soda. Mix well.

4) Slowly beat in flour until dough forms. Note: dough made with applesauce will have a slightly “stretchy” texture to it.

5) Fold in the chocolate chips, walnuts, and dandies.

6) Spread dough in the prepared pan as evenly as possible.

7) Bake for 20-25 mins., or until lightly browned. Your kitchen will probably start to smell like s’mores when the Dandies heat up! Bar texture may be more springy/spongy than expected due to melting of the marshmallows, but don’t worry–they’ll taste fine!

8) Cool completely in pan before cutting into 24 bars. Store in an airtight container, preferably between layers of wax paper.

Dairy-Free: My Journey to Veganism

Given that I plan to post a lot about vegan food, I figured I should share how I went vegan in the first place.  I wish I had a grand, soulful, inspiring story to tell, but in truth my dietary shift was a long and gradual process.

Growing up I had a typical Western diet, plus a little Italian flair from my mother’s side of the family.  Dairy and meat abounded in my diet.  Though we cooked most of our own meals and desserts, packaged cookies and chips, as well as processed sugary breakfast cereals, were not strangers to our shelves.  And we weren’t above the occasional swing through a McDonald’s drive-thru.

As a kid, of course, I saw nothing wrong with this.  Oreos and Doritos were awesome treats; McDonald’s fries even more so.  I loved lasagna, fried chicken, chocolate chip cookies, and ice cream.  I’m a little ashamed to admit that I made next to no effort to incorporate fresh, whole foods into my daily diet.  I enjoyed fruits and vegetables, but never considered them a staple.

Milk first turned against me when I was ten.  But even with all the symptoms of lactose intolerance staring me in the face like a flashing neon sign, it took thirteen more years for me to seriously consider eliminating dairy from my diet for good.

During that time, I began to realize that I didn’t really like meat any more.  The texture and flavor were no longer as enjoyable to me as they had been when I was younger, and I gradually ate less and less of it until only the occasional sausage or order of General Tso’s chicken crossed my plate.  (Fellow vegetarians/vegans may recognize this as the dreaded “flexitarianism”!)

Finally, enough was enough.  I had my last helping of meat in August of 2008, and began a serious phasing out of diary in October of the same year after an incident involving a can of yogurt and a lack of Lactaid pills, the results of which are unbloggable.

I had heard of veganism but, like most people, didn’t know much about it.  However, when I found myself at the point where I didn’t like meat and could no longer eat dairy, it seemed the logical dietary choice.  Eggs were pretty much a moot point, as I barely ate them to begin with.  And so began my quest to find recipes that were fun and flavorful, while at the same time fulfilled my nutritional needs.

It’s been almost a year since I went vegan.  (Yes, I admit that some dairy products and eggs snuck their way in over the course of the first several months of 2009.)  Now that I’ve tried a variety of new recipes, as well as veganized versions of foods I used to love, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t go back to my former diet even if I could.  I’ve learned a lot about the health and environmental benefits of a vegan diet, and can feel the difference in my own health.  No more lethargy after meals!  No more dairy-related digestive discomfort!  And, best of all, I’m continually trying new foods and cuisine styles that I never considered before.

There’s a lot more to my lifestyle–and yours!–than just food, but what you eat and how your body feels can dictate a lot about what you’re able to do.  Watch for more posts in vegan food, health, and fitness!

The Quantum Vegan Lifestyle — Welcome

So what is lifestyle?

We live in a world of choices.  Everywhere we go, we’re offered seemingly endless options of what to eat, what to wear, where to go, and what do to with our free time.  The things we choose on a daily basis determine how we feel about our bodies and our lives.

To me, that’s what “lifestyle” is all about.  It’s not just food, fitness, or health; though these things play a big part.  Lifestyle is everything, every choice you make and every thing you do.  The things that make up your lifestyle ultimately influence what you get out of life as a whole.

The Quantum Vegan Goal

Of course, I will be making posts about food–I’ve named the blog “Quantum Vegan”, after all!  But I also want to focus on other things that make life healthy and enjoyable: fun ways to exercise without being bored, good books to spark the imagination, hobbies to try, faith, family, and more.

That said, I feel obligated to add the disclaimer that I’m not an expert on any of these subjects.  Information shared in posts on this blog is based on personal experience, as well as research when necessary.  My goal is to share things that have helped make my life a little better, in the hopes that others might find them enjoyable or helpful.

So welcome aboard, and thanks for reading.  If there’s anything you’d like to see on this blog in the coming posts, leave a comment and let me know!