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Wednesday, April 27, 2011


This is my uncle Michael.
He passed away the Monday following Easter in 2010.

His passing wasn't exactly a huge shock; Michael had been sick for many years. I had the good luck to had seen him just a couple of months prior to his death, while I was in Connecticut. I was able to spend a little time with him before he ended up back in the hospital. That's where he was when I said goodbye.

Despite him being sick for so long, when my mother called me to say that he had passed, the news took my breath away. You see, Michael was one of the most amazing, selfless people I had ever known. Even though I knew the end would be coming any day, I never could have been ready to lose someone I loved so much.

When I was a small child, Michael was That Awesome Uncle. When he came to visit, it was always REALLY exciting and fun. He'd play outside, dance around the living room, and get messy and smile and laugh the whole time. While I was living in Connecticut and he was in California, he would send care packages that were like treasure chests. I remember one large box arriving, full of old t-shirts. I was wearing "Cheers" and "Late Night with David Letterman" shirts before I even knew what either of those programs were, but I didn't care, because they came from My Cool Uncle Michael.

As I grew older, I learned more about my uncle and the fascinating, adventurous life he led. By the time I was in middle school, I was constantly asking about his travels and his life in California and Alaska and Miami. What was this like? What was that like? What did it look like? What did you do? What did you see? I was enraptured.

Because Michael was from a far-off exotic city known as San Francisco, he had worldly appeal to my tween-age self. He UNDERSTOOD my vegetarianism when no one else did. (I went veg when I was 11 years old.) Long before I went vegan, he introduced me to veganism by ordering a pizza with no cheese once when he came to visit. Pizza without cheese?! I had no idea that was even an option!

Michael also understood hardships and adversity and tough times and fighting for happiness. He understood love and loss and pain and heartache. He always had kind, comforting words to say at just the right time. He had sage-like advice. He would send me new agey books on volunteering and compassion and inner peace. I usually never finished reading an entire book, but I treasured them all the same.

I am at peace with Michael's passing. I know he's finally comfortable and no longer suffering. I miss him, though. When I made the difficult decision to leave Missouri, I wished I could have talked to him. I wished he could have guided me through it somehow. And maybe he did, because I did leave, and it was okay. I wished I could have called him from the road, to tell him about all the great things and people I encountered on my solo journey to Florida. And then when I made it to Florida and started to rebuild my life, I wanted to call him and tell him how happy I was, how hopeful I was, how the world looked different now and how I would catch myself sitting in traffic and a giant grin would spread across my face for no apparent reason: I was just HAPPY. I like to think that he knows, though.

Michael was and is my inspiration. His tales of travel are what got me first dreaming about traveling myself. (He is also the reason that San Francisco is #1 on my list of dream destinations.) His compassion for others no doubt rubbed off on me in some way (I like to think it runs in the family, actually). His fearless love for life has motivated me to seek out my own happiness, no matter what it takes, no matter how painful it might be initially. He taught me to give, to help, to take chances, to get through this, to hang on, to be positive, to love, love, love.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Dinner and a Movie

A few weeks ago, Amber and I had a pretty chill evening that still included some Kitchen Time. We had a little dinner-and-a-movie night. Amber makes some pretty rockin' oat-and-black-bean burgers, so she whipped those up while I prepped a batch of kale chips. [Note: Every person whom I have introduced to kale chips, veg*n or omnivore, loves them. It's a fun way to get some greens in your diet.]

Preppin' the burgers

Snackin' on some greens while the patties fry up and the potato crowns bake

Here's my plate (no bread for me, thanks)

While we dined on diner-style fare, we watched this super-cute little movie, Flakes, featuring the always-adorable Zooey Deschanel.

Yeah, the trailer may not be very enticing, but trust me, it's a cute little flick. I mean, it's a CEREAL shop. In NEW ORLEANS. And there's a lot of talk about Airstreams, which is SO up my alley/out of my dreams. If you LOVED Empire Records, you'll at least LIKE Flakes. And it's available instantly on Netflix!

My favorite lines from the movie:
Neal: So what do you want to do tonight?
Miss Katz: Hold hands.

Yeah, I'm a total sap, in case you didn't know.

We paused the movie to make some cookies and cream-style shakes in the Magic Bullet, but there are no pictures, because I was briefly in heaven.

PS. Speaking of vegan dinners and movies, check out my new friend PJ's blog, which is ALL ABOUT vegan dinners inspired by movies! It's called Vegan Cine Grub.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Tasty Tips & Tid Bits from the Vegan Bake Sale

Last Saturday, I participated in my first vegan bake sale. It was an awesome experience and even though it was my first time working a vegan bake sale, I learned a few things for next time. Since vegan bake sale season is in full swing right now, I thought I'd share my thoughts with others as they prepare for their vegan bake sale in their neck of the world.

* Advertise! Spread the word. Use blogs, Facebook, Twitter, whatever to get the word out. Hang fliers on community bulletin boards at churches, schools, health food stores, yoga centers, etc. Host your bake sale in conjunction with another event (which worked well for last weekend's bake sale). Hang up signs around the area of the actual event. Bring sidewalk chalk and spread the word at ground level, as well.
(Amber did a great job with the flyer)

* Recruit! Get help and ask for donations. I'm still amazed at the outpour of vegan baked good love that came to the bake sale. I was worried that we wouldn't have enough offerings, and we ended up with PLENTY!

* Variety! Have a little something for everyone, especially the gluten-free and sugar-free folks. We had two gluten-free options at our booth. The next VBS I work at, I'm going to focus more on gluten-free, as well as making something without white sugar, as we heard that request several times at the sale. Consider providing some raw options, as well.

* Presentation! Presentation is everything at a bake sale. Make sure everything is clearly labeled. Bring different colors and styles of serving dishes to add some funky style to the table. It never hurts to bring extra tables so the baked goods are nicely spread out, not piled on top of each other.

* Be Prepared! Hand sanitizer, gloves, paper towels, napkins, paper lunch bags, paper plates, disinfectant wipes, serving utensils... bring it all. And don't forget your camera!

* Information! Bring vegan cookbooks and magazines for display. Lay out a few stacks of leaflets. Offer some freebies (stickers, buttons, etc). We had several people pick up a magazine or flip through a book while they ate their baked goods or while they were waiting for the live music to start.

* Smile, smile, smile! Be a happy vegan! Let people ask questions, but don't be pushy or scary about veganism. Let the delicious vegan baked goods bring home the point and then back it up if you see fit. Vegan bake sales = tasty activism!

What are your tips for Vegan Bake Sale success? What lessons have you learned?

Monday, April 18, 2011

My First Vegan Bake Sale

Hold on to your hats and sweet teeth -- here come the pictures you've been waiting for: Pictures from Saturday's vegan bake sale, where 100% of the profits went to spay/neuter for feral/stray cats. It was held at Mojo Books & Music as part of their Record Store Day celebration.

Here's the table at set-up, before more food donations came rolling in.

Here's what I brought to the table: No-Kill Puppy Chow
(I later had to add a note that read "For Humans," as it caused some confusion.)

And fudgy peanut butter blondies with crushed nuts and chocolate chips
These were (understandably) popular.

And finally, the show-stopper, PMS Cookies: peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips AND potato chips. (Who says you can't have it all?!)
YEAH! I received hugs and high-fives for these!

It took a lot of willpower to keep my hands off of Joan's Not-so-Mad-Cowboy Cookies.

Amber donated some great stuff, too, including whoopie pies of both the peanut butter AND vanilla variety (that I apparently failed to photograph), PB cocoa puff squares

and cupcakes!

We had a beautiful chocolate-coconut cake selling by the slice

as well as a pecan pie (this was made my Lisa, who was told by one visitor that it was "the best pie she's ever had!")

We had blueberry and coconut-banana muffins, which were popular with our early morning crowd.

One very thoughtful volunteer, who is admittedly not a baker, purchased and donated a few different cookies from this etsy store.

And the donations kept on coming.

gingerbread cake with cinnamon-coffee glaze

More trickled in throughout the 9 hours we were in business, but I kind of forgot about my camera. I met some really delightful people, vegans and veg-curious, and chatted with them all. We met people from around the Bay area, from other cities and states, and even from other countries! Our tables were set up near the open mic stage and when I hollered out requests for songs about veganism and/or cats, we received some very sweet (and funny!) little ditties! The staff at Mojo couldn't have possibly been any more kind and welcoming. We caught a little music, we got to make lots of ball/neuter jokes, we laughed a LOT, and just had a really great day of activism. After 9 hours, we packed up and the staff at the coffee bar offered to take what was left and continue selling them and collecting donations. When we left, we had almost $500. The grand, final total: $610! That's 60 spay/neuter surgeries!

Obviously, the bake sale was a HUGE success and all the volunteers and I had an awesome time. Thank you to EVERYONE who stopped by, who donated, who sang for us, who helped and supported us and the stray kitties!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Recent Eats: Ladies Nights

Before a night of baking with some of my favorite vegan gal pals in mid-March, Amber fueled us with some comfort food. First, bruschetta
and spinach dip

followed by mac & cheese (VegNews recipe)

And then we got our bake on, starting with rainbow cupcakes.

followed by cream cheese brownies (from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, of course).

Unfortunately, the colors in our rainbow cupcakes came out quite muted, but that didn't effect the taste.

Not long after this night, we reunited again for another bake-a-thon. We kicked the night off with some improv nachos, using what was on hand. We made a cashew-and-nooch-based cheese sauce, then globbed on some vegetarian refried beans, some chopped green pepper, and scattered some diced Follow Your Heart on top. (No, those aren't carrots you see!)

Oh man. Good stuff! Next up, we got to business on making oatmeal cream pies AND whoopie pies. The latter that I couldn't help but refer to as Whoopi(e) Goldberg Pies, which led me randomly shout, "I ain't no DAMN secretary!"

I'm not sure if anyone else caught that reference, though.

First, make the cookie outsides.

Next: slather on your best schmear between two cookies, press lightly, unhinge jaw, and enjoy.

These were cookie "pies" of epic proportions and tastes, and creating them was no small feat. It takes a certain level of vegan badassery, I think. (But we haven't quite reached the level of making our own vegan cinnamon rolls. Yet.)