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Awakening the inner vegan in all of us

by:  Kristen Forbes, Brooklyn vs. Boston Cream Pie Cakes.

My friend Emily Pepe with Northwest VEG (Vegetarian Education and Empowerment Group) e-mailed to make sure I had heard that Oprah Winfrey - you know, the talk show host? - was going vegan for 21 days as part of her promotion of a new book, 'Quantum Wellness,' written by vegan self-help author Kathy Freston.

'Because of Oprah, thousands of loyal viewers around the country are exploring veganism right now and following Oprah's dietary musings on her official blog,' she wrote.

Vegans do not consume animal products of any kind - that means no meat, milk products, eggs or even honey. They feel that just like humans, animals think and feel pain.

Emily noted that she is seeing more people try veganism as part of their commitment to reducing their carbon footprint.

Better health is another reason people become vegans. Many doctors, including the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) agree that a diet rich in plant-based foods is the most beneficial. They contend that a plant-based diet can not only prevent heart disease, but has been shown to actually reverse some forms of heart disease.

Emily told me about a group of activists who were organizing Try Vegan Pdx, a week-long event to encourage omnivores like me to try out the vegan diet.

As locavores (omnivores eating locally grown foods), my husband Mark and I eat vegetarian cuisine frequently; I thought it would be a snap to be vegan for a week. Always game for a unique experience, Mark volunteered to join in the fun.

It was my good fortune that the Try Vegan PDX folks assigned Chelsea Lincoln to be my mentor. Chelsea is a recipe developer for Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods in Milwaukie and a walking wealth of knowledge about creative vegan cuisine.

Chelsea introduced me to a number of foods I had not tried, like flageolet beans, kamut berries, almond milk and silken tofu.

This is a sampling of what we ate during our seven day vegan test run:

Breakfasts were cereal with vanilla soy milk and fruit. We were encouraged to try rice milk and almond milk, and Martin Forbes, Review editor, turned me onto chocolate soy milk for my coffee.

Lunches were either salads with kidney or garbanzo beans or wrap sandwiches filled with hummus or tofu paté and crunchy cucumbers, mushrooms, lettuce and spinach, tomatoes, avocado, shredded carrot, etc.

For dinner we ate spinach lasagna made with silken tofu and soy cheese, lentils dressed with a garlicky lemon vinaigrette wrapped in spinach leaves, pasta with basil and roasted red bell peppers, eggplant mozzarella. We ate Dr. Praeger's California Veggie Burgers, but I have to tell you, Burgerville's Oregon Harvest Burger (made by Lake Oswego's Marie Osmunson and her Chez Gourmet by Marie) is out of this world! (We can buy them in the frozen case at Wizer's Lake Grove store.)

At the end of the week I felt healthy and lighter. Mark felt no differently physically, but was aware that he didn't need to eat as much meat as he had been before the try.

Some people regard veganism as restrictive, but we actually found it opened options for us. We ate foods we had previously ignored, like grains and legumes. I know we will return to our omnivorous ways, but as much more conscious eaters, and with a stronger slant to the vegetarian side.

If you want to learn more about veganism, visit Chelsea's blog at www.flavorvegan.blogspot.com/ or www.nwveg.org or read Oprah's blog on her Web site, www.oprah.com .

Bon Appetit! Try something new!

Kristen Forbes, freelance writer and daughter of Review Editor Martin Forbes, makes vegan cupcakes every Wednes-day evening and sent a couple in for us to try during our Try Vegan PDX event. They were delicious! She shared a recipe with us.

The Five:30 recipe is Chelsea's yummy Cashew Spread - try it in a pita or wrap.

Brooklyn vs. Boston Cream Pie Cakes

From Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World by Isa Chandra Mokowitz and Terry Hope Romero

You will need one batch of each Golden Vanilla Cupcakes, Vanilla Vegan Pastry Créme and Rich Chocolate Ganache Topping

Golden Vanilla Cupcakes (makes 12 cupcakes)

1 cup soy milk

1 tsp apple cider vinegar

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 Tbsp cornstarch

3/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt (increase salt to 1/2 tsp if you're using oil instead of margarine)

1/2 cup non-hydrogenated margarine, softened, or 1/3 cup canola oil

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp almond extract, caramel extract, or more vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line muffin pan with cupcake liners.

2. Whisk the soy milk and vinegar in a measuring cup and set aside a few minutes to get good and curdled.

3. If using margarine: Sift the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl and mix.

4. In a separate large bowl, use a handheld mixer at medium speed to cream the margarine and sugar for about 2 minutes until light and fluffy, but don't beat past two minutes. Beat in the vanilla and other extract, if using, then alternate beating in the soy milk mixture and dry ingredients, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl a few times.

5. If using oil: Beat together the soy milk mixture, oil, sugar, vanilla and other extracts, if using, in a large bowl. Sift in the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda and salt and mix until no large lumps remain.

6. Fill cupcake liners two-thirds of the way and bake for 20 to 22 minutes till done. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely before frosting.

Vanilla Vegan

Pastry Créme

1/2 cup soy milk

1/2 tsp agar powder, or 1 1/2 tsp agar flakes*

4 tsp arrowroot

6 oz soft silken tofu (about half of a Mori-Nu package), gently pressed to remove excess water

1/3 cup superfine or castor sugar

Pinch salt

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1. Pour 1/3 cup soy milk into a small saucepan; keep the remaining soy milk in the measuring cup. Sprinkle agar powder over the soy milk in the saucepan and cook mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat, and continue to cook for about 4 minutes. The agar will be dissolved when the soy milk appears smooth, and a spoon dipped into the mixture does not have any undissolved agar flakes or powder flecks sticking to the spoon.

2. Whisk the powdered arrowroot into the remaining soy milk in the measuring cup. Pour the arrowroot mixture into the agar mixture in a steady stream, stirring the whole time. The mixture will cook and get very thick in 1 to 2 minutes, and when done it will resemble a very thick pudding. Remove from heat and set aside. Place it in the refrigerator and allow it to set for at least an hour.

3. Crumble tofu into a blender, add the sugar, salt, and cooked arrowroot mixture. Blend till creamy. Add vanilla extract and blend again. Scrape mixture into a container, cover, and put in refrigerator to chill and firm up, at least an hour.

*Powdered agar is much better for this recipe than flaked. It dissolves and cooks much faster. If all you can find is flaked, the cooking time will be longer, as much as 10 minutes. Just soak the agar in the soy milk for 15 minutes before heating, stir often, and watch very carefully so as to not burn the soy milk.

Rich Chocolate

Ganache Topping

1/4 cup soy milk

4 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped

2 Tbsp pure maple syrup

1. Bring the soy milk to a gentle boil in a small sauce pan. Immediately remove from heat and add the chocolate and maple syrup. Use a rubber heatproof spatula to mix the chocolate until it is fully melted and smooth. Set aside at room temperature until ready to use.

To Assemble Cupcakes:

1. Make a hole in the center of each Golden Vanilla Cupcake by poking with your finger. Very gently press the sides and bottom of the hole to make it a little larger. You'll want the space to be able to fill with lots of custard.

2. Fit a pastry bag with a large round or star-tipped nozzle, then fill bag with firmed Vegan Vanilla Pastry Créme. Fill only halfway to make handling the bag easier.

3. Fill each cupcake with pastry créme, trying to get as much filling as possible into the cupcakes. Cupcakes should feel noticeably heavier. Remove any excess créme on top by wiping with a knife or finger. Spread tops of cupcakes with Rich Chocolate Ganache Topping. For smoother looking tops, try applying two thin layers of ganache instead of one thick layer to tops of cupcakes. Chill one hour before serving.

Five:30

A five ingredient entrée ready in 30 minutes or less. (Water, oil, salt and pepper don't count!)

Amazing Vegan Cashew Spread

2 roasted red bell peppers, whole

½ cup cashews

½ cup nutritional yeast*

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

Put all ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. For a more liquid consistency, add water to the sauce.

Great for sandwiches and can be used for pizzas too.

*Nutritional yeast is available at Bob's Red Mill, New Seasons and Whole Foods markets.

Chelsea Lincoln

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at brandall@lakeoswegore

view.com or by calling 503-635-8811.