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?

Sablés aux noisettes & aux baies de berbéris : Les Vendredis Francophones

Quand l’adorable Mihl a décidé enfin de me rendre visite l’année dernière elle n’est pas venue les mains vides!  Parmi les trésors qu’elle a gentiment apportés avec elle  à travers l’Europe (ou bien, de l’Allemagne jusqu’à chez moi en Aquitaine) se trouvait un sachet de jolies baies de berbéris!  Elle en parle souvent et les utilise dans ses pâtisseries, donc j’avais hâte de les découvrir.  Vous ne connaissez pas les berbéris?  Allez faire un tour chez wiki pour plus amples infos sur ces petites baies acidulées pardi!

Une fois les berbéris en ma possession, que faire avec ces petits rubis comestibles?  Je n’étais pas en manque d’idées, et le plus dur était de me décider, ce que je fit enfin!

Il faut dire que nous avons beaucoup de choses en commun, Mihl et moi, parmi lesquelles nos chers souvenirs d’enfance avec nos grand-mères respectives.  Je voulais donc essayer de leur faire honneur avec cette recette, inspirée par mon arrière-grand-mère.  Ces sablés sont  sophistiqués dans leur subtilité, avec un mélange de textures surprenant, entre le croustillant du sablé sucré et les baies séchées acidulées.  La poudre de noisette ajoute une touche d’amertume qui joue avec la délicate douceur du sucre roux qui les entoure…si vous n’avez pas de baies de berbéris, des “cranberries” séchées non-sucrées feront l’affaire.

Sablés aux noisettes & aux baies de berbéris

Pour 40 biscuits environ

2 c. à café Ener-G (pour remplacer 2 oeufs)

2 c. à soupe d’eau

175 g beurre végétal (St. Hubert Bio), ramolli

2 c. à café de jus de citron

1 c. à café essence vanille

180 g de sucre glace tamisé

300 g de farine ménagère

2 c. à soupe Maïzena

1 c. à soupe levure chimique (un sachet de 11 g)

120 g de noisettes en poudre

110 g de baies de berbéris (ou cranberries séchées)

4 c. à soupe de sucre roux

1) Dans un grand saladier mélanger la farine, la maïzena, la levure chimique et la poudre de noisettes à l’aide d’une grosse cuillère.

2) Fouettez l’eau avec l’Ener-G à l’aide d’un mixeur électrique jusqu’à ce que ça mousse, 3 ou 4 minutes environ.

3) Dans un autre saladier, travaillez en crème le sucre glace et le beurre jusqu’à ce que le mélange blanchisse.  Ajoutez l’Ener-G, le jus de citron et la vanille en continuant de battre pour obtenir une pâte homogène et très légère.

4) Incorporez le mélange de farine, petit à petit, puis les baies.  Divisez la pâte en deux.

5) Etalez la moitié du sucre roux sur une feuille de papier aluminium d’une trentaine de cm long.  Farinez vos mains, et avec un des pâtons, formez une bûche ronde de 20 cm (si votre pâte est trop molle, malaxez-la avec un peu de farine, elle sera plus facile à manipuler).

6) Roulez doucement la bûche dans le sucre roux afin de bien garnir son extérieur.  Enveloppez-la ensuite dans une feuille d’aluminium en fermant les extrémités en papillote.  Faites pareil avec votre deuxième pâton, puis, laissez-les reposer au frigo pendant deux heures.

7) Préchauffez le four à 175°c et préparez 2 plaques de cuisson avec des silplats ou du papier sulfurisé.  Retirez l’aluminium et détaillez chaque bûche en tranches de 10 mm.  Si vous ne pouvez pas couper votre pâte facilement, mettez-la au congélateur pendant 15 minutes, puis réessayez.

8) Enfournez les biscuits pendant 13 à 15 minutes, jusqu’à ce qu’ils soient fermes et dorés en dessous.  Laissez-les tiédir 5 minutes avant de les mettre à refroidir sur une grille.


Meal Plan Monday & Tester Yummies

Before I get to this week’s plan, here are a few of the great eats I’ve been testing for The Urban Vegan :

Delicious cinnamon-date scones

Kheer (Indian Rice Pudding)

And to round things out, some Chana Dal served on homemade paratas.  I obviously can’t give you the tester recipe for the Chana Dal, but you can see the recipe for the paratas here in French, or wait until tomorrow for the English version.

Did you see who was sneaking into my Kheer photo shoot?

I was taking the shot and wondered what had fallen onto the table…baby lady birds! Or lady bugs, or cute bugs that announce spring!  Happy.

Monday : Easy-Peasy Pasta – watch for this very kid-friendly recipe on Thursday.

Tuesday : Balsamic Baked Beans (an U.V. tester recipe) and sweet potato fries.

Wednesday : French Fry Soup.  This is going to be an experiment, and I promise to share the results if it turns out!

Thursday : Spaghetti and bean balls.  I usually use the wonderful recipe for bean balls in VCON, but I’m out of gluten flour.  It’s all gone, kids, and apparently I cannot get any unless I order it via the net…and I’m not going to do that.  Have any of you made the recipe without the gluten to hold it together?  Do you have other bean ball recipes you like that don’t call for gluten flour?  Do tell!

Friday : Pizza Night!  Wee! If I’m feeling frisky I may even make a dessert pizza Friday.  Maybe.  Can’t be getting to crazy now, can we?


Do you blog your weekly meal plans?  Let me know, I’d love to link to your plan to share the planning mojo with everyone.  And don’t forget, if you’re looking for meal plan inspiration you can visit the MPM archives.

Qui veut des paratas? : Les Vendredis Francophones

Que-sont les paratas?  Similaire à des tortillas mexicaines, ces petites galettes indiennes s’invitent au repas facilement comme elles se préparent en un clin d’oeil et sont très facile à réaliser;  il vous faut 35 minutes en tout : 15 minutes de repos, environ 15 minutes pour la préparation et cinq minutes de cuission.  C’est du vrai “fast food”!

Lors de ma première visite à Londres j’ai pu enfin déguster de la vraie cuisine indienne.  Encore lycéenne, j’étais logée par une famille d’accueil fort sympathique qui ne se contentait pas de m’emmener au vulgaire resto du coin.  Pour mon repas initiatique c’était confection de repas en famille avec des petits plats maison mijotés avec amour.  Pauli, cuisinière accomplie, m’a montré comment confectionner  les paratas, et c’était la première fois que je faisais à manger – ou en tout cas aider – dans la cuisine.  Ce fut une soirée inoubliable, et je pense à eux à chaque fois que je fais  des paratas.

Ne soyez pas intimidés par les explications – vous verrez, c’est facile!  Suivez le guide…

nos paratas qu’on aime tant!

Pour 8 paratas

300 g de farine complète

1/2 c. à café grains de lin (facultatif)

1/2 c. à café lin de tournesol (facultatif)

2 pincées de sel fin

200 ml lait soja

8 c. à café de beurre végétal (St. Hubert Bio)

1) Dans un grand saladier, mélangez la farine avec le sel à l’aide d’une cuillère en bois.

2) Ajoutez petit à petit le lait, jusqu’à l’obtention d’une pâte souple et homogène.  Malaxer juste un peu : si votre pâte est trop humide, ajoutez un peu de farine, si à l’inverse elle est trop sèche ajoutez juste un peu de lait, une cuillère à café ou plus si nécessaire.

3) Laissez la pâte reposer 15 minutes.

4) Partagez la pâte en 8 boules.

5) Etalez les boules au rouleau pour former 6 galettes d’environ 15 cm de diamètre.

6) Déposez sur chaque galette 1 c. à café de beurre et étalez.

7) Roulez les galettes sur elles-mêmes afin d’obtenir 8 cigares.

8) Maintenant nous allons faire des escargots!

9) Etalez chaque escargot pour former une nouvelle galette.

10) Maintenant cuisez vos galettes dans une petite poêle anti-adhésive préalablement graissée avec un peu de beurre.

11) Ces galettes sont meilleures servies chaudes, directement de la poêle, donc servez-les sans attendre!

*ben ouais, il fait nuit à l’heure du dîner…désolée pour les photos jaunes!

A very delicious & low-fat chocolate cake…

If you took a peek at last week’s Les Vendredis Francophones then you saw this delicious chocolate cake I made for my mother-in-law’s birthday last week.  This is one of those cakes that will give your guests the impression that you’re a master pastry chef, and it is so crazy-easy that you’ll find yourself making it again and again.  I know that vegan cakes can sometimes run on the “heavy” side, but this one has a light, tight crumb that will leave people doubting it’s really vegan…

After a little trial and a bit of error, I bring you this low-fat delight with but a mere 40g (about 3 tbsp) of butter – apple sauce replacing the initial 3/4 cups the original artery-clogging recipe called for.  Tasty and modest in the fat department?  Who would have thought?

Serve this rich chocolate cake with a cup of espresso, or with your favourite non-dairy ice cream for extra-special birthday (or any day) fun!

low-fat vegan chocolate cake

2 tbsp Ener-G (or egg replacer of your choice for 2 eggs)

4 tbsp water

180 g brown sugar

40 g non-dairy butter, softened

225 ml apple sauce

60 ml soy milk

100 g unsweetened cocoa powder

200 g AP flour

1 tbsp corn starch

1 1/2 tbsp baking powder

1) Pre-heat your oven to 180°c and butter and flour a 25cm bunt pan.

2) Using an electric mixer, beat the Ener-G and water until frothy, then add the butter and sugar and continue mixing for about 5 minutes.  Next, add the soy milk and apple sauce and blend until smooth.

3) Sift in the cocoa powder, corn starch, flour and baking powder, and blend with a wooden spoon until “just mixed”.  If you stir too much you’ll have a chewy cake, and that would be sad.

4) Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Let the cake cool in the pan for about 10 or 15 minutes, then gently reverse it onto a cooling rack.

5 ) This cake is quite lovely naked, but you could of course get fancy-pants with some chocolate ganache or lemony powdered sugar icing...and don’t forget the sprinkles!

bon appétit!

Meal Plan Monday: Theme-Night Family Fun & More tester treats…

Despite the amazing weather and sunshine, I’m feeling the January “blahs”.  I’m not sure if you experience these, but for me it happens shortly after the holiday decorations come down and the afterglow of December’s festivities is as dark as these winter mornings and evenings.  I am, if you will, like a flower…I need long days of sunshine and gentle warm breezes to nourish me.


What do you do when you get the winter blahs?  This week The Fish Family will be having two “theme-nights” to break up the monotony of January.  Yes, we are throwing caution to the wind and serving up some festivesauce with an Irish Night and an Indian Night.  You’re jealous, aren’t you?

As many of you know, it really is the little things that matter, and though it might seem silly to tell Guppy, “Tonight, we’re travelling to India…” and spend our dinner talking about the animals, stories and people we could relate to the country of India, for the curious 5 year-old she is, it’s rather exciting.  I recycled a few old lesson plans I’d used for children and found some “Animals of India” colouring pages for her to work on while I prepare dinner tonight, and we could even extend the experience by watching “The Jungle Book” later in the week…it only takes a few minutes of planning to create an event out of what would otherwise be a boring Monday night dinner.

Theme-Night meals for teens or adults are not necessarily more labour-intensive, on the contrary!  Watching a film connected with your meal, or just the simple addition of pre-dinner cocktails, the apéro, if you will, can add sass and spark to a regular meal – even if your cocktails are non-alcoholic!

Smaller children will love making a game of something so ordinary, and it can help open up conversations with older kids, too.

Here’s our week :

Monday : Indian Night! Kale with raisins & Chana Dal* served with Paratas, and Kheer* for dessert.

Tuesday : Spirals with “Feta” & Spinach. – this one is from The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions by Celine Steen & Joni Marie Newman.  Many of you I’m sure all the recipes I teased you with while I was testing for this one (even though the silly publishers forgot to credit my name, grr!).  Now you can go get your own copy – you’ll be so happy you did!

Wednesday : Irish Night! Colcannon* with Irish Soda Bread and Seedcake* for dessert and Irish Coffee for the grown-ups!

Thursday : left-overs

Friday : Pizza Night!  This is our favourite night of the week, and we never grow tired of it.

The starred (*) dishes mentioned above are test recipes for The Urban Vegan’s book-in-progress, and here are a few pictures of what I was testing last week :

hot crossed buns

sweet mint tea

Shirley Temple (for Guppy!)

I’m actually testing much more than you’re seeing here, but with the absolute lack of daylight (Winter Blahs!) there has been a significant decline in food photos around here…long live March 21st!

Do you blog your weekly meal plans?  Let me know, I’d love to link to your plan to share the planning mojo with everyone.  And don’t forget, if you’re looking for meal plan inspiration you can visit the MPM archives.

un gâteau (presque) léger au chocolat : Les Vendredis Francophones

C’était l’anniversaire de ma belle-maman cette semaine – joyeux anniversaire encore belle-maman! – et qui dit anniversaire dit gâteau!  Ce gâteau simplissime est même (presque) léger comme il n’y a que 40 g de beurre!  En effet, notre amie fidèle … Continue reading

Lemon Grissini Cookies, the recipe…

Happy Tuesday everyone!

Before I give you the coveted Lemon Grissini Cookie Recipe, I’d like to mention that friend, blogger and all-around super-hero mum Libby* of The Allergic Kid is giving away a copy of Food Allergies and Me.  I know many of my readers are in regular contact with children who have severe to life-threatening food allergies, and this book by Juniper Skinner is for them.  Food Allergies and Me describes safe ways for kids to react to and live with their allergies, so go visit The Allergic Kid and throw your name in the “comment box hat” for your chance to win a copy.

déjà vu?

Despite accidentally posting rather than saving my first draft (holy typos Batman!) the first installment of Les Vendredis Francophones was a huge success!  So funny how the most popular posts are often those with the least comments, don’t you think?   I know it’s taken me a while to get this translation up, but believe me, these are more than worth the wait.

These cookies are by far one of our favourites – they are Monsieur F’s absolute favourite.  Perhaps it’s thanks to their simplicity?  Just lovely lemon and a hint of sweet.  The Italian word grissini describes what is commonly known in North America as the humble bread stick (or so says Wiki).  It’s true here in France, and gressin describes a little cigar or, well, bread stick-type shape. This recipe has been translated from Italian to French (now to English), has been veganised and revised, but has held up just fine!

Quick, easy and perfect, you’ll be making these time and again…

Lemon Grissini Cookies

For about 20 grissinis

350 g AP flour

11 g baking powder

140 g sugar

110 g dairy-free butter

2 teaspoons Ener-G (enough to replace 2 eggs)

3 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons water

the zest of one lemon

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1) Pre-heat your oven to 180°c and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silplats.

2) Sift the flour and baking powder in a large bowl.  Mix the other ingredients in a bowl until the mixture is smooth, then add this mixture to the flour, and continue mixing until the batter becomes smooth (it’ll stay together if you pinch it, even if it’s still a little crumbly).

3) Lightly flour your hands, then form small cigar-shaped cookies, about 12 cm long  (if it’s a little warm in your kitchen and your dough is sticky, just put it in the fridge for about 15 minutes).  Bake them for about 10 to 13 minutes or until they are firm to the touch, turning the baking sheet half-way through baking time.  Let them cool 5 minutes on the baking sheet before gently transferring to a cooling rack.

4) Once they have cooled you can decorate with the optional lemon icing.

Lemon Icing

100 g powdered sugar

lemon juice

Using a fork, ix the sifted powdered sugar with the lemon juice, adding one tablespoon at a time until you’ve reached a “drizzle-friendly” consistency.  Drizzle the grissini with icing and allow the icing to set.  If you dare.

*Why does Libby get super-hero status in my book?  Her sweet son has life-threatening food allergies.  Just let those words sink in, kids : life-threatening.  All parents fear the dangers that lurk around the paths their children take daily to school, to play, daycare and sleep-overs, but with grace, courage and humor Libby shares her trials and triumphs with other “allergy moms” (and dads), almost making it look easy. I say, chapeau.

Meal Plan Mondays : Balsamic-Roasted Butternut Squash

Now that the holidays have come and gone, this week’s meals are a little more frugal and a little less festive.

And that’s okay.

As we explain to Guppy, there is a time for everything : a time for eating Christmas cookies and chocolates, and a time for soup and lighter fare.  Coming down from the holiday excitement is always a little melancholy for me, but Friday’s pizza nights means there is always a party to look forward to, right?

Monday : Spinach Quiche and roasted-garlic and white bean soup (from the freezer – I’d forgotten about it  – total score!)

Tuesday : Potato and butternut Soup and baking powder biscuits

Wednesday : Seitan with Quince, Apple and Onion, Rutabega-Fennel Clapshot (test recipes for The Urban Vegan’s forthcoming cookbook!)

Thursday : left-overs

Friday : Pizza Night!

Here’s a peek at two test recipes we enjoyed last week from The Urban Vegan :

Pumpkin-Maple Muffins – enough said.


Spicy Lentils – I’m such a fan of lentils served just about any way, but this picante recipe was a real winner.  I served it up with some balsamic roasted butternut squash, because I can.

And so can you!  This isn’t a test recipe, but it is one of our favourite way to eat butternut squash – try it!

Balsamic-Roasted Butternut Squash

+/- 5 cups cubed butternut squash

1 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 tsp dried thyme

salt and pepper to taste

Heat your oven to 200°c/400°f and toss the cubed squash with the olive oil and vinegar.  Using your fingers, crumble the dried thyme over the squash, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then toss to coat.

Spread the cubed squash in a shallow baking dish or on a baking sheet in one layer and bake for about 45 minutes or until melty-tender.  Sprinkle with some salt if necessary before serving.

Do you have a favourite frugal (ie : cheap) recipe you love to serve?  Please feel free to share with the kids at home!  And don’t forget, if you’re looking for meal plan inspiration you can visit the MPM archives.


Mashed Potato Christmas Trees

Personally, I love playing with my food, don’t you?

Take mashed potatoes, steamed green beans, chickpeas and mushroom gravy and have some fun!

Mama Fish’s Tree

Papa Fish’s Tree

Guppy’s Tree

The pictures with the mushroom gravy were just too reminiscent of mud slides and natural catastrophes devastating forests, so I’m censuring those.

This is one of our favourite ways to eat mashed potatoes around the holiday season.  To be honest, the humble spud doesn’t make it to our dinner table too often, finding itself relegated to “special requests” by Guppy.  Other choice veggies/decorations are of course cherry tomatoes, peas, olives, corn, diced red or green pepper, red onion, etc.  Steamed broccoli makes lovely surrounding shrubbery, and there have been steamed cauliflower clouds in the skies as well.  Hot sauce (for the big kids) or ketchup could be used for garlands, too. I set out the “ornaments” in little bowls and everyone decorates their own.

Very fun stuff, kids.  Tasty, too.