25th Birthday Dinner

My 25th birthday dinner with my family–a photo recap.

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15 Last-Minute DIY Foodie Gifts (That Your Friends Actually Want)

The holidays are upon us, and the window for finding gifts is quickly closing. Rushing to a busy mall is the worst thing to do right now. At the last minute, sometimes you start hallucinating and any DIY gift may sound appealing, but let’s skip the fruitcake and chocolate-covered pretzels, shall we?
YES VEGAN NUTELLA FROM LESLEYHere’s my handpicked list of thoughtful DIY vegan foodie gifts for your loved ones. These gifts won’t break the bank and most of them can be put together in an hour or two, with a few exceptions (gifts that take more than two hours are noted below).

  1. Homemade vegan Nutella: Last year, one of my best friends (Lesley, who runs the awesome Crafts and Magicks blog) made batches of vegan Nutella for me and our other vegan buddies. This is at the top of my list because Nutella is something that I personally missed from my childhood, and receiving a homemade vegan version was one of the most thoughtful and lovely gifts I’ve ever gotten. Always Order Dessert and Chocolate-Covered Katie have recipes for vegan Nutella from scratch.
  2. Caramel sauce: Caramel is another luxury that is taken for granted in the non-vegan world. Vegan caramel is hard to come by, so a bottle of this caramel sauce would be much appreciated by any vegan with a sweet tooth. I definitely recommend Oh Ladycakes’ caramel sauce recipe–I have tried it and gotten great results. It’s gorgeous stored in a bottle, to be drizzled in hot chocolate, or on pancakes or waffles for breakfast on Christmas morning.
  3. Flavored sugars and salts: I love this idea SO much. High Walls Blog has instructions to make rose salt, Mexican cocoa and lavender sugar as gifts. Presented in little glass jars or containers, these are truly elegant edibles that will get used.
  4. Brownies in a jar: Chocolate is a no-fail in my book. Check out Vegan Richa’s vegan brownie mix in a jar recipe. The post also includes instructions for single-serve brownies in a jar, which I think is genius.
  5. Homemade hot cocoa mix: A classic edible gift–check out Oh She Glows’ meltable hot chocolate discs. Last year, I made this candy cane hot cocoa mix from the Free People blog. My friends said the mix was too pretty to drink, but they drank it and enjoyed it anyway. Tehee.
  6. Chocolate bark: Beautiful, simple and customizable. Dark chocolate or rice milk chocolate both work, depending on your preference. Try this fruity chocolate bark recipe from Love and Olive Oil, or my berry nut chocolate bark recipe.
  7. Candied citrus peels: These make nice gifts for pen pals or relatives who live far away. Fresh Love Daily has a recipe for candied orange peels that can be made in an hour and a half. I would dip them in chocolate to make them even better.
  8. Truffles: Although these treats sound fancy, truffles really aren’t that hard to put together. Impress your friends with this decadent vegan truffle recipe from Inhabitat.com. I’ve made these before, and they aren’t hard, but they require some time (about three hours). If you don’t have that much time, my Harry-Potter themed snitch truffles take about an hour.
  9. Candy bars: Candy bars are another luxury that I don’t eat on the regular, because their vegan availability is limited or pricey. Go Max Go makes vegan candy bars (available at Whole Foods or other health food stores), but for homemade vegan candy bars, Cara from the Fork and Beans blog is definitely the expert. She created several vegan candy bar recipes for Halloween, but they could just as easily be used as Christmas gifts. I would recommend her Kit Kat bars, no-bake Twix bars, and peanut butter cups–all of which are vegan, gluten-free, and can come together in about an hour or less! She also has a pretty sweet recipe for vegan candy cane kisses, if you can get your hands on some vegan white chocolate.
  10. Flavored syrups: This is a gift for coffee-lovers who like to make their own drinks at home. Annie’s Eats has a recipe guide to make four different kinds of DIY flavored syrup, without the high-fructose corn syrup: vanilla, raspberry, coconut and caramel. The last recipe calls for caramel sauce–I would use Oh Ladycakes’ caramel sauce.
  11. Snowball cookies: Also known as Mexican wedding cookies, these are fun and adorable cookies that will melt in your mouth. Check out Chocolate-Covered Katie’s recipe.
  12. Pesto: Combined with a package of dry pasta, a fresh baguette, or by itself, pesto makes a good savory gift. There are many ways to make vegan pesto. For guidance and inspiration, take a look at Hell Yeah It’s Vegan’s walnut basil pesto, or Food52’s simple vegan pesto.
  13. Indoor herb garden: Besides the vegan Nutella, this is probably my favorite idea on this list. I seriously need to make myself one of these…I can’t count how many times I have wistfully wished for fresh herbs within my reach while cooking (once, in a poorly planned phở adventure, I went to six stores in search of fresh basil–NEVER AGAIN). Design Sponge has a tutorial for a clean and simple herb garden in a wooden box. For a more eclectic look, try re-using tea tins, as shown in this guide from Canadian House and Home.
  14. Chai tea mix: Pair a tea mix with a good book and you’ve got the gift of a relaxing afternoon. My New Roots has a masala chai tea concentrate mix that would be gorgeous wrapped up in a cheesecloth bag or a small jar. Include instructions with your gift.
  15. Herb-infused olive oil: Herb-infused oils can serve as kitchen decor and open up more possibilities in cooking. The Free People blog has a guide to make this gift in two hours, with three flavor infusion ideas.

I hope you are enjoying the holidays with your family! Have a very merry Christmas and a happy new year 🙂 Please let me know what posts you would like to see on my blog in the upcoming new year with a comment below!

Icemageddon 2013 | chili + studying for finals

Last night, I had to stop studying because the lights went out at my house.

When an ice storm causes a blackout in your neighborhood, it’s difficult to do anything but bundle up in several blankets and go into hibernation mode. You get cold, you get hungry, and you definitely do not feel like finishing your research paper on urban food forests. Reviewing hundreds of plants for your plant I.D. and ecology final? Nooo. Drawing the final plan for your park project? NOPE.

However charming studying by candlelight may sound, burrowing in blankets sounds like a better plan. The conditions of this ice storm have dangerously contributed to your case of senioritis, and maybe a case of the common cold…

Thank goodness for the generosity and hospitality of friends who live ten minutes away in warm apartments.  Warmth and wifi make a much better study environment than an icebox of a house. A bowl of chili mac and cheese doesn’t hurt, either.

My friend said to bring snacks and ingredients, so my sister and I brought all the veggies and tofu from our fridge, to keep them from going bad. We’ve been studying all day and cooking up a storm in my friend’s cozy apartment!

I hope you are warm and safe with your loved ones!

I invite you to ‘like’ my page on Facebook and come back soon (probably in several hours) for some recipes: namely, chili mac and cheese and tofu scramble! While you are waiting, please feel free to check out the recent recipe posts I did for work in November–vegan hot chocolate and a cleansing cranberry citrus smoothie.

My Weekend | Geocaching + The Texas State Fair

This weekend, I went to a geocaching event and the Texas State Fair (for the first time)!

I first went geocaching a couple of months ago when I was assigned a story about it for The Shorthorn.

Geocaching is a global activity that can take place anywhere at any time. Participants of this outdoor hobby follow GPS coordinates to find destinations that hold geocaches, also known as caches, which are found all over the world.

Geocaching is a unique adventure because it often directs the searcher to places they would not have known about otherwise. Students who want to know the campus better can go on a geocache hunt to find out what they could be missing.

Originally published on The Shorthorn, UT Arlington’s student news website, on October 16, 2013. 

This Saturday, I had the chance to go geocaching again, while helping the environment. A few Environmental Society members and I volunteered with the Southwest Arlington Geocachers group at their “Cache In, Trash Out” event. Participants of event cleaned up litter along two miles of Cooper street, with geocaching as a bonus activity.

My friends and I did some geocaching, while being attacked by giant mosquitoes, but we were more focused on picking up trash. After the event, my friend Jenny and I went thrifting and relaxed with lunch at Loving Hut. They brought back the nachos from their old menu! I’m so excited. They’re actually bringing back a lot of old menu items lately.

The Cache In, Trash Out event was productive, and The Environmental Society is definitely considering volunteering more at these kinds of activities in the future. Join their Facebook to stay updated!

VEGAN STATE FAIR FOOD (6)On Sunday, I went to the Texas State Fair with my friend Camille and her dad. Normally I wouldn’t go to the State Fair, but we wanted to check out the vegan options–we were pleasantly surprised, to say the least. I tried a corn dog and a burger, among other things. I’m working on a more detailed blog post about that, so come back on Tuesday to read more about it!

What did you do this weekend? Vegans, would you go to the State Fair if you knew there were good quality vegan options?

This week is going to be busy for me, with work, projects and a midterm. I hope it all
goes by quickly so we can get to the weekend–I’m particularly excited about going to the Veggie State Fair! The Vegan Club is carpooling to the event, so if any UTA students are interested in joining us, please contact us on Facebook.

Hope everyone has a great week!

Vegan Options at GRIP Mediterranean Grill + Beirut Cafe

I love Mediterranean food because it includes a great variety of vegan dishes. My favorite Mediterranean place is Beirut Cafe, down the street from UT Arlington. It is a great place for vegans, because all of the vegetarian dishes on the menu are vegan-friendly (except for those that obviously contain dairy, such as cheese pies or the yogurt dipping sauce). When I go with friends, we often like to share the vegetarian mezzeh, which has an amazing number of dishes to choose from. I am obsessed with the spinach pies (as pictured below).

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As a Beirut Cafe regular, I have been very curious to see how College Park’s new GRIP location compares to my favorite hummus and falafel joint. About a week ago, I finally got the chance to go check out GRIP’s vegan options.

Update (10/8/13): GRIP’s vegan items are now clearly indicated with a “V”. For those sensitive to gluten, gluten-free items are clearly marked “GF”. I LOVE them for this–it makes things so much easier! 

Unfortunately, GRIP’s vegan offerings were not as abundant as I would have guessed, but they had a decent amount. The first thing I found out was that both their hummus and baba ganoush contain dairy. I was both saddened and surprised. From my personal experience, these dishes are usually vegan by default, because their creaminess comes from the use of tahini. I really appreciated the staff informing me, because I never would have guessed it. I’ll just stick to getting my hummus and baba ganoush fix at Beirut Cafe.

Falafel!

The falafel wrap is the only vegan entree, but it’s pretty excellent! For those of you who have not tried it, falafel is a deep-fried patty made with chickpeas and/or fava beans. Beirut’s falafel wrap is similar, as both places use tabouli and tahini, but GRIP’s wrap is different, with its inclusion of mint and pickled turnips. In trying their wrap, I especially enjoyed the addition of fresh mint leaves. GRIP’s falafel is crunchy on the outside, with a soft, savory interior. Beirut’s falafel is well-flavored, but sometimes it’s a little too crunchy for me.

Besides falafel, GRIP’s menu also has fries, fried cauliflower (comes with tahini for dipping), pita chips, tabouli and dolmas. Tabouli is a colorful salad made with parsley, tomatoes, bulgar, lemon juice, olive oil and garlic. Dolmas are stuffed grapeleaves that usually contain rice, but they sometimes have ground beef. The dolmas at GRIP are vegan-friendly, but I found that I much prefer Beirut’s veggie dolmas, because I think their rice is better seasoned. GRIP also has a Mediterranean salad that is very filling.

Fried CauliflowerIt’s pretty obvious that Beirut Cafe will always have my heart, as long as they keep up with their vegan variety and continue to carry my favorite spinach pies and fattoush. However, I will still visit GRIP once in a while for their falafel wraps!

If you get the chance to go to GRIP, try the falafel wrap and bring a friend! Their wrap is pretty big, so I split it with my sister. Please let me know your thoughts about GRIP in the comments!

Update, 12/10/13: GRIP’s Arlington location is now closed! Students will have to get their Mediterranean fixes at Beirut Cafe, Prince Lebanese Grill, or Narah Cafe.

Vegans Love Chocolate: Valentine’s Day Tips

In high school, for Valentine’s Day, one of my sister’s admirers got her a box of milk chocolates. While she appreciated the gesture, as a vegan, she had no idea what to do with the chocolates since they had animal products in them. It was definitely a let-down.

Don’t be that guy (or girl). Check out my recommendations below to avoid an awkward situation with your vegan (or lactose-intolerant) valentine. Show them your thoughtful side and let them know that you acknowledge their values.

There are plenty of vegan chocolate options on the market to choose from. I always browse the chocolate section at Whole Foods, even if I don’t need any chocolate, just because it makes me happy to see so much vegan chocolate in one place.

  • Go Max Go Candy Bars: These vegan bars mimic classic candy bars–my favorite is probably the Jokerz bar, which features caramel, peanuts, nougat, and a rice-milk chocolate coating. Other flavors include Cleo’s peanut butter cups and Buccaneers (like Three Musketeers). Available at Whole Foods.
  • Allison’s Gourmet Chocolates: This company specializes in artisan vegan truffles, peppermint patties and chocolate bark. The raspberry blush hearts and artisan vegan caramels look the best to me! Available online.
  • Sjaak’s Organic Chocolates: Sjaak’s isn’t all vegan, but they have some pretty sweet vegan options. Surprise your valentine with the unconventional: chocolate lavender hearts and salted caramels, among other things! Available online.
  • Chocolove: These chocolate bars have adorable wrappers with love poems inside. Not all the flavors are vegan, but many of them are! Just check the ingredients. My favorites from this brand are Almonds & Sea Salt in Dark Chocolate and Raspberries in Dark Chocolate. Available at Whole Foods.

Vegan NutellaI personally appreciate and gravitate towards homemade gifts, so this post would not be complete without a list of homemade chocolate treats any vegan will appreciate.

If you need more ideas, please feel free to check out my other tips from last year.

I know this post was a little chocolate-heavy, and I’m not apologizing for that, but if you are looking for other kinds of treats for your valentine, consider browsing FindingVegan or The Post Punk Kitchen for recipes. There’s also a discussion about vegan baking on the Vegan Club’s Valentine’s Day Bake Sale Facebook event that could be useful.

PSA: This year, Vegan Club and The Environmental Society are teaming up to help you out for Valentine’s Day with our bake/card sale! Come out this Thursday and buy some homemade treats and eco-valentines for your crush.

ECO VALENTINES

Happy planning!