October 31, 2011

Vicariously Vegan: Cinnamon Rolls

Posted by Laura

Vicariously Vegan is a new series devoted to vegan-baking with guest blogger, Jenna, who is going to teach us a few tricks of the trade and share some of her favorite vegan recipes with us. Jenna's passion for baking and attention to detail will surely lend us some inspiration and open our minds up to the vegan experience.

Kristin and I had the pleasure of spending an entire afternoon with my friend Jenna while she assembled some amazing cinnamon rolls (remember when she helped with the cupcakes?). We were particularly excited to taste-test the finished product, and gaaaaaaa where they good. We invite you to take the leap with us, if you will, into our world of vicariously vegan...

Laura. Jenna. Kristin.

Vegan Cinnamon Rolls

But first, a little bit about the baker...
First name: Jenna
Age: 17
Favorite Band: hmmm...I'm really liking Social Distortion and The Decemberists right now.
Favorite Food: Tacos!
Team Edward or Team Jacob: ick! neither...
How long have you been living the vegan life: About 3 1/2 years
Why vegan: I love animals, and I don't want to support industries that don't always treat them right.
What are we baking today: Cinnamon Rolls! (adapted from Kelly Rudnicki's Vegan Baking Classics)

Kelly Rudnicki's Vegan Baking Classics

What are the ingredients:
1 cup soy milk
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup dairy free shortening (I used Earth Balance)
1 tsp salt
3 1/2 - 4 cups all purpose flour, divided
1 package active dry yeast
2 tbsp water

1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup dairy free margarine (Earth Balance), melted

1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 1/2-2 tbsp soy milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

What are the steps:
Step 1: For the Dough - In a saucepan, heat up the soy milk, sugar, dairy free shortening, and salt until shortening melts and mixture is heated through, about 115° (Temperatures significantly higher than 115° will kill the yeast when making the dough, resulting in sad cinnamon buns) You can measure the temperature with an instant thermometer.

dairy free shortening

115° -- soy milk, sugar, dairy free shortening and salt

Step 2: In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine 2 cups of the flour and the yeast using the paddle attachment. Add the soy milk mixture to the flour mixture and combine them on a low speed. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and then add the water. Mix on a high speed for roughly 2 minutes. Slowly add 1 1/2 - 2 cups of flour to the mixture, and mix on low until the dough is somewhat stiff.

Step 3: This step is kneading the dough, and there are a couple of options when doing this. One is to take the dough out of the mixer, put it on a floured surface, and knead it by hand for 5 minutes. The other option is to replace the paddle attachment in the stand mixer with the dough hook attachment and mix on a medium speed for 5 minutes, which is what I chose to do. After kneading the dough, shape it into a ball and place it in a bowl sprayed with nonstick spray. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rise for about an hour. Tip: To help the dough rise faster, put it in a warm place, like by a stove, or in the sun. If neither of these are available to you (the day I made these, the sun was a little sketchy), you can create this warm environment for your dough with a mug of water and a microwave. Boil the water in the mug in your microwave and then put the bowl of dough in the microwave, leaving the mug in with it. This creates a warm and humid place to help your dough rise for you=)

Knead dough by hand or by using the dough
hook attachment for the stand up mixer
Before rising

After rising

Step 4: After the dough is done rising, punch it down and divide it into two balls. Let them rest for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, mix together the cinnamon and sugar for the filling. Then roll out each ball into a (roughly)12x8 inch rectangle. Brush the dough with the melted margarine and sprinkle each rectangle evenly with the cinnamon and sugar mixture.

Step 5: Starting at the longer side of the dough, roll the dough into a log, sealing the edges so it does not come undone. Cut the dough into about 10 or 12 pieces, depending on how big you want them. Put them in a 9 inch pan sprayed with nonstick spray and cover again with plastic wrap and let them rise for about half an hour or until they double in size. While the cinnamon buns are rising, preheat your oven to 375°.

Let rolls rise about 30 minutes or until they double in size

Step 6: Bake rolls at 375° for 18-20 minutes or until they are slightly browned. While the rolls are baking, mix together the confectioners' sugar, soy milk, and vanilla to make the glaze. After the rolls are done baking and are still warm, spread the glaze over the top of them. Then eat them! They're best when they're warm, so if you don't eat them all right away, heat them up in your microwave or toaster oven...YUM

mmm mmm good

Thanks Jenna! We can't wait to see what's next!!

plastic apron and wellies, just in case I needed to bake
something in the middle of a storm - thanks Martha!

October 29, 2011

Freezer Inventory

Posted by Laura

Are you scared of your freezer? Does something fall out every time you open the door? Do you really know what's hibernating in the back, behind everything? Maybe a neglected bag of peas. Maybe a stray popsicle. Maybe an abandoned package of bacon. Well, that bacon deserves to be eaten! I realized this the other day when a whole chicken came tumbling out of the freezer and revealed a little bag of sweet potato fries that I forgot existed (hooray!). It was time for me to explore and see what else was hiding in there...

I decided that I needed to suck it up and do a thorough inventory check. I'm so glad I did this. One thing I discovered is that we have a lot of duplicates, specifically bagged vegetables.

So I took this whole inventory thing one step further and typed it out in a pretty doc. I considered color coordinating things, then life started knocking on my door and was like "hey don't forget about me".

I pinned it up on the side of the fridge and have visions of us diligently keeping track of things by handwriting the items on the list, and then printing out a fresh one every few months or so. I don't think we're that organized but we'll see how it goes!

October 27, 2011

Before and After: A Brand New Front Landscape

Posted by Kristin

Despite a very dreary, rainy, cold day my thoughts have been wandering towards gardening and prepping for next spring. My new apartment has much to desire in the way of landscaping and gardening. One of my major goals for next spring is to install a few raised beds so I can plant my own vegetable garden.  But to satisfy my need today to see green and flowers, I thought I would share a landscape design I did for my business, Taking Root Design, in May that is still offering many blooms this time of year.

The property has magnificent views of Mt. Tom and a beautiful, newly constructed, single family home. The site was literally empty, had a good six inches of new top soil put down, and was begging for some greenery.

The home features a paved walkway up to a open front porch.

Just remove the construction equipment and you've got a great view of the surrounding mountains.

The design goals for this project were fairly simple, particularly because the house had not been sold yet (its been sold now!) so I didn't have a specific client in mind that I was designing for.

Design Goals:
1. Design for year round interest and in such a way as to appeal to a wide range of people.
2. Offer some privacy for the front porch but still allow for clear views from the porch out to the yard.
3. Disguise the well head with plantings (you can see it's orange head to the left of the real estate sign in the first photo).

After many hours of design and lots of trace paper being thrown on the floor, I went to a local nursery, Class Grass, armed with my plant list and ideas of possible substitutes. Its always good to have some other choices in mind because chances are a nursery will not have every single plant on your list. That was certainly the case and I probably had to substitute 25% of the original plants I had selected.

After marking the beds, laying out the plants, and helping with the install, the landscape turned out great and completely transformed the front yard.

New shrubs, perennials, and grass give the home a finished look and also
greatly reduce the storm water run off that was sheeting off of the bare top soil.

Variegated grasses, maroon foliage, and a Star Magnolia offer a contrast in texture and color.

The garage is flanked with bright yellow Rudbeckia (black eyed susans), variegated
Nishiki Willows, and additional Echinacea (coneflower) which ties into the front garden.

Rudbeckia = very happy flower.

What well head? There was a well head there?

Echinacea is another happy flower with medicinal qualities to boot.

And to end, not too shabby of a view from the front walk.

I hope this brought some inspiration and greenery to your day!

October 25, 2011

Easy Russet and Sweet Potato Recipe

Posted by Laura

We have had an abundance of potatoes from the farm share these past couple weeks. You won't find me complaining because I love me some potatoes - mashed, baked, fried, yum. A couple of years ago I learned this really quick and easy recipe from my friend Michelle for baked potatoes. I modified it a little to accommodate my sweet potatoes (didn't want them to feel left out) and wanted to share it with you

Side note: You know when you look at a word for too long, it doesn't look like it's spelled right? I'm pretty sure that potatoes is not spelled right because every time I look at it while writing this post, all I see is pot a(of) toes as in "has anyone seen my pot 'a toes?". Gross, right? Overshare?

Russet and Sweet Potatoes

Easy Bake Russet and Sweet Potatoes

  • Approximately 6 potatoes (russet and sweet, or just russet or just sweet)
  • 1 packet of onion soup mix
  • 2 Tbls olive oil

  1. Wash potatoes under cold water to remove excess dirt
  2. Chop into 1" cubes and put in 9x13 baking dish
  3. Drizzle olive oil over the top, then sprinkle onion soup packet over the top
  4. Bake at 350 degrees F for 1 hour or until potatoes are soft

October 23, 2011

Chocolate Works Cupcakes

Posted by Kristin

Guess what my loving husband came home and greeted me with recently?

I was so excited to get a white box!

After a moment I smartened up and opened the box to find these staring back at me:

Mother of Mercy, they looked damn fiiiine! Apparently Mike had bought a Groupon deal for these bad boys from Chocolate Works bakery in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts. It's a great local bakery with gourmet cupcakes and lots of other delicious treats. They have 6 mouth-watering flavors of cupcakes, like Smores and Candy Shop. Yum! Check it out next time you have a hankering for a deliciously rich cupcake.

The turtle cupcake starts off deceivingly simple with just a toasted pecan on top.

And then opens up to a center full of caramelly-goodness.

For those who don't know what Groupon is, get ready to have your socks knocked right off those kickers of yours.  Groupon is an online coupon website set up for cities all around the country. You sign up for email notifications and get daily emails about what good deals are available in your area. It could be anything from a discounted massage to half off a carwash to a steal on a restaurant gift certificiate.  Definitely worth checking out!

October 21, 2011

Porch Before & Afte...(In Progress)

Posted by Laura

Summer House Project List: (not to be confused with summer-house. I wish.)
-Give the living room a face lift - check
-Build a headboard for our bedroom - check
-Sew enough to start an etsy shop! - fail
-Make a light from the thing I found at Goodwill - fail (scroll down)
-Paint the front porch - chhhhheck

When we moved into our apartment last year, we neglected to set up the front porch and instead used it as a storage space. It wasn't until this year that we actually set it up because, well, we sort of forgot about it (ya know the whole "outta sight outta mind" thing). It's a bubble off the front of the house and we spend most of our time in the back of the house, honestly. Our other excuse is that it needed a serious paint job. Here are the scary before shots:

Do you see the brown shingles on the left? The thought of painting each of those individually pained me so I decided to "sprime" (spray-paint prime, I just made that up) the edges of them. This is a good time to quickly interject with 3 porch painting tips: 
  1. I love this technique of spriming, but take it with a grain of salt. I actually have no clue if it will hold up over time but for now it works!
  2. Whenever you're getting ready to scrape paint, test it for lead! I had a mild freakout when this occurred to me mid-scraping. I ran to the hardware store, bought a lead testing kit, tested it and breathed easy because the results came back lead-free (phew). 
  3. If painting is a miserable task for you (my husband refers to it as indoor raking), crank some music and pretend that you're Picasso. Ha!

Anyways, moving right along...


Double-fist spriming while flexing. Impressive.

ripped off sleeves =  sweatbands for my wrists
I am clearly influenced by my husband.

And here are the afters. We still need to decorate it. For now we put some left over furniture out there. This will be one of those decorating projects that evolves over time.

We used Behr exterior paint for the walls and siding

We've already put the porch to use by spending our evenings out there. It feels like we have another room in the house. Why didn't we do this sooner?

Making a light for the porch? Fail
Experience the Goodwill Outlet? Win

Imagine this for a moment. Bins and bins (and bins) full of Goodwill goodies, all priced by weight. Nobody is allowed to touch anything until the whistle blows, then it's a free-for-all. Elbows get thrown and small people get pushed out of the way. The strategy is to grab anything that "looks good" and get it in your cart, then GUARD YOUR CART because people will help themselves the minute your back is turned. No joke, this is the experience at the Goodwill Outlet in Hamden, CT. It's amazing. It's the place where all the leftovers go when they don't sell in the stores. It's like the secondhand stores' secondhand store.

My sister-in-law Carolyn took me there for the full experience. In the end, I got a string of lights, a package of brand new tennis balls for Tillie and a hole puncher. I can't remember the total price but it was like $2.00 ($0.25/lbs, I think). She scored big time with a bunch of kids books and a learning tower for $10 (which usually goes for $200!).

scary puzzles with horses and mean looking cats
"Cats Galore"  Ah!

string of lights

I was ambitious and thought I'd be able to transform this string of lights into something like this (by wrapping fabric around it) for the porch:

I wish I could say that I successfully made the light, but I didn't. Here's what really happened. I got home and hung it up to get a good look at it. I even built a little bit of a structure from cardboard around the bottom. A couple days later, we were having friends over for dinner so I threw it in office closet. There is sat, for weeks, until one day I was rummaging through the closet and spontaneously decided to ditch this light project all together and quickly threw it in the trash before I changed my mind. You win some you lose some, right?