Jumbo Soft Pretzels

Hello! When summer started, I honestly thought I would be able to fit a blog post in at least every other week. I could not have been more wrong! My summer job was more physically demanding than my job during the school year, with the addition of longer hours.

Another important occurrence that captured most of my attention this summer was house hunting; house hunting all the way across the country. I moved to Eastern Montana with my husband (from New York) on the promise that we would only live here a few months, it has been exactly 6 years. I have missed holidays, birthdays, funerals, and many Daytona 500 parties. After much waiting, I can finally say I am going back home.

We made 3 trips across the country (by car) from Montana to Pennsylvania. That is a total of 4,695 miles.  Our realtor showed us at least 15 houses and after weeks of discussion, we finally picked the one for us. While we wait for our closing day, we are still “hanging out” in Montana. My hubby is helping to train new employees to do his job and I am getting us ready to leave and binge watching a lot of Netflix shows.

Between moving, settling in, and job hunting, I may not be able to be consistent on my blog posts for a while, but my passion for this blog and its purpose has not subsided at all and I think about it all the time (mostly with the pain of guilt). I am looking forward to sharing our new adventures with you. We will be living so close to Pittsburgh, which has a very large vegan community that is spreading like wildfire, so please stay tuned!

I do have a fun recipe to share with you in this post. The kids will especially love this one.  For some reason I always associate this food with baseball games and I know it’s because I had my first one at a Yankees game when I was a kid and that is jumbo size soft pretzel.

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Jumbo Soft Pretzels

Makes 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 C of warm water
  • 1 Tbs of vegan butter, melted ( I recommend Earth Balance, every grocery store sells it these day)
  • 1 tsp of raw sugar
  • 1 tsp of sea salt
  • 3 cups of flour

Baking soda mixture:

  • 4 Tbs baking soda
  • 2 C of water

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 475º
  2. Coat one – two baking sheets in non-stick spray or cover them with parchment paper.
  3. In a large mixing bowl add the yeast and warm water. Mix until the yeast becomes frothy. You can hand whisk or use your mixer.
  4. Once the mixture is frothy add the sugar, salt and melted butter. Stir in the flour slowly until the dough forms and is no longer sticky. Next, knead the dough with your hands for about five minutes, or until smooth and pliable. Shape the dough into a ball and let sit for 15 – 20 minutes.
  5. Baking soda mixture: In a sauce pot, add the water and baking soda. Boil the mixture until most of the baking soda dissolves. Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool. Once the mixture is at a lukewarm temperature pour it into a 9×13 baking dish.
  6. On a large clean surface, take your dough out of the bowl. Flatten the ball slightly and then cut into 4 even sections.
  7. Set aside three of the sections. Begin rolling one section into a rope. To make a thick jumbo size pretzel, the dough rope should be about 40 inches long. Any shorter and you’ll end up with a small fat pretzel. Any longer and the dough will get too thin and burn in the oven.
  8. Once you have your rope rolled out, shape the dough into a pretzel shape. There are helpful instructions on how to create this shape right on Google.
  9. Now carefully (because it is a little flimsy at this point) place the pretzel in the baking dish with the baking soda mixture. Let it sit for 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, again carefully take the pretzel out of the baking soda mixture and place it on a prepared baking pan. You may have to reshape the pretzel. Repeat steps 7 – 9 to make the other pretzels.
  10. An extra option is to sprinkle them with some sea salt or Himalayan salt before placing them in the oven. I don’t like to do this because if I have leftovers that I store overnight, the salt dissolves and makes the texture of the pretzels bumpy.
  11. Bake the pretzels for 8 – 10 minutes. They should turn a golden brown.  Take them out of the oven and let cool.
  12. I found that these pretzels stay good for about 2 days and then start to get stale. Best enjoyed fresh out of the oven! I love to eat my soft pretzels with mustard. What is your favorite way to eat a soft pretzel?

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Mexican Cauliflower

This is the year that winter decided it didn’t want to leave. No matter how much we kick and scream for it to go away, it continues to show us who the boss really is. I know I am not alone in the struggle, I am prone to seasonal depression. Some years I am not even safe in the summer time, and it has been a real struggle to keep my head “above water” these past few weeks. That is why it is so important to keep my thoughts distracted from the negativity. I am working on a couple of art projects, I try to keep my home clean (clutter and dirty dishes make me anxious), my hubby and I are planning a cross-country move in a few months, and of course I have food. Oh ,how I enjoy good homemade food. No more stews and chilies, I am ready for summer recipes! So I am going to pretend that it’s not really icky outside and focus on my favorite summer time recipes and hopefully come up with some new ones!

Mexican cauliflower is another favorite from my childhood. Anything Mexican has been and always will be a big hit with me. Mexican food doesn’t have it’s seasons, it is appropriate all year round, but I can’t help feeling “summery” about food that comes from such a warm and tropical place.

My mom made this recipe all the time when I was a kid. With a few tweaks and an added spice here and there, I am really excited to enjoy this amazing meal again as an adult. It’s also important to note that this meal is very hubby approved.

*Scroll past the recipe to read more. I share my insights and realizations on something I am most passionate about.

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Mexican Cauliflower

Ingredients:

  • One large head of cauliflower (with the greens removed and the stem trimmed down so the cauliflower lays flat)
  • 2 cups salsa (My own recipe is below)
  • 8oz of vegan cheddar or pepper-jack cheese
  • 1 cup of panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 tbs of finely chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp salt

For serving:

  • Avocado
  • tortilla chips

Salsa Ingredients & Directions:

  • 1 can of fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 can of Mexi style lime and cilantro diced tomatoes
  • one handful of cilantro
  • 1 tbs minced garlic
  • 2 tbs of sliced jalapeño
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  1. Place cilantro, minced garlic, and jalapeño in a food processor and pulse until the cilantro is very fine
  2. Add the canned tomatoes and spices. Pulse until all the ingredients are blended. Adjust the flavor if you need to and done.

Mexican Cauliflower Directions:

  1. Steam the cauliflower until it is tender, but not so much that it is falling apart. My favorite way to steam vegetables is to use my steamer basket in a large pot.
  2. While the cauliflower is steaming, make the salsa (if you are making it from scratch) directions above. Also, in a large mixing bowl combine the cheese, panko crumbs, cilantro and spices. Shake up the bowl or stir with a spoon to blend and coat everything together.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350ºF and grease a baking dish (I used and 8×8 dish)
  4. When the cauliflower is done steaming (I poke mine with a knife or a fork to check the tenderness) let it cool for about 5 minutes before you transfer it to a baking dish. I used my 8×8 baking dish. Taking care not to burn yourself transfer the cauliflower to the baking dish.
  5. Pour about 2 cups of salsa over the cauliflower. Use a rubber spatula to spread the salsa around the cauliflower so it is completely covered. Then take handfuls of the cheese mixture and coat the cauliflower with it. I find it is easier to just use my hands for this part. It’s ok if salsa and cheese mix fall to the bottom of the pan, it’ll be good for dipping later.
  6. Bake in the oven for 30 – 35 minutes. The cheese mixture is supposed to turn a light golden color and be a little crispy. When done let it cool for 5 – 10 minutes.
  7. There are many options for serving. We enjoy eating it with tortilla chips, avocado and a little extra salsa, but you can serve this in tacos, burritos, over mexican rice, ect.

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Shared thoughts:

“Insight is an experience of the truth that cannot be simply given to another person in the way that one may communicate ideas or beliefs. Insight is spontaneous and has the nature of a gift. It is surprising when it comes and yet obvious. It is joyful and yet calm.” – Lawrence Freeman “The Good Heart”

I am currently reading “The Good Heart, A Buddhist perspective on the teachings of Jesus”, and when I read the passage above it was like it was jumping right off of the page. This passage articulately communicated what I have only recently begun to learn about the emotional connection to becoming a vegan.

Making the choice to be a vegan has to be an emotional one. I know a lot of people who will not like that statement, but it is true. Anyone I’ve ever known who has decided to be a vegetarian or a vegan for any other reason other than the welfare of animals has ALWAYS “fallen of the wagon” so to speak. I have to note: I am not speaking for everyone in the world who has given up meat and bi-products, but I can absolutely say that for the people I know, this is true and there are many of them. Veganism is not just about diet, it’s about life.

So let me rephrase, making the choice to be a TRUE vegan has to be an emotional one. It has to hurt. That means tapping into a part of yourself that is so deep, that you can finally make the connection between the faceless meat on the plate and the animal that was killed to be there. You can never look at meat as food again. That means completely rewiring your way of life and for many people, that is too uncomfortable to even fathom.

I would go as far as equating it to a spiritual experience. Once you’ve turned that part of your brain on, that gets switched off through conditioning while you’re growing up, it’s a little like waking up with new vision. You see the world and the other beings we share it with, in a whole new way. As soon as the switch turns back on, there’s no question anymore of “how am I going to give up meat?” Or “how am I going to give up cheese?” The question I hear the most is “why didn’t I do this sooner?”

Before I make my next statement, I want to be clear, I 100% support animal rights activists. I think they are some of the boldest and bravest people on the planet and I admire them greatly.

You can’t force people to care. You can help them try to make the connection, but it has to be something they discover on their own. I feel at this point it is important to refer back to my opening quote, “Insight is an experience of the truth that cannot be simply given to another person in the way that one may communicate ideas or beliefs. Insight is spontaneous and has the nature of a gift. It is surprising when it comes and yet obvious. It is joyful and yet calm.

Those closest to me don’t want to know, they don’t want to acknowledge the suffering that happens. I have shared with them all that is wrong with meat and bi-products. I have proven to them how easy and delicious it is to make vegan meals. But they refuse. Even though I have this blog and I spend hours, sometimes even days creating an all vegan recipe, my parents will still add meat to them. I have never been the kind of person to shove my lifestyle in someone else’s face. When a person feels shoved their response will almost always be to shove back. I have always recognized it as a personal choice. I wish I could get more people to care, but people do not appreciate having their way of life and their comfortable routine disrupted.

Q: What is the difference between a dog and a pig? A: Your perception.

Every culture is conditioned to believe that animals are here to meet our needs. We are not born with this mindset in place. Just look up kids who don’t want to eat meat on the internet. There are so many videos and stories of children crying because they’ve realized that what is on their plate was once a living thing. There are also videos of children crying over their live chickens that mom and dad are about to kill. Children know better. They haven’t been calloused and brainwashed by cultural norms. They are still able to make the connection from one living being to another.

One of the saddest things I ever witnessed personally was when a little boy, I used to babysit, wanted to bring his cat inside from the rain and his parents scolded him and told him how disgusting it was. They made him throw his cat back outside in the rain storm. Here was this sweet, thoughtful, innocent child just trying to do a kindness for another living being, probably someone he loved, and here were his parents, calloused and unthoughtful of not only their “family pet”, but of their child as well. Think of the damage their words/actions have caused. Will he think twice that next time he wants to help someone? Will it be so bad that one day he’ll see an injured animal and not think enough of it to stop and help?

Then there are people who say they are animal lovers. Let’s be clear, if there is meat on your plate, you are not an animal lover. You may love cats, dogs, or cute forest critters, but if you can’t distinct living beings as equals you don’t love animals. Humans pride themselves on having higher consciousness and yet, they are tremendously unaware of the parts of thier mind that are shut off. All animals, like humans, know fear and feel pain. They also know happiness and comfort. Through childhood people are conditioned to forget this about animals whether they wanted to or not. Why? Because that’s the way we’ve always done it (My least favorite phrase on the planet.).

Eating meat is a form of intolerance, a bold phrase, I know. But allow me to define intolerance and then I’ll explain. Intolerance is the unwillingness to accept views, beliefs or behaviors that differ from one’s own. Animals have their own languages and behaviors and because of lack of understanding and tolerance, humans are under the impression that that gives them the right to use and abuse animals. If you don’t belive that, just look at the way we treat fellow humans we don’t understand. At the core of all intolerance is apathy.

I would like to point out, that I never once said that all people who eat meat are bad. Some of the nicest people I know and love eat meat. I am trying to convey that to become a true vegan (a real animal lover), you have to tap into the part of your brain, even your heart, that finally grasps the understanding that a cow wants to be happy and left to take care of her child as much a dog with puppies, that a chicken does not want to die just as you do not wish to die. Your perception will change and you will finally see that animals are not here to feed us, cloth us, or entertain us. They are sharing this world with us. Just as you would want the suffering of a fellow man to end, you can now recognize the mass suffering of animals and want it to end. Once you’ve made that connection food will never look the same.

“Insight is an experience of the truth that cannot be simply given to another person in the way that one may communicate ideas or beliefs.” I have just shared my own insights, my realized truths about what it takes to become a true vegan. I hope it spoke to you in a positive way, but like I said from the begining, it is very much like a spiritual experience. It’s personal and it’s exceptional, but you have to find it deep within.

Goulash a perfect winter meal

A handful of really good stew recipes to help get through winter is a must. Goulash is a Hungarian recipe, its strongest flavor is paprika and it is the perfect cozy dinner for these chilly winter nights.

Continue scrolling after the recipe to find my favorite tip for revamping old furniture.

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Prep time: 10 minutes Cook time: 1 and 1/2 hour

Ingredients:

  • 2 Cans of kidney beans, drain and rinsed
  • 1 sweet onion, finely chopped
  • 2 ribs of celery, finely chopped
  • 3 TBS of flour
  • 24 ounces of vegetable broth
  • 10 ounces of mushrooms, chopped
  • 3 TBS of paprika
  • 3 TBS of tomato paste
  • 1 sweet red pepper, seeded and chopped
  • pasta for serving

*Other recommended serving toppings: Hot sauce and/or sour cream

Another great addition to this meal would be my recipe for Irish Soda Bread

Directions:

  1. In a large sauce pot, heat two TBS of olive oil on medium heat. Add the onions and celery, cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add flour then toss to coat veggies.
  2. Pour vegetable broth into the pot while stirring. Stir constantly until thick and bubbling.
  3. Next add the kidney beans, chopped mushrooms, paprika, and tomato paste. Set to simmer for 1 hour. After an hour add the chopped red pepper and cook for another twenty minutes.
  4. The last 10 – 15 minutes of the stew simmering, cook the pasta.
  5. When the stew is ready add pasta to the bottom of a bowl then ladle the goulash over top. *I like to add hot sauce to the top of mine for some extra flavor, you can also serve it with dairy-free sour cream. Enjoy!

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How to easily create your own image transfer on furniture

I have been working on a cabinet re-purpose project for a few months now. It is not complete yet, but through the process I learned a creative and easy way to add beautiful transfer prints to furniture that look like something you would over pay for at a home decor store. It turned out so much better than I could have hoped and now I want to stencil everything in my home! It’s so easy, anyone can do it. So here are the steps to revamping your furniture.

  1. Find a image you want to use

I started off by searching transfer prints that I liked on Pinterest. This is the website where I found the free transfer image that I used https://thegraphicsfairy.com/best-printable-transfers-furniture/

Print out the image to the size you want. This may require a little tech knowledge. You can also print the image large so that it prints out on a multiple sheets. if you have a copier at work, maybe you can use the copier to enlarge your image.

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2. Make sure you have the correct size print that you want. Hold it up to the item you’ll be transferring it to. Once your measurements are all sorted, take a oil pastel crayon or piece of chalk (you’ll want it to be colored) and color the back of your print, covering as much of it as possible. I used oil pastel, that’s my strongest recommendation, chalk might be a little messier.

oi pastel on the back of a transfer image

3. Place the print on the item you’re transferring the image to, image side up. Make sure it is exactly where you want it and tape it in down with painters tape to secure it. Once you start transferring the image you do not want it to move.

4. Use a ball point pen to trace over every line on your image. Take a peek under your page every once in a while to make sure it’s transferring properly. After you’ve traced over every image you should have an exact outline of your image.

5. Paint in your image. I recommend using acrylic paint and a thin paint brush. Pick the paint colors you want to use and paint over and in between the lines of your transferred image. Use your original image for referencing.

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Once the paint is dry you may be done, but here’s how I finished off my transfer.

  • After the paint dried I went over the image with a fine sand paper and lightly distressed the image to create a vintage look.
  • I cleaned off the dust from sanding and painted over the image with a high gloss varnish. My image was transferred onto a cabinet top that I expect to see a lot of activity so I gave it 3 coats of varnish.

The cabinet itself is not finished but here is the completed image transfer.