Vegan Shark Week cupcakes recipe

A highly anticipated weeklong holiday begins on Sunday: Shark Week!

In honor of the occasion, I made my annual vegan, sharky cupcakes and thought I’d share the recipe with you!

 

Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp flour
  • equivalent of one egg (I used Ener-G Egg Replacer, but you can also use ground flaxseed.)
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup of soy milk
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup water

Directions:

Stir dry ingredients together — sift if anything is clumpy — and then add remaining ingredients. Mix together in a large bowl and then poor into cupcake tins, filling about 2/3 of the way. Bake at 350 degrees for 18-20 minutes.

 Vegan Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup nonhydrogenated shortening
  • 1/2 cup Earth Balance vegan butter
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup vanilla soy milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • blue food coloring
Directions:
Beat shortening and vegan butter together until mixed. Add sugar and beat until fluffy. Then add remaining ingredients.
Chocolate shark fins

Sometimes vegan chocolate can be difficult to find, but if you have a Trader Joe’s you’re set because they’re pretty well stocked. I’ve tried melting their chocolate chips and molding shark fins and let me tell you: This is a terrible — and ridiculously messy — idea. Don’t do it!

This time I simply bought a few vegan chocolate bars and cut out the fins. If you try this and the chocolate breaks, simply soften it on the stove or in the microwave for a few seconds.

Ice your cupcakes, top them with chocolate fins and take a bite while you tune in for Shark Week, which kicks off at 9 p.m. Sunday!

And because I can’t help but bring in the environmental angle…

My greatest fear in life — besides attending a Creed concert — is death by shark attack. (Yes, I know I’m more likely to be killed by a vending machine or a left-handed person using right-handed equipment.) But despite this insane fear, I worry about the little sharkies. I really do.

A report came out this week that threatened shark species are being found in soups in cities across the United States. Up to 73 million sharks are killed each year to satisfy demand for shark fin soup. Bowls of the soup can sell for around $100 in a restaurant, which is absurd. Imagine how many vegan Shark Week cupcakes you could make with that money!

So skip the shark fin soup and whip up some yummy cruelty-free cupcakes. Besides, studies show that people who eat shark fin soup are *85 percent more likely to be eaten by a great white.

*I might have made up this statistic.

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Make your own dishwasher detergent

It’s been a while since I made a new DIY post, so here’s my latest project: dishwasher detergent.

It’s so simple — much easier than my soap recipe or even the DIY deodorant.

 

 

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • 1 cup borax (natural disinfectant)
  • 1 cup baking soda (natural disinfectant)
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt (reduces effect of hard water)
  • 2 packets lemonade-flavored Kool-Aid, unsweetened (Citric acid is the main ingredient in these powdered packets, and it removes hard water stains. You can also buy citric acid from a place that sells brewing ingredients, but I think Kool-Aid is much easier to come by.)

Simply mix these ingredients together and you’ve got homemade dishwasher detergent! Add 2 tablespoons to the detergent compartment just as you would with store-bought detergent.

I’ve only used this mixture twice on my own dishes, but the results have been the same as with the Seventh Generation detergent I was using previously so I’ll keep using it. I also plan to try adding 1/2 a cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle because I’ve heard that really makes your dishes come out sparkly clean.

Happy dish washing!

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Goodbye, detergent. Hello, soapnuts!

A few months ago I used up the last of my eco-friendly laundry detergent and bought some soapnuts as part of my ongoing quest to eliminate plastic from life. I’d considered making my own detergent, but I’d read a lot about soapnuts and their many uses, so I thought I’d give them a try.

For those who aren’t familiar with these amazing little things, soapnuts are berries that grow on small trees and shrubs in Asia. The pulpy insides contain saponins, which are a natural surfactant.

You can buy a large bag of soapnuts for just a few dollars, and they last quite a long time depending on how you use them. We’ve been using them in place of laundry detergent for about four months now and have barely put a dent in the bag, and I’ve also created an all-purpose cleaning solution with them by boiling them.

As for the laundry process, it’s ridiculously simple.

1. Crack the soapnuts if they’re not already open. If you need assistance with this step, cats are quite helpful.

2. Place five to six soapnuts in a small cloth bag.

3. Drop the bag into the washing machine with your laundry.

4. Again, ask a cat for help if this is your first time, and then run the wash as normal.

Soapnuts don’t really have a smell, but they leave your clothes with a rather fresh, clean scent. In fact, a friend of mine has started using them in the wash because she has sensitive skin and often has an allergic reaction to even unscented detergents.

Soapnuts have a variety of uses other than laundry though. Like I said, I’ve used them to make my own all-natural cleaner, and I’m tempted to try them out as a shampoo or insect repellant soon.

No chemicals! No plastic bottle! (Remember: Plastic can’t be recycled!) Plus, fun with the cat!

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Unique, eco-friendly bookshelves

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I love creative reuse and inventive DIY projects — and I love books. So I took a quick look around the Web and pulled together some of the coolest and most unusual bookshelves with eco-elements. Enjoy!

Bookshelf made from books

Along those same lines, here’s an invisible bookshelf. (Check out the DIY tutorial here.)

Shelving to die for! These custom-made shelves transform into a coffin (go here for pricing) and help offset the energy- and resource-intensive process of building a typical coffin. Besides, you’re not going to need the bookshelf after you’re gone, right? If you’re looking for a better way to be as green in life as you were in death, check out my Huffington Post article on eco-burials.

Block shelf is made from salvaged wood and sailing rope.

Naturally, my favorite bookshelf is the AMAZING Cat-Library that comes with stairs for your feline to walk up and a built-in basket for cat naps. I. Want. It. Check out this video of Cat-Library in action.

If you happen to have an old Jag lying around — as so many of us do — it can also double as a library. (I guess it’s better than driving it around and emitting greenhouse gases.)

And it’s not quite a bookshelf, but if you’re ready to retire your stripper shoes, you can always turn them into some classy-looking bookends — or pay $150 for this one.

Know of any other awesome, eco-friendly bookshelves? Please share!

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Vegetarian taco soup

I hesitate calling this a recipe because really it’s just the one time I eschew fresh produce and dump a bunch of canned goods into the crock-pot, but every time I make it, people ask for the recipe so I thought I’d share.

This is my go-to meal when I’m lazy, running low on cash or it’s cold outside (you know, below 60 in Atlanta). Enjoy!

 

Vegetarian Taco Soup

Ingredients

1 bag Morningstar crumbles (or another “beef” alternative)
2 cans Rotel or 2 cans diced tomatoes/peppers (I usually use one of each)
2 cans black beans
1-2 cans white corn
1 jar salsa
1 packet taco seasoning
Chili powder, cumin and any other spices you like

Directions

Pour all the cans into the pot without draining them to make the “broth.” It’s a pretty thick soup so you can add a cup of water if you want to make it more soupy. Spice the soup as you like (I typically add so much chili powder that it makes my eyes water) and then stir it a few times as it warms. This soup requires very little effort, but if you’re feeling ambitious, chop up some fresh peppers or onions and drop them in!

When I serve taco soup, I’ll usually add a little shredded cheese or sour cream on top, and sometimes I just dip tortilla chips in it. I’m going to go heat up a bowl now actually…

DIY projects for the bookish

It may seem just plain wrong to rip the pages from a book’s binding or replace literary genius with potting soil, but you have to admit that some of these DIY projects are pretty amazing. Makes me want to get crafty!

Upcycled book purse

Book planters

More cute book planters

Literary clock

Book tote

I’m not nearly as talented as the makers of those upcyled items (How awesome is that Lolita purse!?), but I did start a little bookish DIY project of my own a few months ago. I came across a tattered copy of “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” at a thrift store and remembered the old chair that my brother didn’t have room for in his apartment so…

I’m making a Harry Potter chair! Of course, the chair has been untouched since last fall … I could’ve captured and domesticated a hippogriff in the time it’s taking me to finish this project.

Have you ever gotten crafty with your books?

 

Vegan strawberry cake

I decided to bake my mom a birthday cake on Friday before I made the trip to my hometown of Greenville, S.C., to visit her. Of course, now that I’m on a DIY kick and shun most processed food, I had to bake the cake myself. From scratch. And vegan.

My mom loves strawberry cake with cream cheese icing, so I decided to attempt it. Vegan cream cheese? No, not quite. While the actual cake is vegan, and while I used vegan butter for the icing, I did use real cream cheese. It’s my mother’s birthday cake after all. My very Southern mother who kindly quit throwing ham bones into the green beans and cooking casseroles with cream of chicken soup  when I became a vegetarian 14 years ago.

So I scoured the web for a good strawberry cake recipe and ended up creating a recipe of my very own, which means I attempted to bake a cake from scratch for the very first time without any guarantee that my recipe would even work. Luckily, it did.

And it was delicious. I have dreams about this cake. I would actually sleep between warm layers of freshly baked vegan strawberry cake if I could! And I’m going to share this wonderful recipe with you.

Vegan strawberry cake

Ingredients
3 cups self-rising flour
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cups pureed organic strawberries, strained*
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Egg replacer equivalent of 4 large eggs, beaten
*red or pink food coloring

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray three 8-by-2-inch round cake pans
2. Stir together flour, sugar, oil, pureed strawberries, vanilla and eggs replacer
3. Divide batter evenly among oiled pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes, rotating the pans periodically to ensure they bake evenly. A toothpick should come out clean when inserted into the middle of the cakes, and the top should spring back when gently pressed.
4. Let cakes cool and then flip them upside down, remove pans, and allow them to cool on the other side.
5. Prepare the frosting and ice cake layers.

* Strawberry cakes often call for strawberry gelatin, which gives the cake a pinkish color; however, gelatin isn’t vegan. Instead, you can add a few drops of red or pink food coloring to give your cake a brighter pink color.

Not-so-vegan cream cheese frosting

Ingredients

8oz softened cream cheese
1/2 cup Earth Balance butter
1 tsp. vanilla
3 cups confectioners sugar

Directions

1. Combine cream cheese, butter, sugar and vanilla in a bowl and beat until smooth. Beat cream cheese and butter together until smooth.
2. Add a little bit of soy milk if you want thinner icing and beat again.

Happy birthday, Mom!

Homemade deodorant recipe

I did a little experiment in homemade hygiene this weekend.

You see, I ran out of deodorant and I’d promised myself that when that happened, I’d attempt to make my own and (hopefully) never buy another plastic-packaged stick of deodorant again. While I mixed up a basic concoction of baking soda and cornstarch for our last backpacking trip to save weight and space in my pack, let’s just say that applying a white powder to one’s underarms from a Ziploc bag is not the easiest thing to do — plus, traveling with an unmarked plastic bag of white powder isn’t wise.

I recently wrote an article on deodorant alternatives after being inspired by one of my favorite blogs, so I feel pretty well-informed on the subject of DIY deodorant and was able to concoct my own recipe.

Ingredients

1/4 cup baking soda
1/3 cup corn starch
4 tablespoons coconut oil
5 drops essential oil

Directions

Pour baking soda and corn starch into a bowl and mix together. Add the coconut oil and mix into a paste. Add a few drops of the essential oil of your choice. (I used a mix of orange and grapefruit.) Scoop the mixture into an empty deodorant stick and then place in the fridge for 10 minutes to set.
It looks like deodorant, it smells like deodorant, and it seems to be doing the trick! For those of you who think I’m an outright nut for doing this, here’s the lowdown on typical deodorants from the article I cited earlier:
While some people are worried about common deodorant chemicals like parabens, formaldehyde and triclosan, most concerns focus on aluminum, the ingredient in antiperspirant that blocks pores and fights wetness. Aluminum is rumored to be linked to breast cancer and other diseases; however, the National Cancer Institute says this research is inconclusive. In addition to these potential health risks, aluminum mining is also destructive and polluting.And for those of you who live with me, work with me or one day get trapped in an elevator with me, don’t worry. Here’s how the DIY deodorant works: The baking soda combats odor, the corn starch fights wetness, and the essential oils make my underarms smell like a freshly cut orange. Plus, that original stick of deodorant will stay out of the landfill — and that’s what’s most important.
**Update 1: For the first week the deodorant was pretty crumbly and I was rethinking my wonderful recipe. However, after 5-7 days, it more fully solidified and now goes on just like any other stick deodorant. Honestly, it’s the best deodorant I’ve ever used, but I recommend adding a few more drops of essential oil because it starts to lose its scent over time.

**Update 2: I’ve made this deodorant twice more since my first attempt and now that I kind of have a feel for it, I just watch the consistency as I stir. Once it’s thick, but still a little soupy, I know it’s good and I pour it in the tube. I no longer have any problems with crumbliness. My suggestion is to make sure it’s not too thick before you stick it in the fridge.

Homemade vegan cheese crackers

I spent some time in the kitchen this weekend and cooked up something yummy…

Now, I don’t mean to brag, but I really do make the world’s most delicious cheese crackers. Not only are they eat-the-entire-batch-in-one-sitting good, they’re also ridiculously easy to make and they contain just six ingredients. Pick up a box of Cheez-Its and you’re looking at almost 30 ingredients — many that are difficult, if not impossible, to pronounce.

You could try to duplicate the Cheez-It recipe, but for those of you who don’t have “partially hydrogenated soybean oil with TBHQ” on hand, or who are sick of all that toxic plastic packaging, try mine:

Ingredients

1 stick of room temperature butter (I always use Earth Balance spread, which is a healthier, vegan option)
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese (I used Daiya vegan cheddar this time.)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 325°.
2. Mix all ingredients in a food processor.
3. Pour mixture onto a lightly floured surface and roll the dough into a thin layer, roughly 1/8 of an inch thick. (If the dough is too loose and not sticking, let it sit in the refrigerator for a few minutes. If your rolling pin is sticking to the dough, simply flour it as well.)
4. Cut the crackers with a pizza cutter or knife, or if you want to get all fancy, use small cookie cutters to make your own shapes.
6. Place the crackers on a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake for about 10 minutes or until the edges of the crackers start to lightly brown.
7. Let crackers cool.
8. Devour them.
9. Never buy a box of packaged cheese crackers again.

Being domestic (like a cat)

I’ve been on a total DIY kick lately. Why? Partly because I hate plastic packaging. Why must everything be packaged in a material that’s toxic both to us and the planet?

And partly because I don’t want to be the kind of person who relies on corporations to make the things that I need to survive. Right now, if I want bread, soap, beer, etc., I have to go to the store and then fork over my hard-earned money for the product — but, let’s be honest, my money is mostly paying for the packaging. (Watch this.) And in the event of natural disaster/zombie apocalypse/whatever, I’d rather not brave the local Kroger and fight off looters for that loaf of bread. I should be able to make it myself.

But mostly I want to learn to do this stuff because I think it’s pretty damn cool. My grandparents were part of the Depression generation and grew up gardening, making soap and darning clothes. My mom made bread from scratch and hemmed my skirts. What does my generation do? We buy shampoo at stores, hire people to alter our clothes, buy fruits and vegetables that have traveled thousands of miles (coated in pesticides) to arrive in the Publix produce section. (Well, not all of us. I’m sure many of you could totally DIY school me.)

DIYing/homesteading/whatever you want to call it is a lost art. It’s going to be a slow process, but I want to learn how to (selectively) do some of these things on my own because it’s fun and even empowering in a way. So I plan to master soap making (without inhaling lye again) and learn to make biscuits from scratch (ones that don’t look like pancakes this time), but I’ll overlook certain skills — namely, animal slaughter.

(Seriously, I bought a few how-to books that cover everything from making vinegar to building cabins, and they all contain sections on how to gut goats and kill chickens! Not my thing. I stand by vegetarianism and veganism as the healthiest and kindest life choices.)

So here’s what I’ve been up to.

Homemade sourdough bread from scratch: A+

I think my high grade on this skill is mostly due to the fact that my mother has been making this bread since the late 80s. I honestly didn’t know there was such thing as a breadmaker until a few years ago when Cody mentioned that he had one growing up. (I guess I technically did, too, but the breadmaker was my mother.)

Mom gave me some bread starter a few months ago, and I’ve been feeding it every few days, but I finally got around to attempting my own loaves last weekend. I’m not a big bread eater, but there’s something about hot, homemade sourdough fresh from the oven that just makes you devour an entire loaf…

Or maybe it’s the fact that after feeding the yeast, waiting 12 hours, mixing the dough, letting it rise for 12 hours, making the loaves, letting them rise for four hours, and then finally baking the bread, that just makes you damn hungry. Anyway, I don’t mean to brag, but it was amazing. I win at bread baking.

Home-brewed beer: B-

Cody and I actually attempted a pale ale in January because he got me a beer-brewing kit for Christmas. We cheated a bit because we used a can of hopped malt extract, but we followed the directions, let it ferment and then bottled it. It wasn’t bad. Just a bit flat, not exactly carbonated.

We’re hoping the carbonation error had something to do with the fact that our house was about 40 degrees back then. We live in a beautiful old house that lacks luxuries like insulation, but we’re becoming homeowners and moving very soon into a house that’s every girl’s dream: We’re talking insulation, a dishwasher, a garbage disposal. Oh, yeah. It’s deluxe. So we’ll try the beer again soon and hope that a regulated, normal temperature will help the brew along.

Homemade soap: We’ll see…

I dragged Cody around the city today in an attempt to find lye, and I’m not going to “lye” — it wasn’t easy to find. I was finally victorious at a locally owned hardware store that sells lye as a drain opener. I mixed the lye and water on the front porch in my soap-making outfit: sweatpants, sweatshirt, fuzzy bear slippers, ski goggles and rubber gloves. I looked HOT…but that might have been because it was over 90 in Atlanta today.

I probably overdid it on the safety front by trying to hold my breath during the water/lye mixing process. Naturally, I failed and took a big breath of lye-infused air, which made my throat burn. So far I haven’t noticed any bleeding or holes in my trachea so I’m going to count that as a win.

I followed a recipe for castile soap that I found in “Making It: Radical Home-Ec for a Post-Consumer World,” and mixed the water/lye mixture, olive oil and essential oils in a blender. I then poured the mixture into a milk carton a la the author’s suggestion and it’s currently sitting in my kitchen.

I don’t really feel like a professional soap maker since I was wearing my grizzly bear slippers and Cody’s bright orange ski goggles while pouring soap into a Silk carton, but if the soap turns out OK (in about four weeks), I can overlook the fact that I looked like a complete idiot.

Home-cooked vegan meal: A-

I cook fairly often, but I can’t really say I cook from 100-percent scratch. However, I did Thursday night. The menu was also 100-percent vegan. (I never eat meat, eggs or milk, but I occasionally indulge in some dairy so the vegan baking/cooking thing is still a learning experience for me.)

The menu: vegan “meat”loaf, mashed potatoes, broccoli, biscuits and gravy (for Cody — the man loves biscuits and gravy)

I found a few veggie meatloaf recipes on the web and then mixed and matched them until I found something I thought might turn out not-too-disgusting. The result? Surprisingly delicious! My roommate ate a lot of it and said it was great, but I’ve heard stories of his eating out of trashcans so I’m not sure if that’s the best test of my culinary skills. I really liked it, though.

Cody’s opinion? Well, I persuaded him to try a teeny tiny bite from the middle and he said it was OK. (I’d topped the meatloaf in ketchup, which is his kryptonite, so that was the best I could hope for.)

The mashed potatoes and broccoli were a breeze — how do you screw those up? The biscuits, on the other hand, were a bit more of a struggle. I’ve never made biscuits before, but I found the least-complicated recipe I could and gave it a shot. I needed two cups of all-purpose flour, but I had just 1 3/4 and when I went to get another bag of flour I realized I had wheat flour, bread flour and self-rising flour, but no more all-purpose. So I tossed in some self-rising and hoped for the best.

While I’d like to blame the flour, I think the fact that my biscuits came out looking more like silver dollar pancakes was because I rolled the dough out way too thin. The recipe called for half an inch and I clearly have no concept of that depth — hence, very flat biscuits. On the bright side, at least they tasted like biscuits!

Well, I made soap today and mixed up bread dough — in addition to buying this sweet “Pray for CATL” R.Land art — so I’m exhausted. I need a bubble bath, some YA lit and a bottle of the yummy Wild Heaven Invocation I bought today. (On the bright side, I’m probably still covered in some combination of olive oil and lye so I might not need to use any of my Lush bubble bath bar.)

But if you’re interested in my meatloaf or biscuit recipes, click “Read the rest of this entry.”

And if you want the sourdough bread recipe, let me know and I’ll email it your way. (I’m not ambitious enough to type that one out, but don’t let that deter you — it’s really pretty simple.) I can do the same with the soap recipe, but I recommend we wait until we see how mine turns out before I go spreading it around.

*Yes, that is me as a “domestic” cat for Halloween. Cat ears and tail + apron and feather duster = DIY costume!

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