28 April 2011

Reconnecting

My three weeks without refined sugar, coffee, and alcohol have ended, but I still plan to moderate my consumption of those items. Quick-fix diets and the like don't appeal to me; the cleanse was merely a way to jump start what I intend to be a more healthy lifestyle in general, both physically and emotionally. As with so many aspects of the accepting the human condition, my journey in self-care is a work in progress.

That said, I couldn't resist marking the end of the cleanse with a good, old-fashioned baking marathon. My few attempts at baking sans refined flour, sugar, and unnecessary fats didn't turn out particularly well, so I was eager to get back to more familiar baking grounds. To be perfectly honest, I basically turned toward the other extreme--let's just say more than a few tablespoons of oil and sugar made their way into a variety (read: several batches) of goodies--but not completely without efforts to make somewhat healthier alterations when achieving balance between flavor, texture, and nutrition was possible. Nosediving from my relatively healthy perch into essentially a vortex of unhealthy indulgences sounded painful, so it was not too difficult to resist the siren song of a table blanketed in sweets. I only took a nibble here and there just to be certain the items were indeed worth sharing with other people, keeping very few leftovers in the house at the end of it all.

This brings me to confession number two: I've been somewhat of a recluse lately. (You'll see the connection shortly.) While you, dear readers, can find me intermittently trolling around and contributing to Twitter and Tumblr regularly--whatever those musings are worth--various aspects about life lately have pushed me into a direction of increasing solitude in terms of communicating with my "real-life" friends. My absence in that other, mostly separate part of my social life--the realm of non-Internet-based relationships--collided with personal insecurities to become a situation born of self-doubt, avoidance, and neglect.

I don't know if I've done something for which I must apologize (I may just be too concerned with people-pleasing) or if anyone was feeling the weight of my absence (not that I'm a real source of support in anyone's life), but after a month of aloof interaction (if any) with my closest friends--for whom I normally show my love and concern in obvious ways--I decided it was time to let them know that I'm thinking of them. What better way to show I care than with care packages filled with homemade goodies? The project happened to coincide with the end of my cleanse and Easter weekend (read: secular family time), hence the ridiculous array of sweets I mentioned earlier.

Enough venting. Let's talk food, shall we? I spent nearly all of Sunday in the kitchen, whipping up goods to mail off to long-distance loved ones the following morning. Have a peek at what I made.

Candied pecans. I love those sugar-coated almonds hawked at street fairs. My mom used to make something similar, using pecans mixed with whipped egg whites and sugar. Obviously, egg whites have no place in my kitchen, but vegan egg replacer powder does make an occasional appearance. It worked beautifully as a binding agent for the pecans and turbinado; baking the pecans at a low temperature allowed a crisp, sugary coating to develop. A touch of ground cinnamon added the perfect amount of spice.
Chocolate-hazelnut truffles (vegan Baci, or "kisses"). One of my dearest friends absolutely adores Baci, a well-known Italian confection that, like too many candies, is not suitable for vegan consumption. I tasted one once during my pre-vegan days, recalling that I did like this rather simple chocolate hazelnut ball. Remaking this classically delicious flavor combination in vegan-friendly terms was quite easy. Each vegan "kiss" featured a homemade gianduja ganache-like center dotted with crushed, toasted hazelnuts, crowned with a toasted whole hazelnut. The whole thing is then drenched in melted dark chocolate. The end result is as tasty as it sounds.
Almond matcha chunk cookies. Several days prior to going on this baking bender, this post inspired me to turn some still-to-be-used vegan white chocolate chips into matcha chunks that would eventually end up in cookies. I adapted the Cherry Almond Cookie recipe from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, reducing the amount of oil and substituting whole wheat pastry flour for all-purpose and matcha chunks and sliced almonds for dried cherries and slivered almonds, respectively. The matcha is difficult to detect, but the finished cookies tasted fine, boasting the crisp, chewy, creamy, crunchy textural elements I hoped to achieve.
Alfajores. I first made a batch of these South American cookies back in January and have further adapted the cookie dough a few times since then. I typically use a combination of vegan mayonnaise and powdered egg replacer as egg yolk substitutes, both for richness and aesthetic appeal, and use rum and a small amount of vanilla extract to replace the cognac (which I never have on hand). These rich sandwich cookies are sweet and just melt in the mouth in a most pleasing way. I didn't snap a photo of the cookies themselves, so you'll have to bear with a money shot of just the filling instead.
Barbadian Coconut Turnovers. I wanted to include some sort of yeast-risen bread in my care packages and thought of these coconut-filled buns that were such a hit during recipe testing for Caribbean Vegan. I adapted the recipe slightly by substituting some of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour. Unfortunately, I lazily crammed the shaped dough into a single pan rather than giving them more space in two separate pans, so not only did the dough not have enough room to rise neatly, poor timing when coordinating oven usage (this was Easter Sunday in a busy kitchen) caused a delay in baking the turnovers; this resulted in over-risen, misshapen buns whose filling oozed out the bottom. But the mess didn't affect the taste, which was as good as when I made the turnovers the proper way. It would have been nice to send my friends perfectly sealed buns, but hell, if these people can handle a cinnamon roll or sticky bun, they should have no problem enjoying a delicious coconut turnover, even if it does have a gooey bottom.
Brown Rice Krispy Treats. The success of my first batch of this Simple Treats creation encouraged me to give the recipe another go. As the cookbook's title suggests, this snack really is simple and easy to make. I adapted the recipe slightly by reducing the amount of oil, cooking the syrups to the soft ball stage, adding vanilla extract, and mixing in a handful of chopped Dandies vegan marshmallows. These nostalgia-inducing treats are usually well-received and easy to pack, so off they went, save for a few reserved for Sunday's family gathering. Sorry, I didn't photograph these treats, nor did I think to snap any shots of the entire, sugary assortment of goods.

Whether my mission to share edible delights was prompted by actual need or simply by some irrational feelings of guilt on my part, I always enjoy occasionally surprising friends with gifts. I'm known to pull some Martha Stewart craftiness every now and then, and no one has ever minded (especially when the projects turn out well). I just hope the packages arrive soon and intact. Receiving a box filled with melted chocolate and stale cookies would be a messy way to represent my post-cleanse baking extravaganza and reemergence in the social world.

2 comments:

  1. That baci looks so, sooooo good. I've had my share of milk chocolate this Easter -- I could DEFINITELY go for some dark chocolate. And your matcha chunks look awesome! Looks like a perfect end to the non-sugar marathon!

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