Tips for an Eco-Friendly Holiday, Plus Gift Ideas

Are you feeling the rush of the holidays yet? Celebrations here are usually cozy, peaceful, and chaos free – which is so nice!!! Shopping for gifts is easy since they are either homemade, purchased from Etsy, or done online. We don’t rise at 2AM for mad holiday sales! When I watched clips of Black Friday nonsense on the news last month, it saddened me. People trampling each other, punching each other, and yelling at each other just to get the last crappy-ass $1.99 bath towel from Wal-Mart? Seriously?

xmas lights!

I’m here to help you avoid those nasty incidents! Plus, give you some swell gift ideas for the people you love. It might be too late for some of you, but for those still scrambling for ideas, read on!

First up, here are my top tips for having an eco-friendly holiday. 

1. Why buy big rolls of wrapping paper when other solutions are waiting for you? Wrap small gifts in pages from old calendars and magazines, or use wallpaper remnants. It’s free and colorful. Plus, your paper will be unique! Wrap larger gifts in paper bags from the grocery store. Cut the bag to size and decorate with your fine art skills. You could even use canvas shopping bags for larger gifts – two gifts in one! Baskets and tins work for “wrapping” gifts too.

2. Repurpose old greeting cards by turning them into gift tags. Simply cut to the size you want, fold in half, and you are set! Adhere to gifts with tape, or hole punch the gift card and attach to gifts with colorful yarn or ribbon.

3. Support small, local businesses whenever possible. The folks who own these shops work hard and often carry merchandise made closer to home, which means less fuel/packaging wasted shipping products via big semi trucks, boats, and airplanes.

4. Think about the animals. While your family members might not be vegan/vegetarian, it doesn’t mean you can’t give them gifts that gently encourage compassion for the animals. For example, know someone who loves to cook or bake? Give them a vegan cookbook! There are a million to choose from!

5. Bring your best plant-based dishes to holiday gatherings. We all know that lots of people think veganism means icky, tasteless food. Prove ‘em wrong!! When my parents visited Tim and I this summer, we fed them so much vegan food and they enjoyed it! Spread a positive message about vegan food and maybe people will ask you for a recipe or two. And then people will ask them for that recipe, and so on until the entire world is vegan!  We can dream a little, right? Here is a good place to start your recipe search.

6. Use LED lights to decorate your tree and home. They use less energy, last longer, and produce less heat. Save some money on your electric bill!

7. Skip buying a tree this year and give some love to a houseplant instead! Tim and I put a tiny string of lights on a houseplant each year and pile gifts around its base. It’s fun!

Tree Lights 01

8. Donate your old coats, gloves, hats, and clothing (still usable, of course) to those in need. Also, give to food banks. Everybody deserves warm clothes and a hot meal during this time of year.

And now, here is my little gift guide for easing your shopping dilemmas!

1. I love Etsy. You can find gifts for everybody on your list while supporting small businesses at the same time. My favorite shops on Etsy right now:

Catherine Reece - Super cute handmade pottery with designs that will melt your heart! This piece is my favorite.
DressGreen – Awesome body care products that smell wonderful. Vegan items are labeled. Try the shampoo bars!
JAQS Studio - The best, most pretty handmade cloth napkins in large and small sizes. Well-priced too! Perfect gift for foodies!
DaisyWares – My favorite lip balm, plus jewelry too!
Lee Arthaus – My favorite art prints in the whole wide world!! There are so many sweet designs!!!! I want them all.
Lulu Bug Jewelry – The necklaces are adorable. Look at this owl one!

2. Vegan Cuts is an online marketplace full of vegan goods, from food, to clothing, to shoes, to jewelry, to body care and everything in between! This site has amazing deals!!

3. Not to be biased, but Herbivore Clothing Company has a lot of great merchandise!! We just assembled our Staff Picks Gift Guide 2012 and there is surely something on our list for someone on your list. Check out what we love most!

4. No matter what people say, gift cards are not lame! Give the gift of free food, clothes, books, or whatever to people you love/like or people you wish loved/liked you. Instant success!

5. Make your own gifts! Vegan Food Gifts by Joni Marie Newman is a great place to get ideas. Are you a baker? Give people an array of yummy treats! Are you a photographer? Make a book filled with photographs of your adventures during the year. Are you an artist? Create a personalized painting, sculpture, or drawing! Are you a musician? Make a CD (do people still use CDs?) of your work to share with loved ones. Are you a writer? Compile a collection of your best work into a book. Are you a yoga teacher? Offer a free class to a friend! Are you a knitter/sewer? Make a scarf, placemats, socks, or pillow covers! See where this is going?

5. Donate money to a compassionate organization. Farm Sanctuary, charity: water, Food Not Bombs, and Women for Women are jumping off points.

6. Give somebody a houseplant! You can’t go wrong because plants help provide air, and good company. They brighten up any room and live for your love and care (literally). They will even help you wash dishes… Well, not really…

Kitchen 01

So there you have it – my ultimate guide to an eco-friendly, creatively gifted holiday season!

Stayed tuned because I will be sharing a recipe for Twisted Fennel and Coarse Salt Breadsticks!!!

Mighty Miso Soup: A Recipe

I spent a majority of the day thinking it was the weekend. Maybe it’s because I lingered in my jammies too long before heading to work… where dancing was the requirement:


This is an outtake from our holiday photo shoot. As a group, we have some serious, serious moves.

All that dancing (and later, jumping!) made me hungry. Since Tim has been feeling ill this week, I made a monster batch of ugly but delicious miso soup.

Miso Soup 01December Photo Project 2012 Day #5

Miso soup is soothing, healing, and very nourishing. I hope it makes Tim feel better soon. This recipe is easily adaptable to suit your own tastes. I’ve made it twice and discovered that a darker miso works much better. The batch above has chickpea miso and the flavor wasn’t as strong as I had hoped.

Mighty Miso Soup

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
7 ounces shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 teaspoon kelp granules
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1/4 cup vegetable broth
1 block firm tofu, drained, pressed, and diced small
1 heaping cup cooked short-grain brown rice
4 cups water
1 small head curly kale (or spinach), chopped
2-3 tablespoons miso of your choice
Chopped chives or scallions for garnish, optional

1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm the sesame oil. Stir in the mushrooms and garlic and saute for about 5 minutes, or until the mushrooms soften slightly. Add in the ginger powder and kelp granules and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the rice vinegar and vegetable broth. Stir well.

2. Add the tofu to the saucepan and stir gently to coat. Allow everything to simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Add the rice and water and bring just to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, add the kale, and cover the pot. Check after a few minutes to see if the kale has wilted. Stir everything around once or twice and let simmer for a few more minutes. Ladle out about 1 1/2 cups of liquid from the pot and put in a glass measuring cup. Whisk in the miso until smooth. Pour the mixture into the pot and stir well to incorporate. Let the soup rest for a few minutes to meld the flavors and then remove from heat. Make sure not to bring the soup to a boil or you will destroy miso’s healing properties!

4. Ladle into bowls, top with chives or scallions, additional seasoning, and sriracha. Enjoy!

Happy National Cookie Day!

A fellow blogger let me in on a little secret… Today is National Cookie Day!!!! I think I like holidays created for doughnuts, cookies, and pizza much better than the traditional holidays. I mean, good foods deserve their own special day, right?

In celebration of this sweet holiday, I made cookies. Not just any old cookie, but a fancy cookie! I wrote the recipe for my soon-to-be published cookzine and finally found some time to work out the kinks. In the spirit of National Cookie Day, I am sharing the recipe with you!

Choco-Berry Cookies 02December Photo Project 2012: Day #4

These are called Choco-Berry Cookies: a chocolate dough and a raspberry dough side-by-side and dipped in dark chocolate. They were supposed to be twisted, but that ended up being too much work for a batch of cookies. These came out wonderfully! Sadly, I didn’t have parchment paper so after I dipped them in chocolate they stuck to my cookie sheets. Hmpf. You can’t tell from the photograph.

Choco-Berry Cookies

Makes about 32 cookies

1/2 cup vegan butter, softened
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons non-dairy milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
1 tablespoon tapioca starch
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons raspberry jam, or jam of choice
3/4 cup organic chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter and sugar for 3-4 minutes on medium speed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then add in the non-dairy milk and vanilla extract. Beat again on high speed for about a minute.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together 1 1/4 cups of the flour, tapioca starch, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture and beat until a dough comes together. Divide the dough into two equal parts.

4. Place one measure of dough back into the stand mixer bowl and add the cocoa powder. Beat until the cocoa powder is incorporated. Remove dough from mixer bowl and place on a clean, lightly-floured surface. Now, put the second measure of dough into the stand mixer bowl and add remaining 1/4 cup flour and the raspberry jam. Beat until well incorporated. Remove dough from bowl and set next to the chocolate dough. The dough should be soft and pliable, like playdough. Chill it in the refrigerator for 15 minutes or add more flour (1 tablespoon at a time) if it isn’t firm enough.

5. Divide each batch of dough into four equal parts. Roll each part into a 16-inch long rope. Take one rope from each batch, place them side-by-side (so they are touching) and gently press them together. Repeat with remaining dough.

6. Using a sharp knife, slice each pair of ropes into 8, 2-inch long cookies. Transfer each cookie to prepared baking sheet. Bake cookies for 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool before proceeding with the recipe.

7. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate chips. Stir well to ensure a smooth mixture. Take cooled cookies and dip one end in the melted chocolate. Return dipped cookies to their parchment-lined baking sheets and place in the fridge to firm up the chocolate. These tend to soften if left out, so store them in an airtight container at room temperature.



Pita Bread: A Recipe

Scroll to the bottom of this post to see my Day #2 photograph for the December Photo Project!

Homemade bread is perhaps one of my favorite things to bake (if cookies didn’t exist of course). I woke up this morning with a great desire to make pita bread. While pita bread is a bit more time consuming and requires some dedication, the end result is always worth the effort. Pita bread freezes well and tastes wonderful in so many applications: cut into wedges and served with hummus, toasted and served with soup, filled with falafel and tahini sauce, seasoned and baked into chips for a tasty snack… I love it!

Pita Dough 02

The recipe I use was printed in my local newspaper quite some time ago. My copy has been taped together many times and has dried dough on it – signs of a well-used recipe! It never fails and uses ingredients you ought to have on hand. You will need a baking stone though. Tim and I created a video of the pita making process in 2009 which I posted to my blog. You can also watch it here if you so desire. It’s funny.

Pita Bread (adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden)

*NOTE: I have had success replacing some of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour so feel free to experiment.

Makes 16

1 packet active dry yeast
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 1/2 cups warm water, divided
6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
2 teaspoons salt

1. In a large bowl, whisk together yeast, sugar, and 1/2 cup warm water. Whisk well and set aside until frothy, about 10 minutes. Add remaining 2 cups of warm water and 1 cup of flour. Stir with a big spoon. Add 2 more cups of flour, stirring well after each addition. Allow mixture to rest for 10-15 minutes.

2. Add 2 tablespoons oil and the salt to the mixture and stir well. Slowly add the remaining 3 cups of flour, mixing with a sturdy spoon or your hands. Mix until the dough forms a rough ball. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, 10-15 minutes. Alternatively, you can use a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Knead on medium speed until smooth and elastic, 8-10 minutes. Grease a large bowl with the remaining tablespoon of oil and place dough in bowl. Turn to coat with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a towel and place in a warm, draft-free spot. Let the dough rise until doubled in volume, 1 1/2 – 2 hours.

3. Place a baking stone on the middle rack of your oven and preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Once the dough has risen, punch it down and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead a few times and then divide equally into 16 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap to prevent drying out the dough. Start with one ball of dough and roll it into a 7-inch disk. Place it on a lightly floured cookie sheet and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Repeat the process with as many dough balls as can fit on cookie sheets, making sure to leave a bit of space between each disk (do not to stack the dough). I usually use two large cookie sheets and place three disks on each sheet. Let the disks rest for 20 minutes.

4. Bake the disks, 1-2 at a time (depending on the size of your baking stone), on the stone until slightly golden and puffed, about 3 minutes per pita. Set a timer so you don’t forget!! Remove puffed pita(s) from the oven and start stacking on a plate. They will deflate on their own. Cover the stack with a clean dry towel and repeat until all pitas are baked.

Pita Dough 04

5. If you choose to freeze some of the pita breads, let them cool first and then double wrap them in zipper-lock bags. They keep well for several months, but rarely last that long since they are so darn delicious! Enjoy!!

Pita Dough 06

This stack of pita breads is my December Photo Project Day #2 photograph.