Sunday, November 20, 2011

Shop Local - Shop Vegan!

This year as we think about the people in need and how we can best serve the greater good, think about the local owned businesses you pass by everyday. Saturday after “Black Friday” has been dubbed “Shop Local Saturday.” I think we need to think about shopping local everyday.

Small businesses are the heart and soul of our communities. You may not get a half priced video game, but instead you will be investing in your neighborhood and supporting the artist next door. I had the honor of serving as an ex-officio board member for the Iowa City Downtown Association while working for the Summer of the Arts. The business owners I worked with were some of the kindest, most generous and hard working people I know. Everything these local business owners do centers around supporting the community. If shopping small local shops is not your usual routine, then I challenge you to change it up a bit.

Below are some of my favorite local small businesses where you can find vegan friendly goods.

Etsy is the home of small business entrepreneurs online. Type in vegan as a search term and you will find tons of things from food, clothes, accessories, soaps, and much more, all of which are handmade or recycled to new life.

Of course, I will recommend my favorite Des Moines area Etsy Artist:

Beaverdale Neighborhood - Des Moines

Back Country Outfitters
You will find much more than outdoor gear here! This local shop has a great variety of Fair Trade, Vegan and high quality clothes, shoes, accessories and anything you need if you are heading out for a winter camping trip. Oh, and they also have a great variety of Organic clothing for men and women! Organic cotton is so much softer…
I found a beautiful Vegan winter coat at Back Country last year that is the warmest thing I have ever worn.

While you are in the Beaverdale neighborhood you will find many family owned local businesses that have been open for generations. Finish off your shopping with a short drive through neighborhoods filled with beautiful historic homes.

West Glen Town Center – West Des Moines
If you are going to Target, then give yourself a few extra minutes to shop at some of the local owned businesses in the shopping center!

Bella Boutique
This is a shop for the ladies! They have great gift items, purses, clothes and accessories at really great prices for your family or co-workers. I found an adorable fuzzy pink tiara here for my niece.

Jake’s Journey
A few doors down from Bella you will find a fun locally owned outdoorsy store! They have all of the fun shirts and gifts for your family. 

Downtown Iowa City    

Take a tour of the downtown shops and you will not be disappointed! Truthfully, I love every downtown shop I have ever visited in downtown Iowa City. I had trouble choosing but here are a couple I recommend.

Lorenz 2.0
I walked up to Lorenz 2.0 and the first thing I saw was the sign that said “Vegan Shoes.” I was in heaven! When I asked about the vegan shoes, I found out that everything they have in stock right now is Vegan! (HOORAY!) Not only are there shoes, really great comfortable shoes that are really hard to resist, but there is also a great variety of accessories hand crafted by local jewelers. They have locally made jewelry for every style and taste.

Men, get your ladies a gift certificate and they will love you for it! This isn’t the national Catherine’s chain. Local businesswoman, Catherine Champion, has revitalized this shop to carry high-end women’s wear. She has a variety of vegan, organic and fair trade brands she carries AND her staff will spend the time with you to make sure you have everything you need.

Art & Gifts!
Of course you need to check out the Iowa Artisans Gallery, Chait Galleries and Beadology Iowa.

My Challenge to You
This is my favorite time of year. The holidays for me are full of family, friends, good food and of course great shopping deals. Everything glitters, shines and seems a little brighter as we go into the cold winter months. As an eternal optimist, I find joy in all of the little things like decorating my tree or finding a great bargain at the stores.

So if you choose to indulge in consumerism this fall my challenge to you is to buy AT LEAST one thing more than you usually would from a locally owned store or artisan.

Okay, so I know there are tons more Vegan friendly shops, please add more suggestions in the comment section!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Chocolate Heaven

Chocolate Heaven...
Okay, these cupcakes will satisfy any chocolate or sweet cravings you may have. They are rich, moist, fluffy, and melt in your mouth delicious.  Not to brag too much – but these are the best cupcakes I have ever made. I have been sick and finally had my taste buds back and after looking through dozens of recipes, I struck out on my own and came up with this.

Warning: If you don’t like your chocolate cake to taste too sweet, or do not enjoy actually tasting the chocolate in your cake then these are not for you. But…If you are a chocolate lover who needs to satisfy a monthly craving or chocolate fix of any kind then these are for you!

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar (or sweetener of choice)
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chocolate almond milk
1/2 cup apple sauce
1/4 cup vegan sour cream
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 cup dark chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and spray a cupcake pan with nonstick spray. In a bowl, mix the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt thoroughly.

2. Combine the chocolate almond milk, apple sauce, sour cream and vanilla in another bowl. Use a hand mixer to blend thoroughly. (The vegan sour cream is sometimes a little thick and needs to be mixed in well)

Create a well in the bowl with your dry ingredients and combine your wet ingredients. Use a hand mixer to blend.

3. Scoop immediately into cupcake pan – distributing evenly and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean (if you find a spot without chocolate chips). Be careful not to bake too long or you will get a chewy outside layer (which does not taste bad at all) If you can wait…allow to cool before adding frosting. If not – have at it!

4. For frosting, use your favorite flavor…whatever it might be (chocolate perhaps?!)

5. Decorate your cupcakes and ENJOY!!

There are TONS of great frosting recipes I use – and since none of them are my own I will direct you to where you can find just about any recipe that has been made vegan. So you can top this with a chocolate butter cream frosting or whatever fits your mood.

Baking Tips
Here are a couple of baking tips I picked up from the Cupcake Queen: Christine Alexander, former owner of Fairgrounds Coffeehouse, in Iowa City (where they have the best vegan cupcakes on earth - outside of these of course).
1.   Always preheat your oven and have your bake ware ready ahead of time.
2.   Make sure you combine your wet and dry ingredients quickly and are ready to immediately get your dish in the oven. Once the baking soda or baking powder combines with the wet ingredients it is activated and the amount of rise and fluffiness is improved with quick turnaround to the oven.
3.   When combining wet ingredients, always have a rubber spatula on hand to get all of the wet ingredients mixed into the dry. Recipes calling for a certain amount of moisture are relying on the full amount of wet ingredients. If you have a good layer of wet ingredients in your bowl then you are shorting your recipe by a couple of tablespoons of wet goodness!