It's beginning to smell like Christmas ...

Burnt cookies, brownies, cakes and pies.

That's what Christmas smells like in our household (mainly because when I finally scrounge up enough time to bake I also use it as an opportunity to do millions of other things and then neglect my sweet treats).

Pearyn is starting to get into the holiday spirit of things, which isn't hard considering our house is slowly looking like Christmas threw up all over it. From ornaments randomly dotting our tabletops, tree and counters, garland strewn about the window fixtures and real, pokey, authentic pine needles jutting out from our carpet, I'm pretty sure we're living in the house Christmas did NOT forget.

Did I mention my husband discovered the 24/7 holiday tunes channel Direct TV offers? I'm starting to think Christmas may actually overlap a few weeks because it's going to take us that long to clean everything up. Actually, with the effort we've put into decorating, I might just throw a few plastic Easter eggs or shamrocks around and pretend our "Christmas" village is really a "St. Patrick Day's Village" or the "Easter Bunny's Village" and call it a day.

I wish I could claim that brilliant idea as my own, but alas it is inspired by my Aunt Rosie who once left her artificial Christmas tree up year round by trading ornaments for pink hearts, red white and blue ribbons, and pretty much any other garb you'd use to decorate for EVERY holiday under the sun.

Speaking of a tree, this is our first official Christmas with a real, live tree. No, not just a real tree, I mean a seriously, still-living, giant bundle of roots and dirt, plant in the ground when Christmas is over, real tree.

No, we're not crazy (although yes, we are kind of hippie), it was a tradition in my husband's family and we've decided to carry it on. So when our plump Judy has served her time as a Christmas tree (yes, we named our Christmas tree), she'll find a home in the back yard among the other trees speckling our yard. I just hope she fits in.

In other news, Pearyn isn't thrilled about our new addition, Judy, and usually cries whenever you put her near her, walk by her or place her in the same vicinity as her. And here I was worried I was going to have to keep Pearyn away from the tree, turns out she can't get far ENOUGH away.

She did however, thoroughly enjoy the lights.

While trying to clean up and prepare for the upcoming weeks of Christmas merriment (and the hoards of cookies, guests and crinkled wrapping paper it brings with it), I've been attempted to stay up-to-date on all those pesky household chores like vacuuming, not only doing the laundry but actually putting it away and the both loading and unloading the dishwasher. Side note -- what did people do before this metal box of Heaven was designed?

I haven't been without help though, as Pearyn has apparently grown very attached to the dishwasher. No, seriously, I can't keep her away from it. If we want to accomplish anything without her throwing a tantrum we have to put her in the living room all the way by the front door (the furthest visible spot from the dishwasher) and try to round up all the dirty dishes in the 15 seconds it takes her to crawl over. If we fail our mission, she usually ends up climbing up inside the dishwasher. And being the responsible parent I am, rather than stop her from doing this, I'll just take a photo.

I sincerely hope she is this into the dishwasher when she's a teenager. I have the perfect chore in mind for her ...

Speaking of responsible parenting, we're now taking bets on how long it will be until she gets her first set of stitches. My husband is a bit more optimistic than I am, but if she can make it to one year of age without requiring them I'll consider myself lucky. She's getting into any and every thing. And not just "getting" into it, but crawling, climbing, rolling and falling into it all. At just 7 months she's already pulling herself into a standing position and testing out gravity by letting go. We've already had several close calls with the DVD player, speaker system and of course, dishwasher.

At this rate ... she's going to be walking next month and driving the month after that.

Can she PLEASE stop growing up so fast?



More than just food to be thankful for this Thanksgiving

It doesn't really seem like Thanksgiving was a week ago. I fully intended to write my Thanksgiving blog - imagine - on Thanksgiving, but somehow life always gets in the way.

For starters, I'm thankful to have such a full life that it gets in the way of my spending far too much time on the computer.

Our morning started off at a relatively relaxed pace. Pearyn didn't get up until 9:30, which is usually a rare blessing, except we were sort of counting on her to wake us up a little earlier. (That's called responsible parenting. Who needs an alarm clock when you've got a small human being relying on you?)

Needless to say, the preparation for our big feast didn't exactly happen in a timely manner (or organized for that matter).

Ryan is generally in charge of any and every "dinner" item, while I handle desserts (go figure). Part of this is because he's just a much better cook than I am when it comes to non-sugared dishes, and the other part has to do with the amount of pressure I put on myself when it comes to something as minute as baked goods. It's common knowledge if I had to tackle an extra dish - a side one at that - I would most likely have a nervous breakdown if it didn't live up to my standards (which are abnormally high when it comes to food).

This year, I did the impossible. In addition to a toothache-inducing, borderline too-sweet-pie, I made baked macaroni and cheese. The only reason I agreed to take on this dish was because of my deep love of unhealthy, chock-full-of-cheese sides, and because my mother's recipe for baked macaroni and cheese is basically fool proof - aka- "Amanda" proof. With only four ingredients, it's safe to say that it's pretty difficult to mess this up.

With that being said, I'm thankful my baked macaroni and cheese came out semi-recognizable.

Thanksgiving is usually a holiday where family, friends and complete strangers bombard us with questions regarding a vegan menu.

Do we eat? (Actually no, we don't ever eat, our compassion for animals and good intentions both feed and shelter us).

What do we eat? (Oh you know, grass, dirty and children's tears, the usual).

OK, actually, we don't say any of that. We usually turn the tables and ask them the same things.

What do you "normal people" eat?

Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, pies?

Well, us too.

We had it all this year. A celebration "roast," horseradish-crusted, twice-baked mashed potatoes (not pictured because I blew out the photo), baked macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole and portobello pumpernickel rye stuffing (no, it's not burnt, it's supposed to look that way).

Oh, and lets not forget the crunchy caramel apple pie that almost caused me to commit myself.

Of course food wasn't the only focus during Thanksgiving 2010.

Did I mention how absolutely thankful I am for the close-knit family and amazing network of friends I have?

It also was Pearyn's first Thanksgiving ever. While she didn't really get to enjoy any of our foods directly, we did make several "Pearyn versions" for her to enjoy. From whipped potatoes and creamed green beans to mushroom "gravy" and apple pie applesauce, Pearyn got to enjoy a little bite of this overstuffed holiday as much as the adults.

Well, that and her super cute Converse shoes.

I think Pearyn was especially thankful for those.

Karma even got to enjoy a little treat of her own, we snuck her some turkey leftovers from my parents house (just because we're vegan doesn't mean we expect our family companion to be as well). My husband and I firmly believe that while it's still debatable whether or not man was designed to eat meat, our furry friends were.

Our first Thanksgiving as a family of three was a success ... well, if you consider eating far too many carbs and sweets a success.


Sometimes, life is like a smashed up bag of $6 cookies

It's been roughly two weeks since I last wrote. I'm not even a month deep and I'm already neglecting my blog.

The truth is ... I've been neglecting a lot lately.

I'm still in my baking slump (and by slump I mean my bruised ego is still pouting and therefore I have yet to whip up a single thing since my disastrous attempt at the cupcakes which used to bake themselves). So when my sugar craving came calling, I did what any time-crunched, cupcake-baking drop out would do ... I went to the store.

Oh, I'm sorry, are you having difficulty figuring out what that kind-of round brown thing is up there in a sea of tiny brown pieces? Those are just my organic, fair trade, vegan chocolate chip cookies I blew $6 on. Oh, wait, you mean they're not supposed to come crumb-sized? Maybe the ones that aren't all smashed up cost more?

That's pretty much how the rest of my week went.

With Thanksgiving around the corner I've started my holiday shopping spree. I generally avoid Black Friday crowds (mainly because I don't have very many brave mommy friends willing to face 3 a.m. wake up calls with me) and either start shopping really early or just do it all online.

While out and about searching for the perfect gifts for all my loved ones, I came across this lovely display of humanity:

Now maybe it's just something new the store is trying out, but I'm pretty sure that mound of clothing is probably supposed to be hanging with all of its little friends on the racks above. But instead, some really awesome people came by, sifted through (and by the looks of it filmed some sort of fight scene for an action movie right where these clothes were hanging) and just decided they didn't feel like cleaning up their mess.

So try and cut all those snarky retail employees some slack, wouldn't you be cranky if you had to clean up after functioning adults all day?

Speaking of Black Friday, there actually is an item on Best Buy's crazy door buster ad that I was tempted to leave my cozy, warm bed for. My husband, although not the biggest fan of all this new-fangled technology, is jumping on the e-reader band wagon. Unlike his crazy counterpart (me) who is obsessed with the feel and smell of books, he'd prefer to stop spending hundreds of dollars on book shelves and overpriced hard backs.

The only thing stopping me from hopping in line with all the midnight crazies is my little human alarm clock.

A very large, non-motherly part of me fantasizes about the day Pearyn is a teenager. Just when she's old enough to want to start sleeping in, I'll sneak into her room and just start wailing, for absolutely no good reason. And then about 20 minutes after she falls asleep and gets comfortable, I'll do it again.

And maybe one more time after that too.

I imagine toting my six-month-old daughter  to the Black Friday Eve line up probably isn't a mother-of-the-year worthy move, regardless how handy she could come.

Personally, I figure she wakes me up around midnight and 3 or 4 a.m. as it is, so what's the difference if she does that while we're waiting outside a store to get a really good deal? If anything, perhaps her crying would scare off a few people ahead of me in line. I won't even have to worry about getting in line first, my daughter will annoy away all the early-risers.

Well, that is if someone doesn't call children services first.


The pumpkin cupcakes that weren't

There are very few things in this world I consider myself "good" at. I'm basically your typical neurotic who spends the majority of the day worrying about all the different ways I could have completely and utterly devastated something. Sometimes I convince myself that I actually did bring down Rome - all by myself.

When it comes to baking pumpkin cupcakes, however, I haven't actually used a recipe in years.

I'm not exactly the Betty Crocker of the baking world or anything, but I've fielded the many bumps in the road when it comes to eggless, dairy-free baked goods.

I usually get weird looks from people when I discuss the next part, the part about my enjoying baking from scratch. It seems like my generation is wrapped up in anything convenient, even if it means sparing quality. Sure, fast food and prepackaged meals taste alright, but do they ever beat mom's homemade cooking? We've already started the trend with our daughter, considering we've traded in premade baby food for freshly blended veggies and fruits straight out of our kitchen.

I figure if we're planning on raising Pearyn as a vegan, we should probably get used to making anything and everything, right down to birthday cupcakes and Christmas cookies, or Buddha brownies (to appease daddy).

Considering the majority of boxed cake mixes and premade icings went out the window when gelatin and animal-goods became obsolete to my diet, I've fared pretty well when it comes to baking from scratch.

Until last night.

I'd been looking forward to this day forever. I'd been meaning to bake cupcakes for the last week, but somehow something kept coming up. I knew when I became a mommy my life would revolve quite a bit around my daughter, I just didn't realize how often I'd have to choose between what used to be basic, everyday things for me. Now my choices consist of whether to shower or sneak an extra 30 minutes of sleep in, whether to read or write and whether to catch up on work or the mile-long list of shows on my DVR.

Most of the time, sleep wins out.

Finally on Sunday I managed to finagle a few hours to devote to baking. I'm not sure where I stole them from, but I imagine I'll pay for it sometime this week. While I rolled up my sleeves, the rest of my family unbuttoned theirs and took a nice nap. Don't let looks deceive you, they just look calm and sweet because they're asleep.

These weren't going to be any typical cupcakes though. These were going to be the cupcakes I tested out my homemade butterscotch icing on. Side note - who knew that eliminating animal products from one's diet made it virtually impossible to find butterscotch anything? I used to think finding a good vegan cheese was hard, but when it came to butterscotch flavoring, I met my match.

I was finally able to locate some extract, which after a few trial runs (and several batches of too-strong, too thick icing), I found the right balance of fluffy and borderline nauseatingly sweet, the perfect blend if you ask me.

As for the cupcakes, I added the usual culprits - pumpkin, flaxseed, flour, sugar, applesauce, spices, baking powder and soda and the tiniest bit of vanilla extract, and began mixing to my hearts delight.

I knew the ingredients were well mixed just about the time my arm started to get the dull throb I get from stirring ridiculously heavy batter. I dispensed the goop into the proper bakeware, and counted down the minutes until my first pumpkin cupcakes of the season were ready for icing and decorating.

Unfortunately for me (and my perfect butterscotch icing), that moment never came.

Somewhere along the way my intuition led me astray. I'm still trying to dissect what exactly went wrong, but at the conclusion of my bakefest I ended up with 24 regular-sized and 48 mini cupcakes that were more pumpkin-pie like and less cake-like.

Operation pumpkin cupcakes = epic failure.

On a brighter note, I did succeed in reusing my failed cupcake attempt to make a pumpkin pie cookie. It sounds much fancier than it actually is. I took a basic sugar cookie recipe and added the warm, gooey remnants of my pumpkin cupcake fiasco and threw them in the oven.

They came out perfectly, and hit the fall-food craving I'd been having.

They didn't do much for my bruised, cupcake-goddess ego though.

You might not want to cry over spilled milk, but 72 barely recognizable cupcakes is a different story.

I can't be the only moody mommy out there ... what's the silliest thing you've cried over?


Can you crave something you've never had?

Today was a flurry of activity in our household ... aka ... laundry day. (And by laundry day I don't mean a select day once or twice a week where we gather all the dirty clothes in the house, wash them in a matter of hours and then fold them neatly in stacks and dispense them to the proper drawers).

Laundry day in our household goes a little something like this: I'm up ridiculously early changing Pearyn's diaper when I go to the drawer to meticulously (fumbling through a drawer in the middle of darkness) select another outfit for her. Suddenly, I realize I'm reaching into the drawer of despair ... it's empty.

Thankfully for Pearyn (and for me), my husband is pretty good about doing laundry every couple of days (which comes in handy when you have to change your daughter's outfits several times throughout the night because she can only sleep on her stomach, which also means there's about an inch of diaper to absorb pee instead of the entire thing).

So on laundry day, once I've discovered I'm in need of an outfit or seven, I usually shuffle to through the kitchen and down the basement steps with my half-naked, squirming daughter to retrieve said laundry. And although the plan is to quickly grab an outfit and go, I have to sort through her hoards of onesies until I select a giant armful that will get me through the next few days (because apparently it's too much work for me to make more than one trip to the basement).

Laundry day usually ends with every outfit my daughter owns winding up on top of her in her crib, pictured above, mainly because I don't have the energy any longer to sort through all of her outfits. It doesn't seem fair that my nearly-six-month-old daughter has more clothing than I do.

Of course, there are a few onesies that jump ship during the long journey from the basement, through the kitchen and then past the abyss that is my office, and while I'd like to say I wrangle up the stragglers right away and add them to my pile, they usually end up dotting the floor until I either fall on one or my husband picks them up and washes them all over again.

What will be the fate of these laundry day casualties? Only time will tell ...

Laundry day took place in about 20 minutes this morning, and after that my daughter and I were off to run errands (ending world hunger, creating world peace and going to the grocery, the usual).

Today's trip was inspired by my craving for pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and butterscotch glaze. And because I'm vegan, I get to make all of this from scratch - both a blessing and a curse. While sifting through a variety of flax seeds (an egg-cellent egg replacer, ahaha, I'm so corny), I came across something that nearly made me wet my pants I was so excited. (Because only cool kids wet their pants!)

Vegan "Nutella."

While it didn't actually say it was "vegan," the label did inform me that it was completely free of dairy, eggs, gelatin and ingredients derived from animal sources. All of this is just a nonchalant way of saying vegan without scaring all the folks out there who avoid cruelty-free like the plague. (Your precious Oreo's are vegan too ... haha, I'll ruin America's favorite cookie for you as well!)

I've been in search of vegan nutella for approximately two years and 364 days, basically every day since going vegan, except one (I think I was searching for a good cheese replacement that day). The worst part about my delicious animal-free chocolate hazelnut spread? The $9.99 price tag. Seriously? It has like four ingredients, how could that amount to $10?

I broke down and bought it because let's face it, I'm not strong enough to say no to my cravings. It's probably worth noting that I'd pay $20 for the tiny jar it's so delicious.

Regardless, it made me think about my daughter.
If my daughter is never exposed to "regular" milk, cheese, butter and all sorts of cholesterol-ridden foods, will she ever truly "crave" them. Or will she be so used to our freaky-deaky vegan ways that when she craves a cheeseburger she'll want a walnut "burger" and Daiya cheddar "cheese?"

What do you think moms and dads, is it possible to crave something you've never had?

Either way, it's nice to know my daughter won't have to live in a world without "Nutella" any longer ... thanks to a little product called "Justin's Chocolate Hazelnut Butter."
Drool ... don't judge me until you've gone three years without a delicious Nutella-like spread.

What one food could you not live without?


The most popular butterfly on the block

It's already November.

In fact, it's been November for two days now.

In a mere eight days, my little girl will be six months old. I finally understand what everyone means about time flying when you raise a tiny human. Despite the fact that I think I'm actually awake for several more hours a day than I used to be (because my almost-six-month-old daughter can fight sleep with the best of them), it seems like everything has been a blur since I had Pearyn.

I've been meaning to start blogging since well, probably the conception of my little girl, but somehow things kept getting in the way. When I started along my vegan path three years ago, I never realized how it would impact the smallest facets of my life in such incredibly large ways.

Three days ago, my husband Ryan and I celebrated our first Halloween as parents. Of course we did what any first time parents do -- spent a ridiculous amount of money on a pink butterfly costume Pearyn would only wear once -- and bought far too much candy for the neighborhood kids.

Armed with our neon green pumpkin filled with hoards of animal crackers and gelatin-free peanut butter rice crispy treats, we donned our warmed attire and sat on the front porch to pass out candy with our little butterfly. Pearyn seemed to enjoy all the animated costumes, from scary zombies to pretty princesses. For the most part the kids didn't even give our organic, healthy treats a second glance. A few parents complimented our selection of non-traditional snacks, while a few more rolled their eyes and sneered.

You can't win them all I guess.

Lucky for our non-dairy, non-gelatin candy eating ways, our daughter was too young to partake in the actual act of trick or treating this year. This means for one year, we got to avoid the dilemma of what to do with all the non-vegan candy we'll face in years to come.

It surprises me when non-vegans ask what we're going to do about Halloween. Will we even let Pearyn go out and trick or treat since most of the loot she'll get will be riddled with animal products? Usually, I bite my tongue when "actually we're going to lock her up and not allow her to do anything that conflicts with veganism." wants to come out.

I understand veganism can be a little tricky. We adhere to a lifestyle that seeks to prevent as much animal cruelty as possible, but if we turned our backs to anything nonvegan, we'd have three friends and practically no where to shop or eat. If you think about it, nothing is 100 percent vegan. The grocery store I buy my produce from sells meat, milk and all sorts of animal-tested items. The clothing store I buy my cotton tees at sells suede and silk. And the car I drive may not have leather seats, but plenty of the other vehicles they offer do.

So fear not nonvegans, our "freaky-deaky" hippie baby will have the opportunity to enjoy Halloween just as much as your child.

And if you think about it, Pearyn will probably be the most popular kid on the block when she passes along all that chocolate we choose not to eat to all your kids instead :)

What holidays, if any, conflict with nonvegheads?


Vegan dessert recipes

One of the most common questions I receive when people find out I'm vegan is "OMG, how do you live without chocolate?" Well friends, the answer is simple. Vegan chocolate. And lots of cupcakes. And vegan caramel. And lots of cupcakes. And vegan white chocolate. And even more cupcakes. Trust me, I've got a sweet tooth to rival all others, and I assure you, these vegan dessert recipes are utterly decadent and completely cruelty free! (Despite their names, the following recipes are all completely vegan and animal-ingredient free!)

Vegan side dish recipes

When I'm not being lazy and making some sort of all-in-one vegan casserole, I like to whip up one of these sides to accompany our favorite bean burger! Each of these sides are sure to compliment any vegan dish you make, whether you're a vegan or just looking for new ideas! (Despite some of their names, all of the following recipes are vegan and animal-ingredient free!)

Vegan soup recipes

Soups and stews might be some of the easiest and most delicious dishes to veganize. Our family is always expanding our collection of chilis and chowders, but so far the following recipes have served as the ultimate comfort dish on those chilly winter AND summer nights! (Despite some of their names, the recipes below are all vegan and contain no animal ingredients).

Vegan appetizer recipes

There are few things I enjoy more than throwing parties, whether they be for birthdays, babies or sporting events. And no party is complete without a few fancy schmancy (or just plain delish, whatevs) appetizers. Each of these are cruelty-free, but guaranteed to "ohh" and "ahh" your guests. (Despite some of their names, the following recipes are all vegan and animal-ingredient free).

Vegan breakfast recipes

Vegan dinner recipes