August is always my most activity-filled month of the summer. Up until a few years ago, this time of the season marked the homestretch toward another school year (no longer a factor at the moment, but with grad school potentially part of my future down the road, the phenomenon may, yet again, materialize). It has and always will be a particularly celebratory time of the year; everyone and his brother--including at least a quarter of my friends--seems to have been born during August, and more and more of my peers have given birth or are due this month. So maybe the unconscious acknowledgement of the August birthday onslaught was what eventually prompted me to begin this blog one year ago.
When I began writing Bread Without Butter, I merely wanted to create a forum for me to combine my love for cooking and writing. I wasn't sure that it would last for very long, but I'm glad that it has; through writing this blog, I have realized how diverse and endlessly fascinating food can be and that writing of any kind actually does have the power to keep me (relatively) sane. Even better still, I have been able to connect with some truly wonderful readers and fellow bloggers, from whom I continue to learn new things daily. It has really been a treat, and I thank you all for making it so. Perhaps this time next year I'll be marking another year of food musings. For now, I'll just enjoy the ride and see where it takes me...
Despite this one-year milestone, I didn't think the occasion warranted another homemade cake or likewise symbolic, celebratory confection. I've had plenty of that so far anyway, what with a few friends' birthdays occurring in a cluster during the last week-and-a-half. My kitchen certainly has seen its fair share of sweets recently, with more to come as the milestones continue. In the spirit of celebration, I'll share some of that sugary goodness here.
I baked this in honor of a long-distance friend's birthday. (He didn't actually eat any of it; baking it was more of a symbolic gesture, a bit of a weird habit I've developed to compensate for my physical absence for my loved ones' significant occasions.) This is the rosewater variation of Veganomicon's Vanilla Yogurt Poundcake recipe. I substituted whole wheat pastry flour for some of the all-purpose flour, reduced the sugar by 1/4 cup, and added 1/4 teaspoon almond extract. The cake was perfectly sweet with the slightest hint of floral essence.
I preferred eating the cake plain, but thought I'd see how it looked and tasted with some adornment. Sugared pistachios and rosewater icing did, indeed, put it a little on the saccharine side, but the nutty and floral flavors complemented that of the cake itself. It was a little more festive and visually interesting, too.
My favorite way of eating the poundcake was by individual, dry-toasted slice. Toasting the slices crisped the sides beautifully while keeping the interior soft and moist.
Roll-and-Cut Sugar Cookies
I baked these using the recipe from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, topping a few of them with lemon icing. They tasted just like my mom's non-vegan sugar cookies, which I loved baking, decorating, and eating as a child. I sent a few to another out-of-town friend for her birthday this past weekend, and she loved them!
These also went to the birthday girl. I had made vegan truffles only once prior to this most recent round, but I wanted to try a recipe that didn't require tofu or additional sugar. Consulting this recipe, I soaked the cashews first for an hour or so to ensure that they would blend smoothly, and used semisweet Belgian chocolate. One half-batch consisted of plain truffles coated in cocoa powder blended with a touch of powdered sugar, while the other half-batch was comprised of toasted almond-coated amaretto truffles. For those, rather than blending the cashews with water, I blended them with amaretto liqueur. They had a distinctly nutty flavor that I loved, but on future truffle-making ventures, I may either reduce the alcohol to half the amount (replacing the other half with water) or add a sweetener to temper the boozy punch.
This was the last of the sweet treats I sent to the equally sweet birthday girl. They probably softened quite a bit during their overnight journey up the coast (along with the truffles), but I'm sure (at least I hope) they were still delectable. The smell alone of these little morsels of delight--another fantastic 500 Vegan Recipes creation--is pretty amazing. They're a lovely mixture of coffee and caramel flavors rolled into one sticky-sweet package. I still have about half of the batch in my freezer (out of sight so that I won't devour them all at once) and am contemplating what I might make from them. I'm thinking cookies will be in order sometime down the road.
To add to the positive theme of the post, Zoa over at The Airy Way (a wonderful blog I always enjoy reading) recently handed me a Happy 101 award. Thanks, Zoa! I appreciate and am flattered by the nod. I'm glad this humble blog of mine has sparked some interest and I'll continue to do my best not to bore all of you! As the award consists of its recipients each listing 10 things that make them happy, I took the opportunity to reflect upon what brightens my day-to-day, which is in line with my very introspective nature. I happen to be yet another shy recipient, but I'll share my Happy 10 with you, because it never hurts to spread the joy.
So here are 10 things (some are more like categories) that I am happy to have in my life, unnumbered and randomly ordered:
Coffee and tea - I am far from being a caffeinated beverage connoisseur, but I do know that I love good, hot, strong, black coffee (and the occasional vegan latte), preferably of non-Starbucks origin. My last two years at university consisted of a great deal of coffee-drinking, thanks in large part to my circle of friends consisting heavily of baristas. I love a hot mug of tea, too. In fact, green tea comprises at least half of my beverage intake during a typical day. Mind you, I don't need all of this caffeine to function normally; I apparently just really enjoy the stuff.
Family and friends - Having returned to my hometown since graduating from university, I have spent a large amount of time with my immediate family. As I would imagine is the case with many people, I am occasionally annoyed by them (as they almost certainly are with me), even angered, but in the end, I still love them and am grateful for their presence in my life. The same goes for my friends, the closest of whom are actually living far enough away so that congregating with any one of them is a pretty rare occurrence. Thankfully, technology enables us to still take somewhat active parts in each other lives via emails, texts, and Facebook (the one good thing about social networking being the ability to stay connected with true friends). And blogging allows me to connect with friends in the blogosphere (like you guys!). I may occasionally gripe about the seemingly depersonalizing effects of gradually digitizing every aspect of human interaction, but for that which allows me to interact meaningfully with humanity, I am quite appreciative. Bottom line: knowing good people makes me happy.
Music - This is yet another thing I just cannot live without. It makes me smile to partake in the musical talents of various friends, to bask in a stranger's gentle plucking of a Spanish guitar, or dance unabashedly to an upbeat tune. I used to be very picky about the types of music I listened to when I was younger, but nowadays, my tastes have broadened. Along the same lines as the music itself, singing also makes me happy. My mom has always had a lovely singing voice, apparently inherited from my late grandmother, so I suppose that for me, it is a natural reaction to a familiar tune, although my shyness allows me to catch myself before doing this too much in public.
Silence - As much as I enjoy music, I prize silence. Especially when life seems particularly hectic and disorientating, I crave and need silence. It creates a private space for mindfulness, thinking clearly, bringing one into the present.
Visual arts - This includes photography, film, painting, etc. I'm not particularly well-versed in any facet of this artistic realm, but I very much appreciate others' artistry, and I feel like I'm fortunate to be surrounded, inspired, and transported by it.
Handmade, homemade goods - In our increasingly assembly-line manufactured world, it is always a delight to know that there are people out there who still lovingly create things by hand. Cooking on a small scale is a good example of this. I just love the inherent uniqueness of handmade items and truly appreciate the time and effort put into bringing something to life with one's own hands. Sure, I don't mind machine-made goods, but there is so much more personality behind those created from scratch and with that human touch.
Acts of kindness of any size - Small gestures, such as a stranger pausing to hold to the door open for someone, remind me of the bright side of human nature. When people seem petty and the world, tough and scary, those little things help to ease my anxiety and cynicism. As I write this, I think fondly of the elderly, dog-walking couple with whom I exchange greetings whenever we cross paths during my morning run. They never fail so say "good morning" with broad smiles, and it always instantaneously warms my heart and gets me over the most difficult part of my run.
Words and language - I may ere toward brevity when it comes to verbal exchange--I'm shy, a little awkward, and picky about the words I use--but I tend to be wordy when it comes to writing. I think it's just that I love words and etymology so much. Knowing the ancient Greek and Latin roots of words has this way of bringing me joy, and I don't know why. I suppose that for someone like me who enjoys writing and has many reasons for doing it, words themselves and the languages they represent are more than just letters; they were created specifically to convey our complex thoughts and emotions (attractive for my overly-analytical mind) and feature nearly limitless ways of arranging them. I love that sort of breadth of creativity.
Travel - I have not had much opportunity to travel, abroad or domestically, but I've generally liked my experiences. Learning about history, culture, and people through travel is endlessly fascinating, thoroughly enjoyable, and invaluable. And I do seem to learn something new each time I find myself outside of my region of residence, and I sense that having those little epiphanies and knowledge enriches my life, even if I can't quite pinpoint how or why. But the fact that I'm experiencing and learning, gaining more than one perspective on any given topic, should be enough to make me happy. Hopefully, my life can one day accommodate more practical opportunities for travel.
Nature - I love being outdoors, especially out in the smog-free air of a remote beach, lush forest, or quiet mountaintop. Having lived in suburban settings all my life, in which the houses are still mass-produced to look almost eerily similar to one another and the streets are paved and lined with automobiles, I probably have more ready access to a green plot of land than individuals residing in urban sprawls, but my surroundings are still more man-made than nature-made. So I've developed a fondness and appreciation for unspoiled earth and am thankful that there are places in which such a thing still exists.
Whew. Thanks for enduring this unusually lengthy post! And now is the time to pass along the Happy 101 award. I read and enjoy so many fabulous blogs (consider this my big, blog-love shout out), making it difficult to narrow down my selection. So I'll just mention (in no particular order) a few bloggers out there to whom I will pass along the love, with absolutely no pressure to do anything with the award if that's not really your thing.
Jessy at happyveganface
Jeni at Heathen Vegan
Laura Jill at LJ's Veganlicious Life
Affectioknit at Affectioknit
Alicia at Vegan Epicurean
Mihl at seitan is my motor
Morgan at Little House of Veggies
To anyone still reading: please know that all of you guys are awesome, and make the blogosphere oh-so-nice!