A Hopping-Good Easter Cake & 50-days Coffee-Free

Pardon the title, seems I’ve gotten really punny in English lately, I’m not sure what that’s all about.  Probably because since I’m not currently teaching*, the only English language use I seem to be getting is little blurbs on Twitter and of course chatting up my now 6 year-old (Gasp!).

Though I’m not Catholic, every year I give something up for Lent in memory of my dear, sweet Grams.  This year I decided to give up baking (as I have the past few years), but also, coffee.  Though my consumption habits have waned considerably in the past few years, I was still drinking a very strong “café italien” every morning, and often one after lunch.  I thought it was the time to give that up for a little while, since I was finding myself needing the coffee, rather than enjoying it.

Before my Lenten baking-fast, however, I did give this cake a trial-run :

The cake, my go-to carrot cake recipe from 500 Vegan Recipes, was gussied up with some almond paste and a little creativity.

the only radishes my family will eat…

give peas a chance!

Happy bunnies love cabbages…

I suppose you could do the same thing with fondant, but since my local grocery store has all natural almond paste in green, pink  and white, and they are natural colours, I opted for that.  I’d seen the idea for the sculpted veggies in Marie Clare Idées, I think the February issue, but I don’t remember.

This cute cake was supposed to be my last baked treat for 50 days, but I went and volunteered to bake treats for Guppy’s school bake sale.  They asked for cookies,  and of course because as the only person around who has actually eaten an authentic chocolate chip cookie I was urged to make chocolate chippers. Figures.

They turned out a little less-than-authentic because while not paying attention to what I was purchasing I bought a bag of chocolate chips mixed with shredded coconut – and I wasn’t about to go back to the store for plain chips.  They were extra delicious (made from Isa’s perfect recipe in VCIYCJ) and no one complained, and they were bought up in no time at all.  And yes, I did eat one. Or four.

Giving up coffee was awful, as most anyone who has ever detoxed from the stuff will tell you.  The first two days were actually ok, with me just feeling a little too smug about how easy it was.  Then, the headaches started, or rather, the headache started.  It lasted for about 8 days straight, and nothing really seemed to help ease the pain.  I was also a little bit (very) cranky on days 3 and 4, weepy-cranky actually, but then it was over.  I allowed myself all the tea I wanted, but psychologically it’s not the same deal at all.

The positives of this coffee-free existence were really surprising to me, mostly because I didn’t think that I was drinking enough for there to be a negative impact on my life.

1) More Energy : I found myself full of energy, more than usual.  There was no early-afternoon “I want a nap” feeling which really surprised me, and I actually found that I needed less sleep at night – about 30 minutes less.

2) Faster Recovery & Lower RHR : From a runner’s point of view, I’d always seen coffee as my friend, a silent partner in my training.  I’ve read a fair amount of literature on the matter and felt pretty good about my relationship with coffee, especially my pre-morning run cup.  Turns out, coffee wasn’t such a great friend after all (words I never though I’d type dear readers).  I didn’t make the connection initially, but my RHR (resting heart rate) seemed to be dropping though my training was increasing.  I initially and oh-so-modestly chalked that up to my being in rocking shape.  Then, I noticed that my training HRs were also slightly lower, and began paying even more attention.  It wasn’t until bringing coffee back into my life that I noticed my RHR sneaking up by about 8 bpm.

3) Better Concentration : After the detox stage, I found I was better able to concentrate on any/all things throughout the day.  The mental clarity that accompanied my coffee-free life was a real surprise, especially because I thought coffee actually helped improve concentration.

The negatives of giving up “Joe” were mostly social – everyone seems to get edgy call and even feel judged when faced with questioning their own habits.  The reactions of other people – friends and family members – reminded me of those I see when there are discussions of veganism in the air.  For most folks it’s not big deal, they just shrug their shoulders and move on to the next thing, but for others, there was a bit of defensiveness and disapproval and comments like “well, you can’t give everything up” start flying…

Yes, I did bring coffee back into my life, though I admit it was rather anti-climatic.  I had misty-eyed memories of cafination, the aroma, the “glow” if you will, of my morning cup, but in reality I found myself with an extremely elevated HR and feeling jittery.  I was also frustrated by the return of the afternoon sleepies and mental dullness that seem to accompany them in the early afternoon.  I’m drinking less, and though I do still love coffee, I think I’m much more careful about just how much I consume per day.

Have you ever given up coffee?

*That being said, I am looking for some part-time work kids, so if you need any translation, editorial writing or French/English lessons, do let me know, please?

Lenten Confessions : WWRD? (What Would Rita Do?)

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Cinnamon-Sugar Loaf, aka Easter Weekend Breakfast

I guess it’s time for confession, which is a rather Catholic thing to do, is it not? I’m not Catholic, but as you know, I decided to give up baking during the Lenten Holiday to honor the memory of my grandmother (a practicing Catholic). I was a very good girl during those long weeks of Lent, and I’m feeling rather proud of myself, too (which somehow negates the good behaviour, right?). Random urges for baking powder biscuits to go with homemade soup? Denied! Cookie cravings from Guppy and Monsieur Fish? Ignored. Thankfully I live in the country of the baguette, so at least fresh, cheap and tasty bread made up for the yeast-ban chez nous.

Besides being a positive way to honor her memory, this little break from baking was a wonderful reminder for me to ignore my “inner three-year-old”. Though I’ve only been baking (or cooking, or preparing food requiring more complex food preparation than slicing bread and boiling water) for a hair under two years, I’ve really taken to it. I relish in the DIY aspect of home food preparation, feeling like an artist, a craftsman and a renegade against the machine of forced consumerism. And it’s tasty. And so much healthier.

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Check out that cinnamon-sugar layer!

However, even those of you who like me have but a rudimentary understanding of physics know : energy doesn’t just disappear. Equal and opposite reactions and all that – sound familiar? When I broke my foot/ankle last November, something rather strange began to happen. The time and energy that I so carefully poured into my training had to go somewhere, and it seemed to find its way into the oven. I wasn’t actively aware of this happening initially : for me it was about recipe testing, holiday baking for gift-giving and get-togethers, etc. but as the holidays came to a close I still found myself wanting to bake. Needing to bake.

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You can see the cinnamon-sugar layering magic here, too

In retrospect, I believe that baking helped me reclaim a feeling of control I felt I’d lost. I couldn’t control my leg being in a cast or incompetent physical therapists, but I could control proportions of flour to sugar to yeast. Healing times eluded me, but baking times became as natural as my running rhythm.

I’m thankful that I didn’t chose a more self-destructive outlet for that pent-up energy (says the former smoker), but I felt like it was time to gently step away from the oven mitts and remember what brought me to wanting to bake in the first place : a desire to create healthful deliciousness for my family and friends.

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Oh delicious Molasses Bar, just unwrapped and ready to be eaten!

Lent technically ended on Easter Sunday, but I admit to ending my Lenten baking fast nearly 5 days prior. That being said, I don’t feel guilty or ashamed about breaking out the cupcake tins. Guppy was having a party at school, and I was having Spring parties for two of my children’s English classes. The idea of purchasing pre-made baked goods for these events briefly flashed before my mind – and then I just laughed out loud as I often do when I think about my Grandmother, known as Rita Pita. I found myself asking the question : WWRD*?

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Whole Wheat “Quickish” Bread with a slab of Chocolate-Agave Frosting.

Just typing the words makes me smile, because I knew Rita Pita, and I know how ridiculous she would think my not baking would be. Don’t get me wrong, she’s looking at me from somewhere and is touched that I honored Lent for her (and secretly feeling puffed-up for all this blog attention), but she was the last person on earth who would condone calorie restriction, or not eating sweets, in her name. She would have scolded me for not baking, probably asked to “just lick the spoon” (a no-no as she was a long-time diabetic and fought against weight problems her entire life) and a cupcake making we would have gone.

So I made. I left the camera in the other room, and decided to only make enough for the parties, meaning for Guppy’s school and for my students. If you’re still deciding if I “sinned”, do weigh in the fact that I made them, and taught/hosted the parties, with a 38.5c fever, so it’s like it was a big punishment anyway (ha!).

As the drugs began taking effect, I decided that it was the long weekend, and I wanted to make something fun and tasty for us so on Good Friday I made the Cinnamon-Sugar Loaf. And it was Good. I also made some Molasses bars that I wrapped up and froze to use as quick breakfasts for me. The last of the holy trinity of baking was the “Quickish” Whole Wheat bread that was so easy to throw together and bake it felt sinful. Just be be sure I made up a batch of Chocolate Agave Frosting, using hazelnut flavouring and we slathered this “faux-Nutella” all over that wholesome Whole Wheat loaf. So good to be bad.

In case you haven’t guessed, the Cinnamon-Sugar Loaf, Molasses Bars, Whole Wheat “Quickish” Bread and the Chocolate Agave Frosting are indeed all recipes which you’ll find in the up-coming 500 Vegan Recipes, to be released in less than a year! Testing is almost done, and now I shall find myself also asking WWSE? What will Shellyfish eat?

Oh the extetentialist ponderings of the universe…

(What would Rita do for those of you lucky enough to have dodged this little phrase which to me was the epitome of the hypocrite’s guide to religious marketing “What would Jesus do?”)*

What did you eat over the holiday weekend?

get-well-flowers

No, not flowers! These were actually my little wild flower “feel better soon” bouquet Guppy picked with Monsieur Fish on Sunday. They did make me feel better.

I hope you had a lovely weekend (long weekend for some of us) whether you were celebrating with friends and family or simply celebrating friends and family (as we were). I have some Lenten Confessions (yes, that means baking!) coming for you in my next post, but for now, I’d like to share the vegan goodness this weekend had to offer!

As a child, our traditional Easter weekend meant a visit from the Spring Fertility Rabbit (aka Easter Bunny), and a gigantic family dinner comprised of ham, potatoes and cabbage salad (and other random things that no one could eat for the glut of chocolate but a few hours before…).

We were almost always with my grandparents, divorced since before my birth, but somehow always together for the holidays – a forced reconciliation benefiting everyone involved. In fact, I was at least 5 years old before I really understood that my grandparents had witnessed a mammoth shift in their marital status, that they had been married, but no longer were. I had no idea how much bending-over-backwards was happening, the adults accommodating their very real and still fresh wounds. Somehow their living apart, but being together for the key moments of the year, when we made the journey North to spend the holidays tas a family, just seemed normal. Only now as an adult can I really appreciate just how much my grandparents loved my parents and my sibs and I. It was by no means a masquerade, but they put aside their differences and were able to enjoy the moments which became some of the most important memories of my lifetime. Way to go, Rita and Joe!

My Papa Joe was in charge of the cabbage salad. He would sit at the dining room table and carve the thinnest of slices before adding vinegar, oil, salt and pepper. I have some of the most beautiful memories of him at that table, the sunshine coming in from behind him, giving his tall frame an even more impressive aura. He always wore a suit and a bow tie, without exception, and he smelled like tobacco and peppermint.

I loved the family gathering, the sugar high, the gifts… but as for the dinner…I liked the cabbage salad, and that was about it.

black-bean-grillers

Enough reminiscing, what did you eat for Easter dinner? What do you mean you didn’t have veggie burgers? Well, you should have, because they were darn tasty! These just happen to be the Black Bean Grillers from the much-anticipated 500 Vegan Recipes Cookbook by Joni & Celine. I know, I’m driving you crazy, but the testing is almost done, and they are just so good and easy to throw together at the last minute… I feel morally obliged to tell you about their awesomeness.

And what could possibly go better with burgers? More comfort food of course!

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Here we have some steamed broccoli (which I think is Guppy’s very favourite non-fruit food) and rosemary mashed potatoes smothered in “Soppy Gravy”, a delicious mushroom-gravy with a kick, also soon to be featured in 500 Vegan Recipes. Considering that mashed potatoes have been one of my favourite foods since my introduction to solids, I fancy myself a bit of a gravy-expert. Not gravy making expert, mind you, but official gravy tester would be lovely on my CV next to my diplomas and work experience. I have made many a mushroom gravy in my day, but this one had a little somethin’ somethin’ that made me say wow!*

My modest little point-and-shoot doesn’t do the test recipes of 500 Vegan Recipes justice, so do scoot over to visit the 500 Vegan Recipes Flickr group and see what real photographers can do. For now, I’ll stick to eating taters and gravy.

Thanks for all the sweetness and advice on my respiratory woes. I’m still on a cortisone-high, but should feeling better soon. I will try to get past my loath for doctor visits and get to the bottom of this, and need to track down one of those nettie-nettle potty deals. It’s a little crazy how many women seem to have this random surge of sinus infections entering into their 30s…humm…Internet research calling my name…

*I did indeed say “Wow”.

I’ll test your recipe, baby… Peanut Butter Crackers & Peanut Butter and Jam Granola

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making-eyes

with-jam-please

We had a lovely time making, and then eating, these Peanut Butter Crackers. Oh yes, that is indeed jam sandwiched between two crackers. I’ve said it before : I’m punk rock like that. These are the most amazing PB Crackers I’ve ever had. Ever. So easy to make, and even easier to eat. Do you recognize Celine’s genius here, kids? You should, because this is indeed a test recipe for 500 Vegan Recipes. Yup.

The only difficult thing about this adventure? Deciding if these were pigs or bears. We went with pigs, but I did explain to Guppy that they are genetic cousins. It’s true. I don’t suggest you eat either, unless they are crackers in disguise. Obviously.

granola

This is Peanut Butter and Jam Granola. Can granola be a food group? I think it was the easiest granola I’ve ever made. Ever. Oh good grief, it was amazing. Just can’t get enough of it. You will want to marry Celine after you make this. Just warning you. There is much more delicious-looking food p*rn at the 500 Vegan Recipes Flickr Group if you just can’t get enough of the goodness here!

What you’re seeing here are some previously-prepared yummies. While I’m not Catholic, I actually gave up baking for Lent. Yep, no cupcakes here kids. I’ve also celebrated Ramadan and other such religious observances. I’m an equal-opportunity tester-outer. I think it’s important to remember what it’s like to say no to our inner three year olds from time to time, and to live mindfully of those who want for food and other necessities. Helps to keep it real. I’ll grant you it sounds a bit bourgeoise to say giving up baked goods will help me connect with those in need, but I’d like to think that it’s an important symbol : letting of of the unnecessary. For me anyway.

I was thinking about the yummies my Grams used to make for us when we were little, and how difficult it probably was for her because she wasn’t allowed to have any of the goodies, much to the chagrin of her well-developed sweet-tooth. She was diabetic, and had other health problems, but she didn’t ever complain about anything. Ever. I admire her so much, because despite going through some seriously tough times, she was one of the most cheerful, most hopeful people I’ve ever known.

She’s gone now, and I really miss her. She was indeed Catholic, and I wanted to dedicate this Lenten celebration to her memory. She was funny, too. She actually died of a massive stroke – on stage, telling a joke while introducing her band members – what a classy way to go, dressed to the nines and with an audience. She used to joke that she hoped she would know when she was “going” because she wanted to eat one pound of fudge. I hope she got her wish, though I’m not sure it was the case.

So, there you go. There will still be some baked goodies showing up here because I’ve got some yummies stocked up for just such an occasion. Don’t worry. :)