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Have you seen My Neighbor Totoro? I hope so. If not, please do. It’s the cutest movie EVER. Our daughter loves it, which pleases me greatly… because I’ve dreamed of throwing a Totoro themed birthday party since the time she was just a twinkle in our eyes.
Here are a few pictures of the simple Totoro-themed party that we threw for Cleo’s 2nd birthday party. Everything came together in the end very nicely, with a lot of help from grandparents and friends. We planned a late morning party, so we just had cake and coffee. It was really nice to have coffee talk with friends in the park before the day got too warm.
Look at the great cake that my friend Vince helped me make! Actually, this one I did by myself, but he came over and helped me make a trial run cake. The vegan “buttercream” frosting recipe (see below) that he came up with looked better than this one did, but it was so very tasty. I used a Dr. Oetker’s lemon cake mix, and instead of using eggs, I substituted 1 tablespoon flax meal mixed with 3 tablespoons warm water for each egg, which is turning out to be my favorite egg substitute. It came out really well! There’s also a layer of organic blueberry jam in there between the cake layers serving as the filling. One of our guests wondered why I decided to make a cake that wasn’t vegan. He looked pretty surprised that it actually was. And there was barely enough for all of the guests. Oops.
Vegan Buttercream Frosting
1 c Earth Balance margarine, at room temperature
3 c vegan confectioner’s sugar
1-3 tbsp soy milk
1 tsp vanilla (Vince suggested flavoring it with fresh grated ginger! It was really good, but didn’t play well with the cake flavors we had planned here)
Using a hand mixer, beat the margarine until fluffy. Slowly add the sugar; it’ll be crumbly. Add a tablespoon of soy milk and mix, adding more if necessary. Add vanilla, mix more. If you need more liquid, by all means, add more, but slowly. If desired, add food color. Now get to decorating! Makes about 3 1/2 cups.
Soot Sprites are abundant in Totoro’s neighborhood.
I made about 40 of them, with fuzzy faux fur, felt for eyes affixed with embroidery thread. Very simple, too (see my instructions, below, to make your very own). Making them was a lot of fun, but seeing the looks on people’s faces when presented with one was even better.
To make the Soot Sprites, trace 5″ circles (coasters work really well as a pattern here), and cut out 2 pieces for each sprite. The eyes are patterned by a quarter, and then use embroidery thread to affix them in a star pattern to one of the faux fur pieces (if you’re into that. Dots would work too). After attaching the eyes, place the faux fur pieces right sides together, and tuck the furry ends in toward the middle of the sprite so that you don’t see any fur sticking out. Pin the pieces together. Stitch around the edges (if you use a sewing machine for this, you will want a bigger needle and a longer stitch length. And you’ll also want to dust it out really well after this project. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that Soot Sprites can be messy!), leaving about a half inch seam allowance. Be sure to leave a 2-inch opening! Turn the sprite right-side-out, and stuff with the stuffing of your choice. They would make really great bean bags, but I opted for stuffing. Light and fluffy! Hand stitch them up. Voila! A Soot Sprite is born!
Acorns and seeds play a part in Totoro too. Cleo’s grandmother was so generous with her time and made a bunch of these! They’re about 2 inches from end to end, and made with such care. She is a crafty lady, and I think she really enjoyed the challenge of working on something so small, using a new pattern, and making them just right. She made almost 30 of them, and they’re amazing. They still sit up on our bookshelf to be admired. Here is the pattern she ended up using. There are a LOT of cute things going on on that site. I might have to learn to knit. Again.
It wouldn’t be a party without treat bags…
And our young guests seemed to enjoy them greatly. They’re just basic paper gift bags, filled with bubbles, Soot Sprites, the fabulous knitted acorns, and some stickers. The Totoros are made from heavy duty scrap booking paper. I sketched my basic Totoro shape on one, cut it out, and then traced it to make some clones. I kept it very basic. Less is more, and when you try to do details on a reproduction, it looks so much more… reproduced. I did the same with the Totoro tummy, and then used a hole punch to do the eyes. After gluing them all together, I just used a felt pen to put on the finishing touches and customize them with the guest’s name. Finally, tape the Totoro to the full treat bag, and you’re done!
Our adult guests didn’t go home empty handed though. The night before, I cut down some flowers I got in bunches at the grocery store and grouped them in half-pint mason jars. So cute! I chose jars that would fit into a car’s cup holder. I’d hate for our party favors be remembered for the mess they made and not for the cuteness of the event!
Thanks to all of the help that we had, I was able to arrive at the party site just half an hour before the party started to unload everything. I enlisted a few friends to help with the tablecloths on the picnic table, and to arrange the decorations on top of them. My parents brought a huge party pot of organic coffee from a local roaster and coffee house, and I set up a little coffee station with a selection of vegan creamers and sweeteners. This party was a true lesson in keeping things simple so as to truly enjoy the day.
Here’s one of my favorite moments from the party- Cleo walking with my dad. At first she was really wobbly while maneuvering the perimeter of the now-unused wading pool at the park. By the time she got halfway around, she was feeling pretty confident; by the time she’d lapped it, she wasn’t even thinking about it anymore. She’s growing up so fast!
Happy Birthday Cleo. Next year you can pick out your party theme. xoxo Mommy
from Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
8 slices good, dark pumpernickel bread
8 tsp nonhydrogenated margarine
1 1/2 c sauerkraut
2 dill pickles, thinly sliced
1 avocado, cut in half lengthwise and sliced into 1/4-inch slices
1 pound tempeh, cut into four equal pieces, then cut through the middle so that you have eight thin squares
For the Marinade:
1/2 c white cooking wine (I just used regular white wine- Chardonnay to be specific. Then gave the rest of the bottle to my mom because I think it’s yucky stuff by itself…)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp Bragg Liquid Aminos or tamari
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, smashed
For the Dressing:
1/3 c Vegannaise
2 tbsp ketchup
juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp minced onion
3 tsp capers
2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish (or equivalent amount chopped pickles)
pinch of cayenne
Prepare the tempeh:
Combine all the ingredients for the marinade. Add the tempeh and marinate for at least an hour, turning once.
Mix all the dressing ingredients and set aside.
When the tempeh has marinated for an hour, preheat a grill pan over high heat. Cook the slices on the grill for 4 minutes on one side, until dark grill lines have appeared, then use tongs to flip them over and cook on the other side for about 3 minutes.
Prepare the sammich:
Spread a teaspoon of margarine on each piece of bread. Heat a large skillet over moderate heat. Fry each piece of bread on the buttered side for 3 minutes, flip over and cook 1 minute more (it’s okay that the other side is dry).
Divide the sammich ingredients equally among four buttered-side-down fried bread slices. Smother in dressing, top each serving with another slice of fried bread, nonbuttered side down, cut in half, and serve. For that authentic Jewish deli look, stick a toothpick in each half. Makes 4 sammiches.
There’s a local franchise that makes a really similar sammich (isn’t it just so adorable that Isa refers to sandwiches as such, consistently? I think so too), and I saw this recipe and wondered if it would be as good. And it was! I am pretty new to pumpernickel, so that was different, but the sauce and the marinated tempeh are really close to the Cafe Yumm! version I love so much. I’m actually thinking it might be a good meal to share with my family when we go to the coast in a few weeks (vacation hurry up and get here!!!), because my dad always claims that he’s missing out when he eats vegan food. This might just cause him to quiet his sammich hole for just a minute. I’ll let you know.
I have to admit though, that I didn’t read the instructions very well for the sandwich construction. After making two sandwiches, but using all of the tempeh and dressing, I was wondering why the bread was so soggy, and why my tummy was so full so fast. OH HELLO DOUBLE STUFFED SAMMICH. So, expect your sandwich to be a bit thinner, a bit more manageable, as well as greater in quantity than TWO, if you actually follow the directions. I can assure you that it’s just as tasty either way. Promise.
Oh my. Would you look at all that vegan sushi?
We had a party a little while back. I have always wanted to learn to make sushi, and found a friend who was willing to teach me, and a few friends who were willing to eat my homework.
We started with a big pot of cooked brown rice (because it’s healthier than brown rice, of course, and gave it a really hearty flavor), as well as some tofu strips fried in a little bit of canola oil:
My teacher brought a fabulous selection of roasted veggies. Those eggplants were the best!
We also had radish sprouts and avocado, as well as some roasted broccoli and sauteed portabella mushrooms to roll with. I would have taken pictures of the rolling procedure so as to teach you too, but after making my first roll, I was absolutely smitten. I loved the challenge of making neat and tidy little concoctions. I love how well contained the sushi roll is. I felt I had a gift for it, and wouldn’t stop to give anybody else a turn. Luckily we had two little rolling stations set up, so others were able to make a few rolls beside me.
Here are a few of my favorites (basically anything with a radish sprout or avocado gets that title): Broccoli with red pepper, tofu, and radish sprouts. WIN!
One of our guests made miso soup! She thought she might have gone overboard with the nori, but I don’t think so. Seaweed is really good for you! And look at those little baby mushrooms.
This was one of the best nights of my life. Learning something new (that I felt I was actually pretty good at right off the bat), eating A TON of food made from scratch that’s really good for you, and making something beautiful; all things I really enjoy. And, with people that I love! It was a pretty small party, but there were no leftovers. That’s just how we roll. AH-HAHAHA!
adapted from Supermarket Vegan by Donna Klein
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini or other white beans, rinsed and drained
1 (7.25-ounce) jar roasted red bell peppers, well drained
1 to 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 to 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
6 (10-inch) flour tortillas, preferably whole wheat
several handfuls of spinach
4 Gardein Chick’n Scallopini
4 tbsp Daiya Mozzarella Style Shreds
In a food processor fitted with the knife blade, or in a blender, process the beans, red bell peppers, lemon juice, oil, garlic, salt, and black pepper until smooth and pureed. Transfer to a medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate a minimum of 30 minutes, or overnight.
When it’s almost chow time, toss the Chick’ns onto a lightly greased nonstick skillet, cook the first side for a few minutes over medium heat, and flip over. Top each with a tablespoon of Daiya shreds, and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until the “cheese” is melty. Remove from skillet and set on a plate with a paper towel to cool. Cut each into 1/2-inch strips.
Prepare the wraps by placing the tortillas on a flat work surface. Spread equal amounts (about 1/2 cup) of the bean mixture on each tortilla, leaving a 3/4-inch border all around. Place a handful of spinach leaves (or, just two leaves if you wanted to follow the original recipe… I figured the more greens, the merrier) in the center of each tortilla. Place the “cheesy” Chick’n strips on the spinach leaves, and tightly roll up each tortilla from the edge nearest you, tucking in the sides and leaves as you roll. Makes 6 servings.
I found this while looking for recipes for sandwiches- I’m already fantasizing about what to serve guests at our toddler’s birthday party in a few months. I was drawn in by the beans and roasted red peppers. This recipe is probably too close to what we served at last year’s party to make an appearance at this year’s, but I still had to make it. This was so easy to make (as are all of the recipes I’ve made so far out of this cookbook), and lent itself easily to adaptation. It would be really good with some basil leaves mixed in with the spinach leaves, especially if you tone down the lemon juice a bit (I used just over a single tablespoon and tasted it more than the garlic, which I refused to limit to 2 cloves…). This really would make a great nibble for a play date in the park. Come on sunny days! Let’s have more than one in a row. Because spreading your picnic blanket on wet grass? Not so much.
from Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
2 tbsp arrowroot powder (cornstarch or potato starch will work, too)
2 c cold water or vegetable broth
8 tsp olive oil
1 c shallots, thinly sliced
1 large onion, quartered and sliced into half moons
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 c cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 portobello caps, thinly sliced
2 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
3 1/2 c seitan, sliced into thin, wide strips
2 tsp salt
1 c Burgundy cooking wine
1 tbsp Hungarian paprika
1/2 c nutritional yeast
1/2 c plain soy milk
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 c frozen green peas
1/2 lb wide noodles, prepared according to package directions
Dissolve the arrowroot in the 2 cups of water; set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and onions, saute for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, cremini and portobello mushrooms, and thyme. Saute for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a cast-iron skillet with the remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil, just long enough to coat it. Add the seitan and saute over medium heat about 25 minutes, until it is dark brown and crispy on the outside. If you are using store-bought seitan you need only cook it for 10 minutes.
Back to the sauce: add the salt, wine, and paprika (to the mushroom mixture). Turn up heat to high to reduce the liquid, about 10 minutes.
Lower heat to medium-high, add the arrowroot mixture, stir well, and let the sauce thicken, about 5 minutes. Add the nutritional yeast and mix well until it is dissolved. Add the soy milk and mustard and bring heat down to low; be very careful not to let it boil now because it can make the soy milk and mustard bitter (I just turned the heat down before adding it, and made sure those bubbles stopped. I didn’t want to take any chances). Add the seitan and peas; cook for 10 more minutes.
Divide the noodles into bowls and mix with the stroganoff. It is best to mix immediately so that the pasta doesn’t stick. You can top it off with tofu sour cream, but I like it just the way it is. Serves 6-8.
I made this for our wedding anniversary dinner last night. We’ve been married for 8 years! The time has gone by so fast, which is probably a good sign, right? At first Mike told me that he wanted me to make this for our special dinner. Though very yummy, I wanted more of a challenge, something new, and something special. Plus, I just got this cookbook, so I needed to break it in!
I saw that it called for a cup of shallots, one of my favorite flavors, and was sold! My only regret is that I didn’t make my own seitan for this. After making it from scratch, using storebought is such a letdown- so expensive and not as tasty. And the texture isn’t that great. Still, this recipe is a total winner. The sauce is so flavorful and rich. The shallots, of course! It smelled so good while I was cooking… I used a 2006 Pinot Noir from King Estate, one of our favorites, for the Burgundy wine. It was amazing. Plus, we had the rest of the bottle to celebrate our anniversary with!
Also, see that green stuff alongside the Stroganoff? That would be the most cooked side dish in our house- garlicky spinach. It’s so easy to make, and a good way to get your greens in for the day! Here, I’ll share the recipe with you. Maybe it’ll become one of your favorites too?
Easy Garlicky Spinach
1 tsp olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large tub of prewashed organic baby spinach
vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste
Heat the olive oil over low-medium heat in a large pot. Add the garlic and spinach, and mix it up. Pour 1/4 cup of water over the greens to keep the garlic from browning if you hear sizzling. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes, checking and stirring often. Make sure you pull the greens up from the bottom of the pan so that they wilt evenly. Once all the greens are just wilted, remove from heat. You want them to still have that bright green color, but they will have reduced quite a bit in size. Add salt and pepper to taste, and if you care to, sprinkle some vinegar on top. My favorite is balsamic. Enjoy! Serves 2-6.
A week before Halloween, I decided to make this costume. In the past, I would have these HUGE costume birthday parties the weekend before Halloween, and in the last few years, I’ve somehow lost the urge to spend an entire month preparing for my birthday drinking weekend. I was actually really let down by myself; that I wasn’t eager to find or make the perfect costume for my little one- something that I’d always looked forward to doing as a mom. But that urge kicked in as I was dredging through the limited selection of reduced price costumes online a mere seven days before my favorite holiday. I saw a costume like the owl one pictured above in a virtual shop that my bestie showed me back in August, but it was too springtime flowery and too spendy. It haunted me as Halloween got closer. Finally, when it seemed that I already had too much on my plate between trying to finish up a commissioned portrait, taking a watercolor class, and the rest of daily life, the urge really struck.
Six days before the holiday, we headed out to the fabric store to purchase our fabrics. I used scrap felt for the eyes and beak, a scrap of fuzzy fleece for the chest and face, and the rest is purchased flannel, perhaps about a yard in total. I did a few sketches, and used an existing hood from one of her sweatshirts and a tighter hat as a guide for the owl’s head, and then constructed the rest of it on my own. I must say, I work best under pressure. Because in those six days, I was able to finish a 3×4 foot portrait of my nephew dog, prepare this cake (for the 4th time, with raisins, BOMB!) for mine and my mom’s birthday, spend a day with mom, learn some new watercolor techniques, carve some pumpkins (see below) and bust this costume out.
I’ve taken some pattern drafting classes in the past, and I must say, if you like to sew, and want to learn to sew your own clothes that fit perfectly, I highly recommend seeking some out. It definitely helps if you are one of those people who enjoys visualizing and translating a three dimensional idea into a two dimensional pattern and back into a three dimensional product, but it’s something that you can definitely get better at. I found my class at our community college, and learned SO much in just two trimesters.
I don’t have a pattern for this costume 1) because I didn’t have time to make one and document as I worked, and 2) because it’s so similar to the one I was inspired by. Next year though, I’m thinking ahead. I’m going to start early. It’s going to be fabulous. Hold me to this. Please.
Another festive thing that took place were these bars:
Salted Caramel Popcorn Pretzel Bars adapted from Shutterbean
Nonstick cooking spray
12 cups plain popped popcorn (from 1/2 cup kernels or 2 microwave packages)
4 cups coarsely chopped small salted pretzels
1 cup toasted almonds, chopped
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
2/3 cup Unsweetened MimicCreme
2 cups (1 package) Dandies vegan marshmallows
Coat a 9 x 13″ baking dish with cooking spray. In a large (your biggest!) bowl, toss together popcorn, almonds and pretzels. In a medium saucepan, bring sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 cup water to a boil over medium high. Boil, undisturbed, until mixture is amber in color–8-12 minutes. Remove pan from heat and slowly pour in cream (mixture will sputter). Immediately add marshmallows; stir until melted.
Pour caramel mixture over popcorn and pretzels and quickly stir with a rubber spatula to coat. Transfer mixture to dish and use a dampened hands to press the mixture into the pan. Sprinkle with a heavy dose of kosher salt. Let cool completely before cutting into bars.
They were SO GOOD. I veganized them, using this awesome product called MimicCreme that I found recently at my market, in place of the heavy cream, and Dandies vegan marshmallows in place of the regular marshmallows. Those marshmallows have the best flavor, I had to resist eating half the package. It paid off, and these made such great treats to share with friends and family. As Shutterbean shared with me, the recipe claims to make 12 servings, but those would be HUGE. I ended up with 24. And I’m the queen of out of proportion portions! I’d recommend chopping up the marshmallows so that they melt more easily- though they aren’t jet-puffed, they’re not minis either! They’re much denser with a better flavor than the regular nastioso marshmallow. A special thanks to Bean for coaching me through this- from not disturbing the boiling sugar mixture to reassuring me that this concoction really WILL fit into that 9×13″ pan!
And, here are my pumpkins. I like to wait until just a few days before Halloween so that they don’t get all yucky and moldy, needing a shovel to be disposed of. Also, I was smart this year and wore vinyl (Latex would work too, if you aren’t allergic like me) gloves to guard against that awful dry skin that I always get from carving multiple pumpkins. I can’t believe it took me so many years to figure this out. I always do a kitty as my warm-up pumpkin. It’s tradition:
I hope that you had a happy Halloween!
I’m a guest blogger over at Almost All The Truth, for Make Things Monday!
Come and learn how to make an easy hooded baby towel from an old bath towel! I promise, it’s easy and fun.
from Vegan Lunch Box by Jennifer McCann
1 c walnuts
1 c cooked brown rice
1 c canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 c oat bran (isn’t always gluten-free, read your labels of course!)
1/2 tsp sage (I used 1/2 tbsp fresh chopped)
1/2 tsp marjoram (again with the fresh)
1/4 tsp thyme (1/4 tbsp fresh)
1/4 tsp onion powder
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp natural peanut butter
1/4 c tomato sauce
7 medium bell peppers , tops lopped off, ribs and seeds removed
Preheat oven to 350F.
Using a food processor fitted with the S blade, process the walnuts into very small bits. Scrape the walnuts into a large mixing bowl and set aside.
Add the brown rice and chickpeas to the bowl of the food processor and process until the mixture forms a coarse mash. Add this mash to the mixing bowl along with the oat bran, sage, marjoram, thyme, onion powder, soy sauce, mustard, peanut butter, and tomato sauce. Using your hands, knead the mixture well until it is thoroughly mixed and holds its shape… Stuff this mixture into the peppers, and replace the tops if you desire. Place them on a baking sheet, and bake for 30 minutes.
You’ll have to excuse me, I made some changes here. First off, the original recipe is for wellingtons, to be made with puff pastry instead of bell peppers. I don’t do puff pastry (too tasty, too dangerous), so I was happy to see that the author included a variation that her sister-in-law came up with. Second, the bell peppers that I picked up at the farmers market were HUGE. So I used 4 of them. Also, I realized that I had no tomato sauce once I had the mix all kneaded up. So I smashed a tomato with a little garlic and a splash of olive oil. Ugh. Maybe that’s why I didn’t find this to be my favorite recipe to date? The filling to pepper ratio was too much, and made for a lot of the same texture throughout the entire pepper. The tomato sauce situation was a sin, I know. I have no excuse- I was hungry and I panicked.
I must say though, that the filling itself was really good. The mustard-peanut butter-onion powder combo is simply brilliant. It was savory and dense- total comfort food. I will definitely make these again, but only with the sauce, and I might knead some red onion in at the end to give it a little more texture. And as far as traveling well and making for a good leftover for a hearty lunch? Indeed.
Still, my apologies. I’ll try not to cook when I’m THIS hungry.