As a vegan, I don’t miss the meat nearly as much as I miss the sweet stuff: ice cream, brownies, cake, buttercream!
But, don’t worry. I wouldn’t let veganism stand in the way of my sweet tooth. So, today I’m sharing with you my three favorite homemade vegan sweets. These treats are so easy to whip up and only use a handful of natural ingredients.
Vegan dessert options are still pretty rare and/or pricey. So, if I want a vegan dessert, I have to make it myself, unless I want to pay $5 for a pint of dairy-free, calorie-bomb ice cream [which, I’ve definitely done] or some other specialty vegan product. But the truth is, making sweets myself is more rewarding and also free of all the additional junk in processed foods.
These three desserts require very few ingredients and varying degrees of effort. Let’s start with the easy one.
Easy: Vegan No-Bake Brownies
Brownies are pretty much the best things ever baked [in my opinion, anyway], which makes these vegan no-bake brownies the best things ever…not baked. They aren’t an exact replica of a traditional brownie, but they are really frickin’ good! They are nutty, gooey, chocolatey, and that ganache is the perfect sweet topping.
The ingredients for the brownie bit are: walnuts, almonds, dates, cacao powder [or cocoa], and salt. You basically throw everything into a blender under it gets all gooey and then press it into a dish and refrigerate. [I’m oversimplifying a teensy bit, but that’s the gist.] Doesn’t get much simpler [or natural] than that!
[Actually it does get simpler, if you read on to the next recipes, but never mind that for now.]
The ganache has almond milk, dark chocolate chips [I always buy the allergy friendly or certified vegan chocolate chips], salt, coconut oil, and powdered sugar.
The recipe is from the Minimalist Baker, and you can find it here. I don’t change anything, except I once swapped the walnuts for pecans and they were still delicious.
Side note: these are a pricey dessert to make due to the nuts and dates – but totally worth it! They are also high in calories [because nuts have a lot of good fat]. I’m a strong believer in the idea that if I put in the work to make something from scratch, then I deserve to enjoy the fruits of my labor guilt-free. [Though I still limit the quantity.] Whereas, buying an overpriced, mystery-ingredient-filled vegan dessert from the grocery store just isn’t as satisfying.
Easier: Vegan Coconut Macaroons
Not to be confused with macarons [which can also be made vegan, but would never, ever by any human being be described as easy], these vegan macaroons are little bits of coconut and chocolate heaven. Of course, I love coconut. If you don’t like coconut, just skip down to the next sweet treat [but know that you’re missing out on all the goodness that coconut products offer to us vegans].
Most vegan macaroon recipes call for aquafaba, which I always have, but never feel like using because it requires all that beating. It’s quite time consuming. I wanted something simpler than that…and I found it.
Over at mindfulavocado.com, Amanda provided a super simple macaroon recipe, which I now use to satisfy all my coconut cravings. You can find the full recipe here, but I did modify this one to make it even more simple. Basically, all I do is mix together sweetened coconut flakes [you could pulse in a blender to make them finer, if you prefer], almond flour, maple syrup, a pinch of salt and enough almond milk to make it come together into a thick “batter” of sorts. Then I spoon it onto my silicone baking mat in little ball shapes and bake them at 275° for about 30 minutes [sometimes longer, check frequently.] Then once they are cooled, I dip and drizzle with melted dark chocolate chips.
And they are so good. Slightly chewy, slightly crispy, with the touch of dark chocolate.
Easiest: Vegan Peanut Butter Cups
No matter what shape you prefer, these are sooooo good. And quite frankly, I don’t know why everyone else puts butter and vegetable shortening in them!!! Why complicate matters when you can make these with three ingredients and like two minutes [excluding freezer time]?!?
So, there is no recipe for these treats – which, by the way, are my absolute favorite. It’s too simple for a recipe.
All you need is peanut butter, powdered sugar, and chocolate chips.
Some side notes about these ingredients:
1. The peanut butter needs to be natural peanut butter. And, by that, I mean that the only ingredient in it is peanuts [and maybe salt] – that’s it! No one should be eating that weird oily smooth peanut butter that Jiff is selling anyway. What the heck is that stuff? It’s definitely not peanut butter. But, anyway, I digress. I make my own peanut butter using peanuts and a blender [Ninja], but you can find a jar of natural peanut butter at the grocery store you just have to read the label. Many jars say “natural” and they still have sugars, oils, and god knows what else in them.
[Ok, sorry about that. I’m passionate about peanut butter.]
2. Chocolate chips should be vegan if you are vegan, but if you are not vegan you can use any chocolate chips you want and you will still LOVE THESE PEANUT BUTTER CUPS! I mean, I have yet to meet a human who doesn’t like chocolate peanut butter cups. [Obviously, a peanut allergy will prevent some people from having these…and I am just so so sorry.]
Now, all you have to do is put some peanut butter in a bowl and mix enough powdered sugar to get a thick-ish consistency [there is no right or wrong here]. Then shape however you want and put in the freezer to harden. Then dip or roll or drizzle or coat in melted chocolate chips. Once set, enjoy!
If even that sounds like too much work, look, just put some peanut butter in a bowl, mix in some powdered sugar, and sprinkle in chocolate chips…then go sit on the couch and watch Netflix. Okay?
Sometimes that’s all I’ve the energy for myself.
No shame in my game.
Footnote about eating sweets:
Now, one last thing. I am an obsessively healthy eater, so you may be surprised to see me promoting sweets. But, the truth is, being healthy does not mean that you can never have dessert again [and being vegan definitely doesn’t mean you have to deny your sweet tooth]. We just have to level up our treats. We need to be eating occasional desserts in reasonable [aka small] quantities that contain natural, and healthful ingredients.
I don’t eat these things every day. Truthfully, I eat a sweet treat about once a week at the most. That’s enough for me to feel like I’m not depriving myself.
Food is fuel, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it too.
And I hope you do enjoy these recipes! If you try one out, let me know! And you can also tag me in a photo on Instagram @no.makeup.mama – though, fair warning, I’m not on social much.
Most people think of the zero waste movement in terms of refusing plastic bags and disposable straws and fitting your garbage in a mason jar – but zero waste extends beyond just these forms of waste. Yeah, plastic is bad for the planet and filling a fifty-five gallon trash can every week is really bad for the planet, but those aren’t the only forms of waste – they are just the most obvious because they are the kinds of waste we can see.
Another form of waste that we all need to be more mindful of [myself included, but I’ll get to that in a minute] is water waste.
But why is wasting water a big deal? If you live in an industrialized country like the US and water flows freely from every tap in every building, and free water fountains can be found in every business, and a gazillion cases of water bottles are for sale in every store, then it is easy to feel like water is an abundant and readily available resource.
But au contraire.
[Fun fact: I actually grew up in Flint, Michigan, which was all over the news in 2016 for having its own water crisis – proving that the water issues are not only for people in the developing world. Water is a necessity for every human being’s survival and it only takes one bad politician’s stupid decision to bring a water crisis very close to home…literally.]
The Water Crisis
Several years ago, I watched an episode of the Netflix docuseries Explained entitled “The World’s Water Crisis.” Call me ignorant, but I think that was the first time that it really struck me that water is an invaluable resource – and that we may someday run out of it.
[The episode is still on Netflix – I highly recommend watching it.]
Since that time, water has been on my mind. How do we protect this commodity? How do we ensure access for all of humanity? How do we respond to increased demand from industry and agriculture and manufacturing and increased populations? How do we manage the water?!?
Right now, there are over half a billion people on the planet who do not have access to safe water. And unclean water is one of the leading causes of death for children under five in developing countries. And, honestly, with pollution increasing and the population increasing and the global temperature increasing leading to severe weather like droughts – we’ve got to get a handle on this water problem…and FAST.
Here’s some quick stats about the water on our blue planet:
70% of the planet is covered with water, but less than 3% is fresh and less than 1% is fit for consumption.
Nearly 1 million people die each year from water, sanitation and hygiene- related diseases. [Water.org]
Every day, 6,000 children die of water-related diseases. Young children are the first to get sick and die from waterborne and sanitation-related illnesses—including diarrhoeal diseases and malaria. [UNICEF.org]
By 2050, at least 1 in 4 people will likely live in a country affected by chronic or recurring fresh-water shortages. [Worldvision.org]
[Water.org has a great fact sheet with more information on the water crisis here.]
So, what do we do?
Well, for starters, I started supporting Charity:Water as a part of their monthly donor program – called The Spring – that provides clean water to remote and underprivileged communities around the world.
Since we joined in 2019, we have donated/raised more than $9k for clean water projects – impacting 236 people.
That’s pretty awesome.
If you want to help support this organization then you can join me in The Spring by following the link below:
You can donate any amount. Over time, this monthly donation – no matter how small – will add up to lives changed, lives saved, because of clean water.
This is a very simple and tangible way to make a difference in the world.
Two [of the many] reasons [besides what I already shared above] that you should consider giving to Charity: Water:
100% of donations go to fund clean water projects.
Charity:Water allows you to see exactly where your money is going.
Ok. So anyway, that’s one thing we can all [or mostly all] do to help with the water crisis. The second thing is to reduce our own water waste.
Reducing Water Waste
We all need to take a greater responsibility in the water crisis by conserving water as much as possible to prevent shortages. The people of Cape Town South Africa [in the Netflix documentary] found a way to conserve water in order to push back their Day 0. We should be forward thinking enough to stop wasting water now rather than waiting for doomsday.
For me, reducing water waste is also out of respect for the commodity that it is. Just as I don’t feel comfortable splurging a ton of money on frivolous shit when thousands of children are dying from starvation every day, I also can’t be taking thirty-minute steaming hot showers and running my faucet while doing dishes when I know that there is a kid [most likely a girl] somewhere on the planet who has to walk for hours just to fill a jerrycan of dirty water for her entire family.
And, of course, if you don’t have your own well, saving water will also save you money. So, yay.
So, what do we do?
First, you have to check out this great list compiled by sustainability blogger, Jo, at 43 square meters:
I’ve already implemented many of these tips, but, as this article proves, there are always more ways to improve!
Some of the things that my family already does to reduce water waste:
We wash laundry once a week [except when one of our kids wets the bed] and always with full loads.
We bathe our youngest two kids once a week [together] and our older two kids take showers.
We turn off the water when we brush our teeth [and are teaching our children to do the same].
We don’t buy or eat animal products [except my kids and husband when we are eating out].
We have an extremely energy efficient dish washer [apparently only uses a couple gallons of water to run].
We buy [nearly] all our clothes second hand.
Still, as part of my New Years Resolution to focus on the water crisis, I’m going to redouble my efforts on reducing my water waste by working on the following things:
Wash fruit and veggies in a bowl rather than running the tap.
Rinsing dishes in a bowl of water instead of running the tap.
Taking shorter showers [this one will be tough].
Getting a rain barrel.
Switch to low-flow shower heads.
So, that’s my game plan for reducing my water waste. At our last home, we lived on a well, so I really had no idea how much water we were using, but since we’ve moved to a house with city water, I am better able to track our water usage [or rather the water company tracks it for me]. Hopefully, I’ll see some improvements in water usage.
There are lots of other things that need to be done about the water issues facing our world. I don’t want to make it sound simple enough that washing my fruit in a bowl of water or donating $100 a month will solve the problem for our future or for the 785 million people currently without clean water, but small changes go a long way, especially if everyone makes them.
Other ideas about reducing water waste? Or suggestions of other organizations working in this sector? Share below!
One of my New Years resolutions for this year was to [re]focus on my health – getting rid of my late night snacking hobby, cutting out added sugars and processed foods, embracing veganism, getting all my needed nutrients, drinking more water, and, in general, rebuilding healthy habits. I am health obsessed normally, but last year’s Covid quarantine got me sidetracked a bit, so I needed to get back at it ASAP. To that end, I’ve added quite a few books about health and nutrition and food in general to my list, the first of which was Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, which led me down quite a rabbit hole of discovering where my food comes from [let me just say – yikes!].
Beyond that I also read a great book about racism [probably the best of the 10+ books I’ve read on the subject], a book about poverty in America [giving me all the feels with a hefty side order of guilt], a book about loneliness [which I read because I thought I was lonely, but it ended up teaching me to be a better person], an awesome memoir that changed my life forever [Glennon Doyle is my new hero], and one really good fiction book.
My reading tastes are clearly very eclectic.
Top reads so far this year:
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
Maid by Stephanie Land
These books couldn’t possibly be more different, but they each taught me valuable [even life-changing] lessons about life and love and health and politics and humanity and faith and forgiveness – and they all give me hope for a better future.
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
I was already a vegan when I began reading [or listening to] Eating Animals, but if I hadn’t been, this book would have definitely sealed the deal. I wrote previously in Another Reason to Be Vegan how this book made veganism morally compelling, when before that, I was only in it for the environmental and health benefits. The book was really eye-opening, and for all you meat-lovers out there, pretty fair. While painting an accurately horrifying image of how meat is produced today, he also acknowledges [through a quote from a factory farm management employee] the difficulty [or impossibility] of feeding a billion people with just small, ethical, family farms. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to change our ways. The answer lies in eating less meat – or, even better, none at all.
My favorite quote from the book is not specifically about eating meat, but more broadly about our natural tendency to be willfully ignorant about issues that we know will demand a difficult change. We prefer to turn away rather than to do what is right. This has irked me about a million different causes, not just the animal welfare. This quote is so good, I stopped after reading it and repeated it it to my partner. Needless to say, he didn’t appreciate it as much as I did – but I hope you will.
“While it is always possible to wake a person who’s sleeping, no amount of noise will wake a person who is pretending to be asleep.”
Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals
Our society needs to stop pretending to be asleep.
If you are ready to face the truth and make changes, read this book. And then watch some powerful documentaries: Eating Animals, Meet Your Meat and Dominance.
How to Be an Antiracistby Ibram X. Kendi
“One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.’ The claim of ‘not racist’ neutrality is a mask for racism.”
Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist
This is the most comprehensive, thought-provoking, and convicting book on racist ideologies that I have ever read. There is so much information in this book that challenged my understanding of racism – even being decently well-read on the subject – I can’t even begin to explain it all. It challenged so many of my previously held antiracist ideas and showed me how even in many of my attempts to be antiracist, there was still a racist idea at the center.
This is simply a must-read for every American…possibly every human.
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
I decided to read this because I wanted to see the Netflix movie [which I still haven’t gotten around to yet], and I really enjoyed it. I don’t read much fiction, but I love a good story and this served as a sort of break from my intense [and largely depressing] nonfiction books. One of the best parts of the book was how skillfully Jordan used foreshadowing to imply the ending, but leaving enough unspoken to still surprise me in the end. It’s a sad story, and of course, it doesn’t have a happy ending – but it ends with hope.
Unknown Valorby Martha McCallum
[Fun fact: I was actually in the middle of this book when Martha McCallum praised the capital rioters and was promptly demoted by Fox News.]
I don’t watch Fox News, and I had never heard of this woman before receiving this book from my in-laws. When I looked her up, I already knew I wouldn’t agree with her opinions on the war, but I gave it a chance anyway and read the whole thing. It was very informative, but in a dry history textbook sort of way. And, as expected, I disagreed with much of her perspective about war in general, like her belief in “total annihilation” as the only effective way to win a war, her insistence on painting everything about the Japanese as terrible and everything that America did as flawless, and also her repeated use of racial slurs to describe the Japanese. There was only one sentence in the entire book about the Japanese internment camps, which seemed to me like a terrible oversight in a book exclusively about our relationship with Japan. The one thing I agreed with was her admittance that America only joined the war because we were butt hurt after the attack on Pearl Harbor and wanted some revenge. [But all of this could be easily learned through a quick Wikipedia search.]
Anyway, I appreciated the book because it forced me to read a different perspective. And I did learn something new – that there apparently are still Americans who are big fans of war.
Untamedby Glennon Doyle
My feelings about this book are so strong that I’ve had trouble putting them into words. I think what moves me the most was that this book made me feel, for the first time in seven years, like I’m not totally alone in my worldview. Like, omg, this woman gets me. Of course, Glennon Doyle has no idea that I even exist, but knowing that she exists has given me a sense of hope that I haven’t had since I embarked on my own spiritual journey [my own “untaming,” if you will]. Leaving behind what I was trained to believe and how I was trained to live has been a sad and lonely experience. But Untamed gave me hope that there are others like me. It also reinforced what I have come to believe about the world because [yay!] someone else out there actually agrees with me!
Such an awesome book. I listened to the audiobook twice in a week and I will definitely be buying my own copy to proudly display on my bookshelf [which as a minimalist only contains my 5-10 absolute favorite books].
I don’t know what other reactions will be since mine was so personal, but I do know that this book is full of truth and everyone should read it.
In Defense of Foodby Michael Pollan
I watched Pollan’s documentary with the same title years ago and finally got around to reading the book. And it was a great book. [The documentary is also good, so if you have the time, go watch that too.]
The basic principles in the book are so simple and yet vital to healthy eating and, as a result, healthy living. I don’t really want to give away the three rules…so please read this book.
“All of our uncertainties about nutrition should not obscure the plain fact that the chronic diseases that now kill most of us can be traced directly to the industrialization of our food: the rise of highly processed foods and refined grains; the use of chemicals to raise plants and animals in huge monocultures; the superabundance of cheap calories of sugar and fat produced by modern agriculture; and the narrowing of the biological diversity of the human diet to a tiny handful of staple crops, notably wheat, corn and soy.”
Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food
This is the root of the issue – and this book contains the key to healthy eating in our modern times of industrial agriculture.
[And it’s so good, I would later pick up another of Pollan’s books, which I’ll share with you below…]
How We Eat with Our Eyes and Think with Our Stomach by Melanie Mühl and Diana Von Kopp
This book was interesting. Maybe two stars is too low of a rating because I did think it was interesting, but it was more a compilation of all the psychology studies surrounding eating than actually helpful to me as an eater. How should a restaurant describe its menu items? There’s a study about that. What music should be playing during dinner? There’s a study about that. What affect does an overweight server have on restaurant patrons? Yes – there is even a study about that. Like I said, it was interesting [ok, I’ve said that three times now], but I didn’t find it all that practical, which is, I suppose, what I was hoping to find.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
In The Omnivore’s Dilemma [a precursor to In Defense of Food] Michael Pollan traces the path of three different types of meals: an industrial/processed meal, an organic small farm meal, and a foraged/hunted meal.
For me, this whole exercise just gave more background [or proof, if you will] of what I already knew [and what I believe most of us intuitively know] about food. Food that is processed is not good for us. Food sprayed with pesticides is not good for us. Food that is fed antibiotics and growth hormones and lives knee-deep in its own shit is not good for us. Food grown in nutrient depleted soil, sprayed with chemicals, taken to laboratories and broken into its component parts then put back together into an unrecognizable [by nature] food-like substance is definitely not good for us.
It shouldn’t require this much research or a book of this length to convince us not to eat processed junk like McDonald’s cheeseburgers. And yet, here we are – continuing to eat [and in increasing quantities] what we know is not good for us.
Anyway, the book is really interesting. I learned a lot about our complicated history with corn, which is perfect timing because I live in a town surrounded by farmland and, of course, it’s all used to grow corn and soybeans. I’m literally in the middle of America’s farm belt and I can’t find a single organic family farm from which to buy my produce. Frustrating to say the least. But at least now I know how this conundrum came to be.
The Secret Life of Groceriesby Benjamin Lorr
So, now that I’ve learned about the industrial meat business and industrial agriculture, I picked up this book [at the recommendation from a friend] to learn about the great American waste…er, I mean, food machine: the supermarket.
This book is a little bit all over the place. It covers everything from how Trader Joe’s came to be [at one point I thought that the book was only about Trader Joe’s because this seemed to go on for quite a long time], to the trucking industry [it’s as bad as we all assume, by the way], to getting product on supermarket shelves [all a giant money-making scam], to human trafficking in the fish industry [yep, think about that next time you order fish], to cutting off one eye from each female shrimp [this random little tidbit just stuck in my head for some reason].
Looking back on it now, it all seems rather random and boring, and yet, it never felt random while I was reading it and I was never bored. Only an excellent writer could make this topic so interesting that I looked forward to reading more…
And let me tell you, Benjamin Lorr is an exceptional writer.
Maidby Stephanie Land
This is the first time that I have read a first-hand account of an adult living in poverty in America. Honestly, beyond what she writes here, I don’t know a thing about homeless shelters or food stamps or section eight housing or school grants or anything about it. And I recognize that it’s because I am incredibly privileged.
But I do know that a lot of people like me [who lack any real experiential knowledge of our welfare system] have very strong opinions about it – and everyone who benefits from it. This book brings us face-to-face with our prejudices, with our false stereotypes, with our wrongful assumptions – with Stephanie Land, to be exact.
I didn’t know that it was so much work to get help, or that some programs have waitlists that last years, or that there is such a strong stigma around receiving help, or that people can be so openly rude about it, or that it’s all just so…difficult. I have always been a supporter of welfare and all government programs that help people who are underprivileged, and if anything, this book has reinforced the fact that we don’t help nearly enough.
None of us can help the situation we’re born into and even if our problems are due to our own mistakes [like, in Stephanie’s case, falling for a guy who ends up being abusive] – we all make mistakes. Should we really have to suffer forever without help? Should we have to feel judged by society? Should we have to feel guilty about any leisure time or hobbies? Should have to do it all alone?
Stephanie’s story has a happy ending, obviously, but most stories don’t end that way. We the privileged few have the responsibility to help those who need it.
Ok, getting off my soapbox now…
Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown
This is the first book I’ve read by Brené Brown and I was drawn to it because I identify with the subtitle. I often feel like I am searching for true belonging, but always end up standing alone. I am always bucking the system, causing a stir, swimming against the current, and don’t have a tribe of my own. I don’t fit neatly into any group.
Though it’s comforting to know that Brené Brown also feels like she is standing alone, it didn’t really do anything for my “quest for true belonging,” but this book definitely holds a lot of wisdom that I will carry with me forever.
My favorite lesson learned:
“People are hard to hate close-up. Move in.”
Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness
It’s easy to make harsh judgments about groups of people without knowing the individuals, but this is damaging because it perpetuates lies and further divides us into categories of “us” vs. “them.” This is especially true when it comes to politics today. I don’t like it when I hear someone say that people on welfare are all lazy, so I shouldn’t say that republicans are all selfish. [Even though I really want to.] Neither of these are true or fair statements. Getting to know individuals allows us to see more clearly that people are not so bad after all.
Other important takeaways for me include:
– We have to stop de-humanizing people [no matter how much we dislike them], which is something I have to work on. [I have a tendency to call men who honk at or catcall me “pigs.”]
– The meaning of true belonging is different than fitting in. Belonging is being accepted for who you are and fitting in is changing who you are in order to be accepted. My whole life has been an education in “fitting in” and conforming to what was expected of a good Christian girl. Maybe that’s why I don’t feel true belonging anywhere. [And also why Untamed was such a helpful book for me]
– Give people the benefit of the doubt. It’s easy to assume that people are intentionally hurting us [or others], but it may be ignorance. I know some people who are very loving and wonderful individuals, but are also extremely sexist. Because I know that they are good human beings, I give them the benefit of the doubt. So the best response is educating rather than attacking. [On the flip side, I also have to accept criticism and be willing to learn. There is much that I am ignorant of as well.]
You know what I love most about reading? It allows me to hear different perspectives, meet different people, and understand different worldviews than I would ever come across in my daily life. It expands my understanding of the world. And even if I don’t agree with everything I read, every book adds to a more inclusive and well-rounded perspective of the world.
It’s an education in life.
And reading is also a quiet break from my kids. So that’s good too.
Throughout modern history there have been moments when a country or region or people group have suffered tremendously – like after Hurricane Katrina or Haiti’s earthquake or the wildfires in Australia – and the entire world feels their pain and comes to their aid. This is the beauty of being human. It doesn’t matter how far apart we are, how different our lives or languages or religions may be. We feel for the other human beings who share this planet with us. We care enough to give without expecting anything in return.
Right now the people of Yemen – especially the children – are suffering greatly because of a “perfect storm” of catastrophes [including war, economic decline, and cholera] that has left 80% of the population in need of humanitarian aid. Unfortunately, Covid has both complicated matters for the country and limited the humanitarian aid available as every country in the world grapples with their own pandemic problems.
However, those of us who are able can still give to help the Yemenis. We can see their suffering and allow it to move us with compassion, to see past our own problems and to give whatever we are able.
I don’t typically do this on my blog, but this cause is so important, the need so urgent, that I feel compelled to ask my friends, family, connections, acquaintances, and even complete strangers to think of Yemen.
I have set up a fundraising page through the organization, Save the Children, which Brett and I already support monthly and have full confidence in. I hope you will consider giving to this or any other organization that is helping to provide food and healthcare and resources to Yemen. Any amount will help.
At any given time, there are plenty of needs in our world, and it is our privilege and moral obligation to ease suffering and save lives, no matter how far removed. As I like to say, the truest measure of financial success is not how much we are able to buy for ourselves, but how much we are able to give to others.
When I realized how truly privileged I am – even in middle class America, even living on one income, even with four children – I decided to give more. And the more I have away, the easier it was to give. This, in essence, is the road that lead me to minimalism, which led me to zero waste, which led me to intentional living – the intention being to enjoy a simple life free from the trappings of money and possessions so that I can freely and generously give to others in need.
Last year, I wrote the post Why I Choose Minimalism which basically gives my purpose statement for minimal living. Today, my reason is the same as it was four years ago – to spend less money on myself so that I can give more away.
So, while it may be out of character for me to ask other people to give money, this appeal is really just a glimpse of the passion that is a driving force in my life – a part that I rarely show on my blog, but is at the heart of everything I do.
And, who knows? Some day I may need help and have to rely on the kindness and generosity of strangers. But this time, it is my turn.
A few days ago, I showed off the silicone cupcake liners that I use every Friday when I bake vegan banana muffins.
I’m going to share my super simple, go-to recipe for these muffins in just a minute, but first, I feel like I have some explaining to do.
Baking muffins every weekend might make you think I have some strange banana muffin obsession, or maybe I have a banana tree in my backyard. But the truth is simply that I refuse to give my kids cereal for breakfast. [Just bear with me, I’ll explain.]
[If you don’t want to hear my rant about breakfast cereal, by all means, skip down to the recipe below.]
My Rant about Breakfast Cereal
I have a sort of hatred for breakfast cereal.
Of course, I grew up eating cereal [like every other American I know], but when I decided to start eating healthy foods, cereal was the first thing to go. In the past ten years, I have had cereal maybe three times, and each time it made me feel like crap and almost immediately hungry again. So I don’t like giving it to my kids. I also used to preach against it to my personal training clients.
Cereal might not be so bad if we didn’t eat waaaaay too much of it. A serving size for most sugary cereals is 2/3 to one cup. A typical bowl of cereal probably has three or more cups in it! [You can find some great YouTube videos on this topic to see for yourself – or actually do the unthinkable and measure your cereal!] And don’t even get me started on the highly processed, super refined carbohydrates and sugars that make up pretty much the entirety of boxed cereal. Any food that has to make dubious health claims like “may reduce your chances of heart disease” is probably not worth eating – take it from me…and Michael Pollan.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, banana muffins aren’t exactly a healthy breakfast either, vegan or not. And you are correct. But I’ve made the following “deal” with my children because…well, I want them to love me…or at the very least, not hate me.
On weekdays, we all eat oatmeal with fresh fruit and brown sugar. And as a concession [and so I won’t be accused of a being a terribly cruel mother], I make special breakfasts on the weekends: banana muffins on Saturday and pancakes on Sunday. [I still eat oatmeal.] Both special meals usually contain chocolate chips. [No, I am not afraid to use chocolate chips as bribery.]
On the weekends I could give them cereal. But like I said, I hate cereal. Plus, cereal is a slippery slope. It is just too dang easy and convenient.
So, now, on to the recipe.
My Vegan Banana Muffin Recipe
You’ll have to forgive me, but I don’t typically do recipes on this blog, so I don’t even know how to make a “recipe card” thingy.
But here we go anyway….
This recipe is based off “Vegan Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins (Healthy)” recipe from The Simple Veganista which you can read here. I’ve taken this base recipe and modified it to make it simpler [I do this every weekend, ya’ll] and how my kids like it [aka I’ve taken out the word “healthy”].
3 or 4 ripe bananas
2/3 – 1 cup sugar
2 – 3 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 cup coconut oil (melted)
1 3/4 cup of AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
Optional: chocolate chips (as many as you want)
Preheat oven to 350°
Mash bananas in a mixing bowl.
Mix in sugars and coconut oil.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl and mix until just combined.
Scoop into muffin tin [or muffin liners] until 3/4 full.
Bake for 20-25 minutes. [Mine are always done at exactly 22 minutes.]
And that’s it!
I love this recipe because it doesn’t require any funky vegan stuff like flax eggs or vegan butter or even non-dairy milk. Of course, I usually have all these things on hand anyway, but this is a totally accessible recipe for everyone and [dare I say it] it’s even better than any traditional banana muffin recipe I have ever made. Even Brett said so!
In my quest to eliminate all disposables from my home, I bought a set of twenty-four silicone cupcake liners, which are absolutely awesome. I use them all the time. [Every weekend, to be exact, because I bake vegan banana muffins every Friday night for Saturday breakfast.]
[Strictly speaking, cupcake liners aren’t necessary for muffins – but I also use them for cupcakes at birthdays and other celebrations.]
These silicone liners have actually replaced my muffin tin [which was scratched and rusted and had to be thrown out anyway], because they stand on their own. I just space them out on a cookie tray, fill them up, and bake them. Easy-peasy.
And they are so cute!
I even baked some muffins for my new neighbor and delivered them to her in these liners [briefly mentioning that the liners were reusable so she wouldn’t toss them], because I didn’t have anything else!
Only downside is hand washing them every weekend. But a quick scrub with my dish soap block and pot scrubber does the trick.
I ordered the set on Amazon a year or so ago. [Maybe not the most ethical purchasing option, I realize, but I’m not sure what a more ethical option would be.] Nowadays, I try to buy all my zero waste essentials from zero waste shops. I like to support the businesses of these like-minded individuals and by supporting zero waste shops, I am hoping to see more and more of these types of stores open around the country [and world] in the future. Unfortunately, none of them carry these silicone liners at the moment.
Speaking of zero waste shops, here are my favorites. [And while they don’t have cupcake liners, they have a TON of other great swap essentials, so check them out!]
It’s almost time to post my 2021 Q1 book reviews, and I realized I never posted by reads from the last quarter of 2020!
Better late than never, as they say! I read some really great books [and some not so great books] and I’m excited to share them with you!
Flat Broke with Two Goats by Jennifer McGaha
Truthfully, this book was a huge disappointment, but I know it’s my own fault for having different expectations. I was hoping for profound purpose-seeking, life-changing, minimalist, back-to-the-earth wisdom to come out of this woman’s misery [and let me tell you – there is a lot of misery in this story], but instead it left me feeling miserable.
Fashionopolisby Dana Thomas
“This is how the fashion business has functioned on a grand scale for 250 years: creative thievery, indifference for others, corruption, pollution.”
Dana Thomas, Fashionopolis
As someone passionately opposed to the current fashion ecosystem, I am always interested in reading any books that shed light on this worldwide problem – a problem that we are all complicit in. So, of course I loved Fashionopolis.
It has now been four years since I have bought new clothes [save ethical underwear from a gift card two Christmases ago], and I have only bought used clothes twice in all that time – both times in order to meet a new job dress code. By now, my desire for new clothes has completely evaporated, and reading books like this remind me of why I quit buying clothes in the first place.
“We imagine ourselves as more learned, more egalitarian, more humane than our predecessors. More woke. That by procuring $5 tees and $20 jeans by the sackful, we aren’t causing grievous harm. We might even be creating good jobs on the other side of the world for those in need. Having visited many offshore factories and spoken to dozens of workers, I can assure you this is not reality.“
Dana Thomas, Fashionopolis
But Dana Thomas also reminds us that, though things are bad, we are not without the ability to make changes. Using our collective willpower and moral compass we can course correct. And, honestly, when we face the reality of our fashion industry as it stands today – we have no choice but to change.
Notorious RBGby Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was nothing short of a total badass. Growing up in my conservative religious circle, her name was always associated with negative things like feminism and liberalism [both of which I have since had the maturity to form my own opinion of], so I never really knew anything about her. I just had a negative idea of her.
All that changed when I watched On the Basis of Sex, which is based on the true events of RBG’s career of leveling the playing field for women. I began watching and reading everything I could get my hands on about her.
I am so indebted to this woman. And if you are a female, you are indebted to her too. When she died on September 18 of last year, I was devastated – not because of any of the political drama that surrounded her passing, but because we lost from this earth such an amazing woman.
So, of course, I loved this book. If you don’t know anything about her life and career, you simply must read this book and watch the documentary about her life. If you are like I was and have been influenced by conservatives at home or in the media, I implore you to study this woman’s life and see for yourself how indebted we are.
I want my daughters to grow up knowing that the opportunities they have, the dreams they can achieve, the endless possibilities available to them as women are largely due to a woman named Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Notorious RBG.
Faith Unraveled by Rachel Held Evans
“When we require that all people must say the same words or subscribe to the same creeds in order to experience God, we underestimate the scope and power of God’s activity in the world.”
Rachel Held Evans, Faith Unraveled
Another great book by Rachel Held Evans about religion. Her books, including Searching for Sunday and Inspired, have been slowly coaxing me back to a new understanding of God that I lost back when, after twenty-five years, I finally recognized how errant and misguided my religion was. This book is a reminder that it’s not religion that defines God, try as it might. She is so much bigger than that.
“When we know how to make a distinction between our ideas about God and God himself [or herself], our faith remains safe when one of those ideas is seriously challenged. When we recognize that our theology is not the moon but rather a finger pointing at the moon, we enjoy the freedom of questioning it from time to time.”
Rachel Held Evans, Faith Unraveled
Evans’ books have all helped me to see that I don’t have to be a part of the Christian cult or culture in order to know God. And that realization has changed my life.
Rachel Held Evans died in 2019, which is a HUGE loss for the Christian world. Who is going to challenge all of the hypocrisy, pride, and false beliefs of the American Church now???
Superlifeby Darin Olien
I’m a total health fanatic, so this book is right up my alley. It is also very similar to my own experiences of a healthy lifestyle. Darin Olien is not a doctor or health professional, which would probably cause many people to toss out this book as unfounded [though it provides plenty of resources and statistics], but my own journey to health and wellness has followed a similar path of trial and error. For instance, I, like Olien, am a vegan because I just feel better when I’m eating a vegan diet. Do I need a doctor to justify this for me? Or to tell me medically or scientifically that being a vegan is better? No, I don’t. [Plus, no one will because the meat industry runs this country.] I have found what works best for me and the proof is in my body. I think we often rely too much on what the nutritionists say and too little on our own intuition. After all, the “professionals” have gotten it wrong plenty of times.
“Rather than sending us to the pharmacy with prescriptions, our physicians should send us to the farmers’ market.”
Darin Olien, Superlife
The basic gist of this book is that our bodies suffer from chronic illness, pain, fatigue and disease because we aren’t taking care of our bodies at a cellular level to prevent or treat the issues. Instead of fueling, hydrating, oxygenating, detoxing and exercising, we medicate, which masks the problem [and often causes new problems].
“With our eager cooperation, food manufacturers and restaurant chains and fast-food giants get rich by making us sick. Then the pharmaceutical giants and the insurance companies and hospitals and other health care providers get rich by making us better. Not healthy, mind you, but well enough to work and pay the bills we’ve just run up. If we ate our broccoli and quinoa and salads and berries and almonds and drank our water and green tea and took long, vigorous hikes and got enough sleep, we might feel great, but who would profit? Nobody. What kind of system is that?”
Darin Olien, Superlife
I can say this about Darin Olien, he is definitely healthy, fit and eternally awesome, so I’ll have what he’s having, thanks!
The Call of the Wild + Free by Ainsley Arment
“A magical childhood isn’t about having the best toys, gadgets, and vacations. It’s actually the opposite. It’s about simplicity. A magical childhood is about freedom. Freedom to explore, discover, and play.”
Ainsley Arment, The Call of the Wild + Free
I’ve been homeschooling my preschooler and first grader this year [due exclusively to covid], and so I picked up this book to try to be a better “homeschool mom.” Truthfully, reading this book made me realize how much I am not cut out to be a homeschool mom. And I am confident that I will put my kids back into the traditional classroom next fall.
But, that being said, there was a lot of beautiful ideas in this book like the quote above, which I love. Freedom and creativity and imagination and play are all so important for children. I’ve been lucky to spend this time with my kids to explore the outdoors and make nature art and study the stars by actually studying the stars and read books in our backyard while soaking up sunshine.
However, there are still very real things that my kids need to know, and as far as I can tell, they won’t learn to read by osmosis. I have to do some legit teaching. The imagination, play, freedom, exploration – that I can do. For me, the teaching is the hard part. I’m too much of a planner, organizer, task-lister. The very idea of a “daily rhythm” instead of a “daily to-do list” kind of makes me twitchy. If I’m going to teach, it has to be structured. I just can’t do it any other way.
But, anyway, I digress.
For this [hopefully] brief time of homeschooling, this book was at least an encouragement to keep on keeping on.
Saving Capitalism by Robert B. Reich
I stumbled upon the documentary by the same name on Netflix and decided to watch it one night while Brett was in Florida for training [he does not like documentaries, unfortunately]. It was so good that I immediately borrowed the audiobook, in which the movie is based, and started listening.
And let me tell you, I learned A LOT. In fact, ever since I finished it, I’ve talked about it so much people are probably sick of hearing about it. It’s the first book I’ve ever read about capitalism and the economy and it simultaneously reinforced what I already knew and blew my mind.
The opposing arguments about capitalism in America today are basically, government deregulation vs government oversight [Republican vs Democrat respectively]. This is constantly being debated by both sides. Republicans want less government “interference” and democrats want more government regulation. But as Reich clearly shows throughout the book, the very concept of a “free market” is a myth since government rules are what creates the market to begin with and the real question is not whether the government should regulate the market, but how the government should regulate it.
A market—any market—requires that government make and enforce the rules of the game. In most modern democracies, such rules emanate from legislatures, administrative agencies, and courts. Government doesn’t “intrude” on the “free market.” It creates the market.
Robert B. Reich, Saving Capitalism
And even more important than “how” is the question “for whom.” Reich also makes it clear through plenty of examples [such as in the quote below] that the government is no longer regulating capitalism in an effort to protect the working class or the majority of the population, but that they are largely serving the wealthiest people and businesses who have the greatest means to influence regulations in their favor.
“Lehman Brothers’ Repo 105 program—which temporarily moved billions of dollars of liability off the bank’s books at the end of each quarter and replaced them a few days later at the start of the next quarter—was intentionally designed to hide the firm’s financial weaknesses. This was a carefully crafted fraud, detailed by a court-appointed Lehman examiner. But no former Lehman executive ever faced criminal prosecution for it. Contrast this with the fact that a teenager who sells an ounce of marijuana can be put away for years.”
Robert B. Reich, Saving Capitalism
In the end, the most frustrating part is that I see most political opinions being based solely on party allegiance, rather than on actually understanding the system or caring about what helps the most people.
This is an important read for anyone interested in the economy of America or who believes themselves to be strongly political [on either side] because this book could be the bridge that unites America once again.
Bad Feministby Roxane Gay
I just realized that I started out the year with Roxane Gay’s book, Hunger, and then closed out the year with Bad Feminist. Very different books, but both very compelling.
I love Roxane Gay because of her bravery. Even the intro to this book is a brave confession of how hard it is to be a feminist – with everyone’s false stereotypes and negative associations with the word. I love her for being a bad feminist.
“When feminism falls short of our expectations, we decide the problem is with feminism rather than with the flawed people who act in the name of the movement. In truth, feminism is flawed because it is a movement powered by people and people are inherently flawed.”
Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist
[Ironically, this is the same excuse Christians make. Who know Christians and feminists had so much in common!]
Two years ago, I probably couldn’t even tell you what feminism was, but over time I’ve pieced together my own version of feminism, which pretty much lines up with Roxane’s.
No matter what issues I have with feminism, I am a feminist. I cannot and will not deny the importance and absolute necessity of feminism. Like most people, I’m full of contradictions, but I also don’t want to be treated like shit for being a woman.
Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist
👏 👏 👏
Well, there you have it.
I read 42 books in 2020, four of which were fiction. The rest were nonfiction books that challenged my worldview and [hopefully] helped me become a more compassionate, empathetic, and loving member of our global society.
What have you been reading lately??? I welcome any and all book recommendations!
Composting is fundamental to a zero waste lifestyle, but my goal is to use as much of the vegetable as possible before tossing what’s left into the compost bin.
So, today I’m sharing three ways I like to use vegetable “scraps” that usually get tossed.
Pictured above is a recent Misfits Market produce delivery that I received. In order to create as little waste as possible, I used the broccoli stems for a salad, carrot tops for pesto, and the rest of the scraps for vegetable broth.
Broccoli Stem Salad
Poor broccoli stems. People like them even less than they like the rest of the vegetable.
Broccoli stems are perfectly edible, but they often get thrown out because they are woody and not as appetizing. Nowadays I will steam them with the rest of the broccoli, but [don’t tell anyone] I used to compost them because I don’t like them as much as the florets.
Then a girlfriend of mine told me about spiralizing the stem and using it in a salad! What a great idea!
All you need is a spiralizer to add broccoli [a superfood, by the way] to your salad. I have a small handheld spiralizer that I use frequently for small veggies [pictured below].
And a countertop spiralizer, which I don’t use as often, but it perfect for spiralizing big things like heads of cabbage, sweet potatoes, etc.
Carrot Top Pesto
I love making my own pesto! Besides being delicious and a great sauce or dip, pesto can be infinitely customized. I make mine vegan and throw in whatever greens I have. A traditional pesto uses basil; however, [nearly] any green will work.
When I have carrots, I throw the green tops into pesto along with whatever other greens I’m using, usually basil, kale, spinach, or a mixture of them.
[Side note: if you buy your carrots without the tops, likely someone else is throwing them into the garbage, so try to buy carrots in their full form.]
My produce order produced a lot of scraps – the ends of the zucchini and green beans, the leaves of the cauliflower, carrot peels, Brussels sprout stubs, etc. I take all of these loose ends and save them in a reusable bag in my freezer.
When the bag is full, I pour it all in my stock pot and simmer for…as long as I can. Then strain, pour in jars, and save in the fridge.
This is a no-brainer, but it still took me until recently to get into the habit of saving my scraps for vegetable broth. Now, I always have either some jars of broth in the fridge or a stash of scraps in my freezer.
Anyway, hopefully these are some ideas to help you reduce waste! Any one else have creative ways to use vegetable scraps??
If you are considering going zero waste [or even just reducing your waste a little] you’ll want to start with composting. It is the most basic, first step in reducing waste since we all eat food and [in America] so much of our food ends up in landfills where it releases methane gas which is even worse for the environment than carbon dioxide.
Instead, we could be putting all those food scraps back into the ground to feed soil and gardens and farms and…just plain old Mother Earth.
I’ve composted in two settings: wooded lot that I owned in an unincorporated suburb of Chicago, and a house that I’m renting with lots of close neighbors in a small rural town. I also researched composting in the city of Chicago because I was planning to live there.
Turns out the old saying is true – even for composting. If you’ve got the will, you can find a way.
In the ground
When I began composting, my house was on a half-acre lot surrounded by forest preserve. There were no regulations about composting, so we bought a used compost bin and put it on the edge of our property.
This compost bin doesn’t have a bottom, so it mixes right in with the soil. [Another alternative for this type of composting would be to simply construct a frame for your compost pile out of scrap wood or pallets. You can find tutorials online.]
Everyday, our kitchen scraps [excluding meat, dairy, and bones] would go into a bowl in our freezer. When the bowl was full we would dump it in the compost bin.
When the weather was warm, the compost would break down without even having to turn it, and every spring we would take plenty of rich compost from the bottom of the bin and use it in our garden beds.
In the course of the four years that we lived in that home, we filled two of these large 90+ gallon compost bins – but we eat a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables, so we have a lot of scraps.
[I’ll be posting later about my favorite way to get the most out of scraps before composting them.]
This, it would seem, is the easiest option.
In a container
Now that we’ve moved to a traditional neighborhood with lots of neighbors in close proximity [and not much privacy or woods], putting a massive, unsightly [not to mention smelly and fly-infested] compost bin in the backyard didn’t seem like the greatest idea. Instead, I decided to buy a fancy rotating composter.
Oooh. So pretty.
This composter is nice because the rotating makes mixing easy. BUT, it is smaller than our previous bin and we filled it in two months during the winter, which is when composting slows waaaaaay dowwwn. So anyway, we introduced compost bin #2, which is just a Rubbermaid container. [I’m hoping we won’t need another now that the weather is warming up.]
These composting methods require a little more attention, needing to be mixed every so often in order to keep the right ratio of water, air, green, and brown matter, but it’s not complicated.
There are other ways, as well, tho I’ve never tried them and I’m not well versed in them.
With curbside pickup service
When we were considering moving to downtown Chicago, I knew I most likely wouldn’t have any yard for composting, so I began looking for alternatives. There are in-home composting options available [which I’ll mention below], but we wouldn’t have a way to use our compost even if we could produce it, and that’s when I discovered compost pickup services. Of course, not all cities and few rural areas will have a service like this, but if you live in a high rise in a big city, you can probably find one. Then you collect your compost and leave it out for weekly pick up – just like the garbage.
For collecting compost, I recommend this counter-top compost bin that we recently upgraded [the bowl in the freezer was a hassle to thaw].
This collection bin has replaceable charcoal filter on the top to allow air flow and trap bad odors.
Vermicomposting is also good for apartments or homes without yards because worms do the work of breaking down the scraps. I have not tried it…yet! I hope to someday have an in-home vermicomposter.
If you compost with worms, tell me all about it!!
I just heard about bokashi for the first time recently and I am intrigued! Apparently, it breaks down scraps using a certain bacteria which causes fermentation to break down the food [and other] matter. I’ll have to look more into this method.
If you have experience with bokashi, please let me know!!
What to compost
You can compost a lot more than just food scraps, which is fabulous for cutting down waste. Dryer lint, brown bags, human hair, nail clippings, q-tips [obviously not the plastic kind], and 100% cotton textiles can be composted. [There’s a lot more too! Look around online for more unusual things people compost.]
Anyway, composting isn’t as daunting as it may seem and like most things, it’s best to just jump in and go for it.
Yesterday, while on my daily jog, the Peloton trainer in my ear was talking about enjoying the flatlands.
“We judge so much of life by the highs and the lows,” she said. “But there is good in the flatlands too.”
In that moment, I realized I have been going through the flatlands in my own life, and instead of focusing on the good, I’ve been focusing on my own restlessness and boredom, which was making me unhappy.
Before we moved to a new town, I had a job that kept me busy, I had a social life that gave me things to look forward to, and I had a sense of purpose and fulfillment.
My life now can only be described as very boring. Without any friends here or a job to connect me to this town and with COVID making everything more complicated…I’ve been feeling pretty down.
But then Jess Sims [the peloton coach] comes to the rescue with words of wisdom. There is good in the flatlands, I just have to appreciate it.
So here’s some of the “good” I’ve been experiencing in this new phase of life.
One-on-one breakfast dates with my three oldest kids.
Plenty of time to spend outdoors.
Lots of quality family time thanks to Brett having three days off a week.
More time to bake and experiment in the kitchen.
Just looking through my photos and seeing how good I have it makes me feel really silly for ever complaining. I have so much to be thankful for and yet I sometimes am discontented anyway. I’m trying to work on appreciating these flatlands and remembering that I am among the most privileged people on this earth.