Friday, February 29, 2008

Must Post on Leap Day

So I voted today in the Texas primary (early voting since I will be in Calgary next week). The line was an hour and a half long but I was more than happy to wait. It was so great to see so many Texans out at the polls!! Plus it felt kind of special voting on a leap day.

I've been wanting to do one of the surveys I've seen floating around yall's blogs, originally from Liz at Food Snobbery. Happy Leap Year!

1. If you have to choose between locally grown or organic, which do you usually choose?
This is a toughie. I try to buy a mix of each.

2. Favorite way to prepare potatoes:
Roasted with olive oil and finished with a fancy flavored sea salt and some fresh ground pepper.

3. Do you press your tofu before preparing/cooking it (if you eat soy)?
I am a machine when it comes to pressing tofu. I do it everytime. I even know which cookbooks provide the exact perfect weight on top to not squish the tofu but also provide for maximum drainage.

4. Name your favorite recipe that is a tradition in your family:
My grandmother's homemade bread... which I've never made (backs into a corner with her head down)

5. Any food allergies?
No, which I'm very thankful for.

6. When you want to go to a fancy dinner, where do you go?
We usually go out to either Ruggles or Mark's or Tafia for something fancy. But we always come home for a fancy dessert!

7. When you have a cold, what do you crave?
Mac and cheese. And lots of fruit. And of course chocolate.

8. What kind of water do you drink? (Filtered, spring, tap, etc.)
Tap, put through a Brita filter in the fridge. And I'm very picky in that I like water VERY cold.

9. Name a flavor of soda you'd love to see:
Not a soda drinker myself...

10. If the recipes you ate as a child were compiled into a cookbook, what would the title be?
The Importance of a Family Dinner

11. If you were allowed to grow one food that can't grow in your climate, what would it be?
Lots of stuff grows down here (I think, I am no gardening expert), but I don't think we grow cherries, which I love.

12. Favorite type of mushroom?
Wierd squishy mushrooms kind of gross me out, so usually just creminis or portobellos. Morels if they aren't too pricey.

13. Most frustrating part of your kitchen?
There always seems to be dirty dishes! And I can't seem to keep the darned stovetop clean!

14. Last food you burned?
Quinoa... let it cook about 30 minutes before I started smelling the burning stuff. Took days to clean out of the pot.

15. Usual response to a veg*n's favorite question, "But where do you get your protein?":
I smack 'em upside the head and yell at 'em. (well that's what I want to do) Seriously, I smile and say the usual stuff about veggies, beans, and grains.

16. If you were baking your own birthday cake today, what flavor would it be?
Triple chocolate cake with white chocolate mousse topping and strawberries with nuts and chocolate sauce and whipped cream. Whew! Now who's gonna make it for me?

17. Favorite brand of chocolate chips?
Sunspire Tropical Source, but my Whole Foods stopped carrying them :-( So now I get their vegan brand chocolate chip.

18. You have $200 of your tax return reserved for Williams Sonoma- What do you buy?
I have really been wanting a cast iron skillet. And probably some new frosting tips.

19. Do you plan your menus in advance? Any tips to share?
I used to be really good about this. But lately I haven't, I'm thinking because the grocery store is on the way home from work.

20. You have 3 minutes before you have to leave the house and you're starving- What do you eat?
A spoonful of peanut butter and slosh down some soymilk.

21. If Martha Stewart, Paula Deen, and Rachel Ray got into a fight, who would win and how?
I think I have to go with Martha. She did hard time. Who knows what kind of fights she got into....

22. If you eat oatmeal, what do you add to it before serving?
Maple syrup, ground flax seeds, a dallop of nut butter, any kind of berries I may have on hand.

23. If you got to travel to one country and learn all the traditional dishes there, where would you go (ignore commitments in your current place of residence)?
Certainly India and Thailand really appeal to me. But since it's so close, and I am from Texas and therefore love Mexican food, I think Mexico would be equally as exciting!

24. Favorite late night snack?
Soy ice cream or anything that's leftover in the fridge.

25. Favorite springtime food?
Asparagus... I got some the other week and knew it was too soon. Just wasn't as bright green and crisp.

26. Favorite food-related magazine?
VegNews, but I'm starting to read non-veg ones for ideas :-)

27. Which do you prefer: shoyu, tamari, conventional soy sauce, or Bragg's Aminos?

28. What vegetable or fruit do you dislike the most?
I like pretty much every fruit I've had except papaya. As far as veggies go, again, wierd mushrooms, also olives (are those veggies?).

29. Name a holiday food you look forward to all year long:
Not really a holiday food, but chili. It's just not cold here that much to make it :-( Oh, and maybe pumpkin pie.

30. If you could convert anyone to veganism with your magic wand, who would you convert?
I don't really want to change anyone before they're ready...

Thursday, February 28, 2008

WaterCourse Foods

Do you ever feel like your traveling centers around seeking out the best vegan food each city has to offer? I've even started planning vacations just to sample some of the country's finest (i.e. Portland, Seattle, San Francisco.... and hopefully soon NYC, Chicago, LA other faves?). Even though the purpose of my recent trip to Colorado was skiing and spending time with friends, I couldn't pass up experiencing one of Denver's finest vegetarian (and everything can be made vegan!) eating establishments: WaterCourse Foods. Located in a hip area just east of downtown, this restaurant is a breath of fresh air in ranch country where "wild game" such as elk and buffalo are on most menus. Doesn't it just look inviting?

On our way from the airport to the "high country" (aka mountains) , we decided to stop and fill our bellies, hoping that the elevation change wouldn't affect our tolerance for lots of food (unlike alcohol). We started off with the seitan buffalo wings. Whew, these were spicy! Thank goodness for vegan ranch. I confirmed that they made their own seitan in house, which made me happy. For dinner, I had the tempeh scallopini, John had the reuben, and our other vegetarian companion :-) had the blackened tofu. The scallopini was just what I had imagined, creamy gravy, crispy tempeh, just plain good down-home style cookin'. I felt healthier gobbling up the greens on the side, perfect for sopping up the mushroom gravy. John proclaimed his was the best of the three, a reuben made with portobello mushrooms, special sauce, and saurkraut. We liked it so much we got one to go on the way out of Denver. The blackened tofu came with a delicious coconut cream sauce... perfect on it's own (I promise the tofu is buried somewhere under there!). Our waiter told us this was a customer favorite and it was easy to see why.

And then there was dessert. Oh my goodness they had a dessert tray. I remember the days of picking from the dessert tray of my (then) favorite restaurants, where now I tell them not to even bother bringing it. This felt so nice because all of their desserts are vegan! Which one would you choose from this amazing looking tray? I couldn't just pick one either, so I got the Boston cream pie and a vegan hoho with strawberry frosting to go. (other options included a carrot cake, tiramisu, chocolate cake, and others) The Boston cream pie was a bit sweet for my tastes (though it must not have been for John's because it was gone the next day!), but I loved the hoho. I seriously need to make some strawberry frosting. Very yum.

No food photos from the ski trip itself (come to think of it, no skiing photos either! but you all know what snow looks like...), but we enjoyed chili and a green salad in our condo one night followed by an evening out where the chef made me a green curry with asparagus, broccolini, and plenty of lemongrass.

On our way towards the airport, we made a stop for brunch at WaterCourse to meet up with a friend (+husband and really cute son) living in Denver. As I had been warned, it was packed on this sunny Sunday, with a wait time of about an hour! (really glad it's popular though :-) So we decided to ditch the restaurant atmosphere and enjoy the gorgeous day by getting take-out and heading over to City Park! I loved how they gave us our food in biodegradable containers in a bag made from corn. John got a tofu scramble with basil pesto and some sweet potato "fries" on the side. Our only complaint was not enough scramble and too many "fries" (which desperately needed salt). I got the banana bread french toast with fruit, which I loved, drenched with plenty of maple syrup. I am going to have to try this idea out at home. Hmmmm, the wheels are turning....

To wash everything down, I had the sunrise smoothie (OJ, strawberries, bananas, blueberries, peaches), but I think someone else liked it even more than I did!! Sluuuuuuurrrrrppppp!

So the next time you're visiting the Mile High City, be sure to stop by WaterCourse Foods for a fantastic vegan meal. P.S. they serve breakfast all day!!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Blog Report Card

I always loved seeing E for excellent on my report card when I was in elementary school... and now as an adult, it still feels great!! Holler over at Tinned Tomatoes (who is very deserving of this award for her mouthwatering creations) has bestowed upon me an Excellent Blog Award. I am so honored, my first blog award :-) I was so touched that she thought of me with the many amazing blogs that are out there! And of course, this makes me only want to try harder to improve my blog for all my readers (I'm really hoping I'll get a new header soon). I think this also means that I get to pass this award on to five more bloggers of my choice, which will be tough to do, since I love so many. I need just a bit more time to think about it, so expect that next week!

I have been immersed in ED&BV lately, and dinner on Tuesday was no exception. I made the blackened tofu with a side of roasted green beans and smashed sweet potatoes (added coconut milk anda agave nectar). Dreena meant it when she said blackened! John was very impressed and said it reminded him of the spices on blackened red fish. But no fish had to suffocate for this meal :-)
Also on Tuesday night I made a batch of homemade truffles for some special friends. Ever since Emilie's inspiring truffle post, I have wanted to try my hand at these. I used a combination of coconut milk and hazelnut liquor for my liquids. Half I rolled in cocoa powder and the other half in chopped hazelnuts. So simple to make! The centers of the truffles are so creamy... I hope they travel well because I had to send them in the mail!
I'm out for the next few days. Off to sunny Colorado for some skiing with friends. I can't wait to see my first snow this year! I love returning to Colorado, reminds me of my college days in Fort Collins and Boulder. I am also really excited to try Watercourse Foods, Denver's premiere vegetarian restaurant. Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Cracking New Cookbooks

Like many of you who have a serious addiction to cookbooks, I have so many that they tend to get neglected every once in awhile (okay, lots). So last week I made it my goal to actually use two cookbooks that I haven't made a thing out of. The first is Vegan Vittles, which I got for xmas from my sis. I've had several things bookmarked, but hadn't followed through on any. Since I am also trying to get better about using what's already in my pantry, I chose the Moroccan Millet since I had a jar of millet that had been sitting unused for quite awhile. While millet isn'tmy favorite grain, this was a satisfying dish... my favorite part being the pine nuts and chopped dates mixed in, so don't skimp on those!

Next up is the new cookbook Skinny Bitch in the Kitch, which has been getting quite a bit of press lately. I got this book for my mom and sis for xmas and couldn't help but sneak myself a copy as well. Not sure how in the world I landed on the "meatloaf" as my first choice, since I hated it as a child, but I'm glad I did. This was my first time trying the Gimme Lean ground round, and overall I was pleased. This was moist and flavorful, and I found myself saving the hardened edge bits for my final, savored bites. I added some ketchup on the top before I baked it since I had remember seeing others do this as well. Another first for me that night, roasted purple potatoes! We don't often eat potatoes in this household, but these were a treat.
And going back a few weeks, it was my turn to bring breakfast into work for my colleagues. Most of the time we get store bought muffins, or donuts, or breakfast burritos. So I went for homemade treats and made the strawberry love muffind from My Sweet Vegan and the lemon poppyseed muffins from VWAV. I also made a big fruit salad (all seasonal.. apples, pears, oranges, banana) and brought some soy yogurt with hemp granola. I gave the new So Delicious yogurts a try... while I liked the flavor, the texture was a bit off for me. Has anyone else tried them? I try not to eat yogurt that often because of the plastic containers that can't be recycled around here. Anyone know a good craft to use them for? I've got a bunch saved up that I just can't bear to throw away....
This past weekend some friends decided last minute to get together for munchies before going out on the town. Having lots of leftover frosting inthe freezer from my last decorating class, I made cupcakes in a mad rush. Please note these were decorated in 20 minutes.... so please don't judge me!! I did do a special pink ribbon cupcake for a good friend whose sister-in-law is currently battling breast cancer. And finally on Sunday night we had our townhome association yearly meeting (John was elected president! ha ha), which called for some baked treats to make it through the meeting (they bore me to tears). I know I saw someone make these just recently and I'm sorry for not remembering who! These are the jam print cookies from ED&BV made with strawberry jam and whole wheat flour instead of barley flour. I'm usually not too excited over any cookie that doesn't have either peanut butter or chocolate, but these made me happy.

In other news, our local Society of PEACE group hosted a lunch for Jon Camp of Vegan Outreach where he talked with us about leafleting techniques. It was a very informative and motivating talk. He was also featured today on the Go Vegan Texas radio show. That's right.... there is a vegan radio show based here in Houston (aren't you jealous?)!! It airs on Mondays at 10am CST and there are archives online you can listen to. I really encourage everyone to listen in and support vegan radio (they are having their pledge drive the next two weeks)!
Okay, I've got more to share before I leave for a quick ski trip to Colorado on Thursday, but I like to keep my posts short and this is already too long!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Results Are In

1473.5 lentils!! And the winner is the little one with her guess of 1400 lentils! And yes, I did count every last one myself (even the half) and it only took about 20 minutes. And because I was asked about statistics... I whipped out my fancy Vista version of excel and created yall a histogram showing the results. As you can see, there was a bit of a spread, but most people were in the 600-1600 range. The average guess was 1068, not too far off.

And because I didn't just want to give out just one prize, I did some random number generating to pick 5 others to get a small prize, the numbers correspond to the order guesses were sent in (or at least the order they are in for my excel spreadsheet! if you take the time and find a discrepancy, i'll send you a prize too)

So that would be ashasarala, lk, veggiegirl, animal-friendly (who coincidentally was the second closest), and chocolate covered vegan. And while I'm at it, I'll also send something to the low and high guess.... vegetalion and ruby red vegan. If you all send me your mailing address to aiellison26 at yahoo dot com, you will get a little something in the mail! I would send something to everyone if I had the time/money! It was great to see so many people comment, made me feel lots of love and helped me get over this....

And to end the post, a bit of a sad story. This chocolate molten cake kind of broke my heart this Valentine's Day....

It was supposed to be molten in the middle but it wasn't (no oozing going on in this photo) and the cake just plain didn't taste good. Maybe I let the batter sit too long? Maybe cook it less? Don't know what went wrong but I'm kinda sad about it. But I think it definitely deserves another shot!! (after all, it's a cake with veggies in it!)

Okay, bad to end a valentine's post on a sad note.... all I have to do is think of all the wonderful people in my life that I care for and things seem so much better :-)

Happy Heart Day

Even though Valentine's Day is pretty cliche, it does at least give us an excuse to bake things with all of those heart-shaped tins, cookie cutters, and muffin pans that we keep in storage for most of the year. (I'll post another heart shaped dessert tonight) Here's a valentine I got last week at our potluck from a full-of-energy vegan 3 year old!On the left are the self frosted peanut butter cupcakes from My Sweet Vegan that I made last night for my coworkers (as if they deserve it, but always need to spread vegan love). A hint about these.... if you have leftover frosting, save it and put more on after they bake!! And on the right are the cupcakes I made for the potluck this past weekend. I used the VCTOTW recipe, but used Hannah's MSV technique of cutting out the heart shape and filling with more frosting (as she did with her lemon poppyseed cupcakes).
And here's a fun thing I found on flickr toys....
There have been quite a few vegan related stories in the news for this Valentine's Day. One on the search for vegan valentine candy and NPR's story on vegan baking . I spotted urban vegan and her omniman in the NYTimes article "I Love You, But You Love Meat". This must be a common theme for food colums around Valentine's Day, because our local paper also did a piece on food issues in relationships. John and I were interviewed for the article, and we got a little blurb included in the paper, ironically enough right next to some instructions for making ham wrapped asparagus (what a way to ruin a perfectly good vegetable!). The quotes aren't the ones I would have chosen from our 30+ minutes interview, but I guess they wanted to make it sound "challenging", even though it usually isn't (not to say we don't have our moments). Here is the link, but to save you from reading the whole article, here's our few minutes of fame:

How about a vegan and an ominvore? Does love conquer all? Vegans, like vegetarians, avoid meat, fish and chicken. They also steer clear of dairy products, eggs, honey — in short, any food produced by ananimal.

Newlyweds John and Amanda Mariano were dating when "she tricked me,"John jokes, by turning vegan. She cooks for the pair and, because she's terrific at it, he misses meat less than he imagined.

Still, he conceded, "It's not easy. It's not like we argue all the time, but when we do argue, it usually has something to do with this."

Amanda, meanwhile, is working on being more flexible. "I wouldn't change John for the world," she said. "He's on his own journey and if he never goes vegan, I would never love him any less." (Peggy Grodinsky, Houston Chronicle)

Also just found out that I got a letter to the editor published in The Houston Press (independent paper) about a food editorial. I love how they call me a "mad vegan" (in the headline) to get reader's attention.

Vegan bashing: Well, it seems as if Robb Walsh is at it again. In his review of Dry Creek Café, he describes asking two waitresses — one "drop-dead gorgeous" and the other "cute" (I won't even begin to address his misogynistic undertones) — to choose between rotting animal flesh No. 1 or rotting animal flesh No. 2, only to discover that one waitress is vegan and the other a vegetarian. He then goes on to reminisce about the good ole days when he filed a police report against a vegan group for a death threat while living in Austin. Does he not realize, or care, that there are plenty of vegans living here Houston? Some of them, like me, even read his column every once in a while. But I don't think he'll have to worry about death threats in this case, since I'm sure eating all of those cholesterol-laden "triple bypass burgers" will send him to his grave long before any vegan could lay a hand on him. Veganism promotes nonviolence and compassion toward all sentient beings, even Robb Walsh. For the animals,

I'll be updating this post with the winner of the door prize tonight. There's still time to get your guess in! Hope everyone has a Happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Vegan Sweets and Eats Potluck! <3 And an Online Door Prize!

So I'm going to start off this post the same way we started our Vegan Sweets and Eats Potluck.... you get to guess how many chocolate mint lentils (you can buy them online here) are in the jar! Yes, you have a slight disadvantage in that you only have this photo (and at an odd angle too), but give it your best shot! I have a door prize to give out to whoever is the closest, so just leave your guess in a comment and I'll announce the winner on V-day. Those of you who were at the party are not eligible :-)

This was Society of PEACE's First Annual (which hopefully means there will be a second annual) Vegan Eats and Sweets Valentine potluck, hosted by yours truly! It was such a fun event to plan, what to get for door prizes, what food to make, and decorating the house with different shades of red and pink carnations (a much under appreciated flower).

To start with, the food. Everything was delicious. So many people kept remarking how good the food was and how we need to do these potluck things more often. I couldn't agree more. They are the perfect way to socialize with other veg*ns and get new recipe ideas. Below are only some of the dishes that we enjoyed, including raw cashew dip with fruit, hummus with pita chips and veggies, sweet potato fried, dahl, chili, stuffed mushrooms, and sushi. Not pictured were spring rolls, green bean salad, and some other Indian lentil thing that I totally forgot the name of (even though I asked two or three times)! Even though there was a ton of food, it all disappeared so quickly. Guess it was just that good.

To satisfy the vegan sweet tooth (cuz you know I have one!) there were dried apricots, two kinds of chocolate cupcakes, and peanut butter bombs. Thank goodness I saved a few cupcakes, the last one will be devoured tonight by me!!

After everyone stuffed themselves silly, it was time for door prizes! We had some great stuff; Cherrybrook Kitchen brownie, cookie, and cake mixes, Endangered Species chocolates, a Vegalicious calendar, a copy of Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, and the latest issue of Vegetarian Times.

Best of all, we had up for grabs some of the adorable artwork of Mrs. Cakespy! She did a custom mini-watercolor of a vegan cupcake baker, just for the occasion (you simply must enlarge it by clicking on the photo or the previous link to truly appreciate it's cuteness)! Lucky for you, she even has this design (and another cute vegan themed one) on her cafepress site in the form of a T-shirt and magnets. I picked up a couple of the magnets for door prizes as well.

And no one went home empty handed, Mrs. Cakespy was sweet enough to let me use the watercolor design on a Vegan Sweets recipe booklet that everyone got to submit their favorite sweet recipe to before it was printed. A cute and useful keepsake!

And there is another shot of the lentil jar for you to ponder over, enlarge, and count individual lentils (dang, I'm giving you ideas!). Get your guess in by 9pm CST on Feb 14!!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A Taste of Things to Come...

I have been desperately trying to catch up on everyone's blogs (I'll get there, promise!), but it has been so gorgeous outside today that I had to get out and enjoy it for a little while. I just got the book Striking at the Roots: A Practical Guide to Animal Activism and enjoyed relaxing on a blanket in the sun and reading about vegan outreach techniques, such as leafleting! Yesterday I was busy getting ready for our Vegan Sweets and Eats Potluck party. It was such a great time, I promise a post by tomorrow night. But here's a sneak peak.... what could be hiding inside my cupcake? (thanks mom for finding this for me!)

Why they're vegan chocolate mint lentils! And this information may be of some help to you later... radius = 7mm; height = 4.5 mm; cubic close packing structure (ok, not really, just wanted to use a mineralogy term to show how nerdy I am)

Now get away from your computer and enjoy what's left of the weekend!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Mostly Winners Here

So if you've ever leveled a cake for a fancy frosting job (I usually don't mind the bump), you've probably also found yourself munching on the "throw away" top part of the cake. Not that I'm saying you should stop this sensible and traditional practice, but if you're looking for something else to do with it, here's an idea.... cake truffles!

Got this idea from my cake decorating class. You simply pulverize your leftover cake in a food processor, then mix with just enough frosting to form balls. Pop them in the fridge and you've got cake truffles! You can thank me later. Just be careful not to eat them all yourself.

For the super bowl on Saturday, we went over to my parent's house where my mom had a platter of veggies and tofutti cream cheese french onion dip (thinned with a little soymilk) waiting. The best part? Some of the super addivtice tamari roasted chickpeas that seemed to disappear before kick off!

For dinner we had personal pizzas, a favorite now for get togethers as it allows everyone to put on their own toppings to their liking. I used tomato sauce, pesto, zucchini, broccoli, mushrooms, red pepper, sun-dried tomatoes, and artichokes. Yum. Forget to snap a photo I was so engulfed the game (yeah right, I was engulfed in pizza). But I did manage to sneak a picture of dessert, coconut cream pie from My Sweet Vegan! My mom was looking forward to making this one as coconut has always been one of her favorites. So in the photo, a winner (the pie) and a loser (the Patriots)....

I was rooting for no team in particular. But since John is from Boston and all his family and nieces and nephews were rooting for the Patriots, I was pulling for the Giants just a bit (sshhh, I've always been a bit of a black sheep).

Okay, enough about football. Last week we also tried the Green Wa from Yellow Rose Recipes. Since I couldn't find plain soy yogurt in the grocery store, I went with the Indian version and used coconut. Since I love quinoa so much, it's great to find new recipes that use it, and this was no exception. If you like cilantro, this one's for you!
There was even enough to serve as a side dish (along with some lunches) the next night alongside curried soy curls with red pepper and snow peas. I'm telling you the soy curl possibilities are endless....

Much prep work and cooking to be done in the next few days. I'm in charge of bringing in breakfast to work on Friday. Most people just stop by the donut shop, or the kolache shop, or McDonald's (ick) and bring in something greasy and unhealthy. Come to think of it, although I attend these breakfast meetings every other week, I've never actually eaten anything at them. That will all change on Friday.
And on Saturday evening John and I are hosting a "Vegan Sweets and Eats Potluck" for the local Society of PEACE group. I've got some fun door prizes to show off, and I'm sure all the food will be fabulous as well. Can't wait to tell yall all about it! (Please note, I realize how southern I sound when I say yall all...)

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Cake Decorating Course: The Basics

For the past four weeks I have been taking an introductory cake decorating class. My motivation for this came from numerous disappointments of attempts to add some fancy frosting to my vegan cakes and cupcakes. I love making desserts and impressing friends and family, epecially when it comes to showing off vegan baked goods. So I decided an 8 hour time commitment (although now I'm hooked and want to take course 2 and 3) was well worth it.

The class was taught at a local-owned store called Cake Craft Shoppe, rather fittingly located in Sugarland, Texas. The owner, Sheila, taught our course and gave us so many wonderful tips that only a professional could offer. With only six people in the class, not only was plenty of attention given to each student, but it was also a relaxed, cozy atmosphere. And I have to really thank my mom for taking the course with me. I think my favorite part was getting to spend time with her every weekend (and also learning just how much hard work she put into making all of our birthday cakes when we were!).

The first class involved going over basic things like how to make frosting (I had no idea consistency was so important), cake pans, spatulas, food coloring, decorating bags (I like the reusable kind since they are environmentally friendly), and other tricks of the trade. One of my favorite parts of the class was that, starting the second week, we got to bring in our own frosting to practice and ending with a final cak decorating project. This meant that I could ensure that everything I used was vegan.
So what did I learn? We began by making simple stars and seashells (tip #16, 20). Then moved on to dots (more complicated than you may think, 2, 3, 12), writing(3), drop flowers (2D), and the always-useful tight zig zag. We practice on cake boards that are coated in plastic so they can be washed an re-used.
Some of the more complicated designs were leaves (67), sweet peas, bows, and the very tricky rose (104). My frosting wasn't quite the right consistency to get the rose, but it's something I plan on practicing (maybe for v-day). I learned that I am quite ampidexterous with the decorating bag, often switching between my two hands when one got tired (I feel like I should have been a lefty, I mouse with my left and wear my watch on the right, but that's another story).

Beware those that are afraid of clowns! Don't scroll below! My instructor actually asked first before showing us how to make these if anyone had a clown phobia (she had a previous experience in another class with that). Cute for a kid's birthday cake. Or maybe cupcakes to bring to a circus protest! She also showed us that with just a few basic tips, you can make almost any kind of animal or character, faces, bears, turtles, frogs, tigers, horses, etc.

The final class involved bringing in our own cake and usng all of our newly acquired skills to decorate in any way we wanted. I chose to make the chocolate cake from Joy of Vegan Baking, the chocolate buttercream frosting (also JOVB) to ice the cake, and the frosting recipe for the root beer cupcakes in My Sweet Vegan. As I mentioned, consistency of frosting is important, especially when making roses or anything that needs a stiffer icing. Although I prefer the flavor of non-dairy butter in my frostings, it tends to just melt in my hands when I'm decorating. So this required using shortening for the frosting to decorate with (but I used butter for just the cake frosting).

We first learned to level our cakes (more in another post on what to do with the leftover tops!), anchor them, apply a barrier for the filling, and then get the smoothest looking frosting I have ever managed to put on a cake. A cake-turner came in rather handy. The final smooth look was achieved by letting the frosting crust over (about 10 minutes) and taking a patternless paper towel and a fondant smoother and essentially "ironing" our cake smooth.
My mom was a good student and planned her cake ahead of time, making it especially for her Valentine's couple bunco event that night. Her design involved pink hearts filled with stars, dice, shells on the top border, and flowers with leaves on the base border. She even made vegan icing too so we could share colors!
I decided to free-form the cake and just do what came to mind, of course knowing that I wanted some kind of veg theme. With all the colors I had I went with "Eat Veggies" and decorated with an assortment of mostly fruits and some veggies (dang I wish I'd made an orange for carrots). I used stars for the base border and shells for the top. In case you can't guess what they are, from the top going clockwise there are gree onions, broccoli, strawberry, grapes, lettuce, banana, and a mouth with a tongue hanging out! I wish I could invite all of you over to share a piece because I don't know what to do with this cake. I think it will end up in our coffee/breakroom at work on Monday.
I came away from this course learning many new decorating techniques, added confidence in my decorating ability, a bunch of handy tips and tricks, and the motivation to continue my learning! I'll have a bit of a break before the next class, which doesn't begin till late April, but I'm planning to take Course 2 (fancier flowers and borders, plus basketweave). But that will give me plenty of time to perfect the skills I have learned up until now, because goodness knows my roses need some work!