Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Vegan Without Borders
Review and Giveaway

Another winning collection of recipes from the amazingly prolific Robin Robertson!?! I can hardly believe it! Her latest title, Vegan Without Borders is a gorgeous hardcover book abundant with delectable, easy-to-prepare recipes from around the globe. When flipping through all the pages of tantalizingly beautiful Sara Remington photos, you're going to have an extremely tough time choosing which recipes to sink your teeth into first. I know I did. In a clever twist on the book's title, you'll also find colorfully bordered pages on the front and back covers and sprinkled throughout the book, which evoke a feeling of the many cultures and cuisines featured. The wonderfully crafted book design will lure you into taking your palate on an around-the-world adventure.

I "traveled" first to Spain with a delightful recipe for Vegetable Paella. This hearty stew is delicately seasoned with saffron and smoked paprika. Eggplant and artichoke hearts are delicious alternatives to the meat and seafood typically found in paella. And as Robin suggests in the headnote for this recipe, the next time I make this luscious dish, I think I'll add some baby bellas, too.

The real test of a good feta cheese stand-in for me is whether or not it lives up to fond memories of my favorite Persian breakfast of feta, walnuts, and raisins with warm pita bread. Feta, which originated in Greece, is a salty, crumbly, briny, curdlike white cheese made from sheep and goat's milk. It is also popular in Middle Eastern and Eastern European cuisines. Enjoyed with a cup of nice, hot tea, Robin's recipe is made from tofu and had just the right balance of saltiness from miso and briny"ness" from olive oil and lemon juice to take me back in time.

I'm sure that monks would swoon over Robin's Temple Soup, and so will you! This hearty, flavorful dish known as kenchinjiru in Japan, is an example of shojin ryori, or Buddhist temple food, a style of cooking based on compassion for all living beings and emphasizing seasonal vegetables and soy foods. There's a boatload of delicious nutrition in every spoonful of this soup made with kabocha squash, carrots, sweet potato, edamame, spinach, tofu, and shiitake mushrooms simmering in a luscious broth.

Robin's colorful recipe for Kung Pao Seitan and Eggplant was a big hit at our house. With a delightful array of flavors and textures, this vibrant dish is far superior to the classic Szechuan Kung Pao chicken dish so ubiquitous in Chinese restaurants. And I never knew that Kung Pao could be served with cashews instead of peanuts. YUM!

No trip around the world is complete with a sampling of desserts, and the photo and recipe for Mango and Rice Verrines reminiscent of Thai sticky rice were irresistible. Unlike most rice pudding recipes, this one starts with cooked Jasmine rice, which means you don't have to labor over the stove endlessly stirring! I'm so in love with this recipe, I'm sharing it below.

The following recipe for Mango and Rice Verrines from Vegan Without Borders by Robin Robertson ©2014 is reprinted with the kind permission of Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC.

These luscious rice pudding parfaits were inspired by my favorite rice dessert: the mango and sweet sticky rice of Thailand. Traditionally, this dessert is served on a plate with a scoop of coconut-infused rice surrounded by slices of mango. My version opts for a more unusual presentation, by layering the ingredients in clear glass dessert or parfait bowls or wineglasses. Verrine originally referred to a small glass container with no base that could hold a layered appetizer or dessert, which allows for a vertical and visually appealing presentation.

1 (13.5-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
½ cup natural sugar (try organic coconut sugar)
2½ cups cooked jasmine rice
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon salt
2-3 ripe fresh mangoes, peeled, pitted, and finely chopped
¼ cup roasted unsalted peanuts or cashews, crushed

In a large saucepan, combine the coconut milk and sugar, and bring almost to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the cooked rice, vanilla, and salt, and simmer over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, or until desired consistency is reached,stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool. Spoon a small amount of the rice into the bottom of 4 clear dessert or parfait glasses (wineglasses are good for this). Top each with a layer of chopped mango, followed by another layer of rice, until the ingredients are used up (or the glasses are nearly full). Sprinkle the tops with the crushed nuts. Refrigerate until serving time. Serve chilled.

If you'd like to add a bit of delicious international flair to your cooking, you'll want your very own copy of Vegan Without Borders. And right now you can enter to win this delightful book just by leaving me a comment below telling me your favorite international cuisine, and then following the prompt in the Rafflecopter box. (This step is required for entry.) After you leave a comment, you can earn additional entries by following any or all of the other Rafflecopter options. I'll be selecting one lucky winner at random.* Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
*This giveaway is open to residents of the US and Canada. 

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Sara Bella Upcycled
Review and Giveaway

What happens to the 1 trillion single-use plastic bags that are used worldwide each year? While some are reused, most end up in landfills or become litter that gets entangled in trees, chokes animals who are tempted to ingest them, or floats off in waterways, often suffocating or poisoning sea creatures. And plastic bags can take up to a thousand years to decompose—still leaving behind toxic particles, even after they break down.

Think about it: About a million plastic bags are used every minute. In the US, some states, like New York, enable consumers to recycle plastic bags, including frozen food bags. Here in the city where I live, plastic shopping bags have been banned, but a plastic bag ban merely shifts production to paper bags and compostable bags, both of which also have dire environmental consequences. And even with the plastic shopping bag ban in my city, we have no recycling method for frozen food bags, so they continue to make their way into landfills and cause devastating harm to animals. According to the International Animal Rescue Foundation, the damage plastic bags cause to wildlife is catastrophic:

Plastic bags are made of polyethylene and polyethylene is a petroleum product. When animals consume such plastic bags they are then poisoned by the chemicals within that bag as it passes through the animals digestive system or they simply choke to death. In many case animals stomachs and intestines become so clogged with plastic bag waste that many die just from this complaint. Plastic bags are often mistaken as food by marine mammals such as turtles that believe a floating bag is prey such as jelly fish. 100,000 marine mammals die yearly by eating plastic bags.

Sea Turtle mistaking a plastic bag for a jellyfish. Photo credit: ©npwsnorthernmarine
A cultural shift away from the use-and-toss culture is the better solution. A single reusable bag can eliminate hundreds (if not thousands) of plastic bags. One enterprising entrepreneur combines art and ingenuity to tackle the problem head-on. Artist/designer Sara Weiner "rescues" plastic bags and banners and turns them into functional upcycled products that are as beautiful as they are green.  At her Bend, Oregon studio, she creates colorful handbags, totes, wine carriers, wallets, zip pouches, bibs, purses, messenger bags, and even very cool fashion wear from plastic bags and banners that otherwise would have contributed to the plastic-bag crisis.

Upcycled Designer Trench Coat Photo Credit: Tambi Lane
You can feel truly wonderful about purchasing something lovely from Sara Bella Upcycled for yourself or someone you love, because 95% of every item is made with upcycled plastic. And the process for making all of Sara Bella Upcycled’s products is marvelously low-tech. They turn recycled plastic bags into "fabric" by fusing the bags together in layers. Feeling creative? You can even make your own upcycled fabric with the simple instructions you'll find on Sara Bella Upcycled's website or if you're in Bend, you can take a fun two-hour class and learn how to fuse plastic bags to create beautiful material!

As an artist, I deeply appreciate the creativity that goes into each and every Sara Bella Upcycled design. All of the products are fun and fashionable, and no two are alike. I got myself a Veggie Box Tote, and I am thoroughly delighted with not only its beauty and functionality, but its durability. So many of my reusable shopping bags have fallen apart quickly. Recently, one of the handles on my favorite Whole Foods bag fell apart right in the middle of the parking lot, as I was carrying my groceries from the store to my car. I thought that kind of thing only happened with the handles on paper grocery bags. I wasn't expecting to have to scramble under cars on all fours retrieving cans of tomatoes and garbanzo beans in the rain. Now I feel not only colorful and classy, but safe and secure strutting down grocery store and parking lot aisles with my new Veggie Box Tote!

Sara Bella Upcycled’s Veggie and Fruity Box Totes are the perfect size for my Saturday farmer's market haul! They are smaller than the large totes, but they are roomy enough for a bounty of delicious goodness!

Here's another view. You may notice that the Fruity Box Tote is empty, and if you look closely, you can see the tag still attached to one of the handles inside the bag. That's because I'm giving it away to one lucky reader! And that reader could be YOU!

Simply visit Sarabella's website, have fun browsing around and looking at all the pretty things, and then leave a comment below telling me which item(s) you find most intriguing. (Me? I'd LOVE one of those pretty aprons featured in the flash on the home page!) I'll select one winner at random to receive the lovely new Fruity Box Tote pictured above! As always, follow the Rafflecopter comment prompt to enter the giveaway, and if you want to increase your chances of winning with  additional entries, you can follow any or all of the other prompts, too.* Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more information about Sara Bella Upcycled and to peruse all the pretty things, visit their retail store and workshop in Bend's Maker's District at: 1234 NE 1st Street or visit their website.

*Sorry, international readers. The giveaway is open only to readers with a US postal address.