Vegan cream cheese frosting (no cream cheese required): a recipe

Cream cheese frosting, as a concept, is so far removed from cheese itself that it really only has a few attributes in common. Creamy? Yes. Tangy? Yes. Umami? No. Salty? No. Funky? Definitely not. Vegan cream cheese frosting, dare I say, is even further away.

So it never made sense to me to buy a pre-made vegan cream cheese to make cream cheese frosting. Can’t you replicate the qualities of a good cream cheese frosting without any…cheese, vegan or otherwise?

As it turns out, you can!

For my purposes, lemon juice is the secret ingredient. Adding just the right amount transforms a basic buttercream frosting into a tangy, cream-cheese-y, ready-for-carrot-cake delight.

I also like to use some coconut cream in my frosting to add richness in a different way than just vegan butter.

Check out my recipe below, and please let me know if you try it out!

Vegan cream cheese frosting

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup vegan butter or margarine, softened
  • 1/4 cup coconut cream*
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice (from about half a lemon, but definitely measure it)
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2-2.5 cups powdered sugar
  • If needed: A splash of plant milk

Instructions

  1. If you haven’t already, soften your butter by microwaving it at 50% power for 15 seconds at a time until soft to the touch.
  2. Combine your butter, coconut cream, lemon juice, and vanilla extract in a large bowl and mix with a hand or stand mixer until well-combined, smooth, and fluffy.
  3. Add powdered sugar, about a cup at a time, and continue mixing until the frosting has reached your desired sweetness level and texture. (You want it to be soft enough to spread, and thick enough that it won’t fall of your cake once you frost it.)
  4. If your frosting is too stiff, you can add a splash of plant milk and re-blend. If it’s too runny, add more powdered sugar. If it’s not cheesy/tangy enough for you, you can add a little bit more lemon juice, but be careful! It’s a fine line between “cream cheese frosting” and “straight up lemon-flavored frosting,” and you can’t really go back from the latter.
  5. Ideally, cool/set it in the fridge for about 30 minutes before using it to frost a cake. Then, enjoy!

Notes

  • This recipe was adapted from Minimalist Baker‘s buttercream frosting.
  • *For coconut cream, you want the solid stuff in a can of coconut milk. Sometime these cans are already separated, but if not, you can stick it in the fridge the day before you’re going to use the coconut cream. Then, when you’re ready, open the can without shaking it and scoop out the solids. That’s coconut cream!
  • You could probably substitute more of vegan butter or coconut cream for each other in this recipe, if you have a preference for one of the other, but I haven’t tested the recipe this way. Let me know how it goes if you do, though!

KOTN turtleneck review + 7 simple styling ideas

In the past couple years, I’ve embraced the appeal of turtlenecks. I didn’t gravitate toward them for a while—maybe because I wore them a lot as a kid and they held a childish association for me—but when I purchased a black ribbed turtleneck in a Midtown Goodwill on a whim, I learned to love this timeless cold-weather style. Since then, I’ve acquired a few more turtleneck shirts and sweaters, all from various secondhand sources. This season, I wanted to add one in a non-neutral, but still versatile, color.

Enter the fitted turtleneck from KOTN. I saw this piece on one of my favorite blogs, Style Bee, and thought it might be perfect for what I was looking for. I’m happy to say that it is!

Made of 100% cotton, the fabric is pleasantly soft, and stretchy enough to fit snugly without being too clingy. It’s slightly ribbed, but the texture is subtle enough that I didn’t notice it until I had it on. This top is opaque, but it is thin enough that I could see, for example, the outline of a bra strap or tank top.

Based on the size guide, I thought I should order a small, but I was worried that some pandemic weight gain would make that size too small. Luckily, the small fits just right! For reference, I’m 5’9.5″ and about 160 pounds at the moment. The hemline falls to my hip, so I can easily tuck it into a high-waisted skirt or pair of pants, but it might be difficult to tuck into a lower-rise waistband. The sleeves are a good length for me, too.

I chose the color Deep Sea, a dark forest green. The name made me think it’d be a cooler blue-green, but it’s actually pretty neutral—not too cool or too warm, which makes it even more useful in my wardrobe. I’d say the color as depicted on KOTN’s website is quite accurate to its true appearance.

Below, I’ve come up with 7 outfits I can (and very likely will) wear with this turtleneck. It’s super versatile, as you can see—this piece runs the gamut from formal (for me, anyway) to casual, appropriate for a wide range of weather.

Classic

This is a go-to kind of outfit for me: a colorful top; my favorite jeans, cuffed; and sturdy slip-on boots. I’d wear it for running errands, seeing friends (at a distance), or bopping around town.

Cute

I’ve had this stretchy sleeveless dress for ages and it’s now a bit to short to wear on its own, but luckily it works great for layering over tights and a long-sleeved tee. A short dress with chunky Docs is a classic combo in my opinion!

Collegiate

Wearing this sweatshirt always makes me feel so collegiate. (Which…I still am, but in grad school, the vibe is a bit different!) Wearing the turtleneck underneath, it only peeks out at the collar, but adds that extra layer of warmth to take this outfit further into the cold season.

Romantic

Who said turtlenecks can’t be sexy? They may cover you all the way up, but I think they have a certain allure. I love this button-front midi skirt because I can unbutton it to show some leg, or keep it fully buttoned for a more modest look. (How many times can I use the word “button” in the same sentence?) I don’t think I have a pair of shoes that matches the vibe I was going for exactly, but I’d probably wear white sneakers if it’s nicer out or brown boots if the weather’s more gross.

Sporty

Now, of course I wouldn’t wear this top to play a sport, but I’d definitely wear it to watch a sport—assuming things like that were still happening (and I’m sure they will again in the future!). I could see myself wearing this outfit to a football game, or to watch my little brother play soccer. (In either case, the relevant mascot is a mountain lion/cougar. Same as my high school’s mascot, too…)

Scholarly

This vintage L.L. Bean blazer makes me feel like the academic I hope to (someday, maybe) be! The green woven into the blazer’s pattern actually matches the shade of this turtleneck exactly, and the oxfords complete the scholarly look. If I had a more suitable pair of pants, I’d wear them with this outfit instead, but all my dressier pants are gray for some reason.

Cozy

The wintriest look of the bunch—this one will be on the back burner for another month or so at least (I hope so, anyway) while the weather stays unseasonably warm. I love the look of this oversized cardigan I scored on mega-sale at a fast fashion store ages ago, but it’s pretty itchy on my skin, so I always have to wear a long-sleeved layer under it. This turtleneck is perfect for that task, so this outfit is one I’d bundle up in whenever I have to venture outside this winter.

That’s it for this post! Let me know if you want more “fashion” content in the future. Which outfit is your favorite?

Note: This post contains referral links to get us both a discount if you choose to shop at KOTN.

October 2020 goals and Bullet Journal fun

Somehow, it’s been a full year since I last shared my monthly goals and their accompanying spread in my bullet journal. Does anyone else feel like the past 6 months of pandemic-life have made time fly by?

I finally cleaned my home office/desk space after letting it become a mess of a storage area all summer. I had justified that with the fact that I was doing fieldwork and needed all my equipment easily accessible, which was technically true, but summer crept into fall and my desk was still piled high with unnecessary papers. Last night, I finally dragged myself out of my election season-induced funk and put my space in order. It feels awesome, and I’ve used the accompanying burst of inspiration to create what might be my most “artistic” bullet journal spread ever.

I’m usually pretty by-the-book with the standard bullet journal method—on a normal day, the most I’ll go beyond to-do lists and notes is slightly fancy lettering for the day of the week—but this time, I took inspiration from some monthly spreads I found online to add some fall cheer to my journal’s pages.

On the left side, I’ve listed the days of the month with dates and events to keep track of, and near the center, I’ve added an activity tracker to cross off the days when I’ve made an effort to move my body.

On the right, in addition to some fun tree stickers and pumpkin doodles, I’ve written out my monthly goals. I’ll likely add to these as October goes on, but I like to start the month with a few specific goals. Let’s take a look!

Read 4 books.

This one’s pretty self-explanatory! It’s a goal I usually set every month, and last month was the first time in awhile that I achieved it.

Complete basic data analysis.

I finally wrapped my my master’s fieldwork last month, and now it’s time to delve into all that data I collected. I need to do some self-guided learning about multivariate statistics, but for now, I want to make sense of the data with the methods I already know—quantifying it with descriptive stats and ANOVAs.

(By the way, I know “data” is technically a plural noun, and I’m usually a total stickler about grammar, but in this case…I have just always referred to it as singular. Maybe it’s a generational thing? Is it really that bad? Language evolves with the people who speak it, so maybe this is a case of evolution in action. I’m probably not going to “correct” myself, but I’d love to hear what you think about this topic in the comments.)

Write 4 blog posts.

Again—this one’s pretty obvious. I’m on track to publish this on the first of the month, so hopefully it bodes well for the rest of them!

Be active 15 times.

This is how I’ll use the “activity tracker” on the left page of my monthly spread. Especially now that I’m not out in the forest 4 days a week (which feels very bittersweet), I need to break up the desk-sitting monotony and move my body. As the weather turns colder, it can be easy for me to get into a routine that doesn’t include exercise, but I always remember how much better it makes me feel when I get back into it.

Pitch a story.

Since my life doesn’t *entirely* revolve around grad school, I’m trying to pursue my interest in journalism (and specifically science writing) in my free time. That means pitching stories! I’m pretty rusty, but that’s no reason not to try.

Gather all landscape variables for LANDIS initialization.

This is a pretty technical one. If any of you readers are familiar with the LANDIS-II forest model, please let me know if you have any tips!

Looking at this list, I am realizing that it’s pretty self development-focused, whether that growth is personal or professional. I should make some goals that reflect outward, too. I do volunteer weekly with a local organization, but I would love to do more…actually, this realization just prompted me to sign up for a volunteer shift tomorrow. Exciting!

Let me know what your goals are for this month in the comments below. Also, if you have any ideas of blog posts you’d like to see, I would love to hear them. Happy fall!

Scrumptious maple-mustard vinaigrette: a recipe

This is probably my favorite salad dressing—and I don’t even eat that much salad!

It’s inspired by the Love & Magic dressing at SweetArt, an incredible vegan restaurant and bakery in St. Louis. I went to college in St. Louis and whenever I needed a pick-me-up treat, I biked to SweetArt and got myself a cupcake (only $2 on Wednesdays!). When I wanted to be a bit more nutritionally responsible, I indulged in their burger—still the best veggie burger I’ve had to date—and a side of the kale salad with Love & Magic dressing.

I was obsessed with figuring out the secret to their dressing, and I never did, until a couple years ago when a Thanksgiving recipe called on me to make a marinade with maple syrup and Dijon mustard. I tasted it and it was delicious…and it reminded me of that elusive, magical dressing. Since then I’ve honed in on a recipe that may not contain all the same Love & Magic as SweetArt’s, but it’s still pretty damn great.

Tl;dr: Make this dressing, and whenever you’re in St. Louis, get a burger, a salad, and a cupcake from SweetArt—you’ll be glad you did.

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 5 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1.5 Tbsp soy sauce or tamari
  • Black pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. In a jar, combine all ingredients. Screw the lid on tightly and shake vigorously to combine. Taste the dressing and if desired, add a bit more maple syrup for sweetness, vinegar for acidity, mustard for tang, or soy sauce for saltiness/depth of flavor. Enjoy!

Note: Recipe adapted from this one from the Food Network.

Peachy green: A makeup look

Like many people, I think, I’ve been wearing less makeup during the pandemic. For me, that’s mostly been a product of the pandemic coinciding with my field season; I’ve never bothered to put on makeup for my annual tradition of 10-hour days of sweating in the middle of nowhere. When I’m not in the field, though, I’ve relished the opportunity to feel a little bit put-together amid a world of chaos. This look came together on one of those rare makeup days, and though I’d never thought to combine these two particular shades (peach and chartreuse) on my eyelids, I’m really pleased with the results. (My winged eyeliner skills could use some work, but that’s nothing new.)

Products Used

Face

  • Makeup Revolution Conceal & Define (shades 6.5 and 7)
  • Urban Decay Naked Skin Ultra Definition Loose Finishing Powder (Naked Light)
  • Milani Baked Powder Blush (Luminoso)
  • TheBalm Mary Lou-Manizer

Eyes

  • Urban Decay Primer Potion (Original)
  • Nabla Soul Blooming Eyeshadow Palette (Gea, Bolero, Chamomile, Philosophy)
  • BareMinerals READY Eyeshadow 4.0 in The Wild Thing (Icon)
  • KVD Tattoo Liner (Trooper)
  • Milk Makeup Kush Mascara

Lips

  • Anastasia Beverly Hills Lip Gloss (Vintage Rose)

Really good greens: a recipe

If you or a loved one blanch at the mere mention of kale, you may be entitled to this recipe for Really Good Greens.

Ingredients

  • 1 large bunch lacinato kale (or other dark leafy green)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 shallot, sliced into thin rings
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1.5 Tbsp soy sauce or tamari
  • 0.5 tsp vegan chicken-flavored bouillon paste (I use Better than Bouillon No-Chicken Base)
  • Black pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. Wash your greens and tear or chop them into roughly bite-sized pieces.
  2. Heat a large, tall-sided pan over medium heat. Add olive oil, then add shallot. Once shallot is softened, about 3-4 minutes, add garlic and stir until fragrant, about 1 more minute.
  3. Add chopped kale to the pan and top with soy sauce and bouillon paste. Mix to combine, and keep over medium heat until kale has wilted and bouillon paste has completely dissolved. (If you prefer your greens more saucy, place a lid on the pot while the kale wilts; otherwise, leave it uncovered.)
  4. Once kale is wilted, add black pepper to taste. Enjoy!

Kate’s chickpea salad: a recipe

Long time, no see! I’ve been super busy with field research this summer and I have a growing list of blog topics I want to talk about. As I transition into the school year and my schedule becomes (somewhat) less hectic, I’m hopeful that I can find time to blog more regularly. For now, though, enjoy this simple and delicious chickpea salad recipe that’s been sitting in my drafts for months…

I’ve had a few run-ins with chickpea salad since I went vegan, and I’ve never enjoyed it as much as I wanted to. I looooove chickpeas, and I like salad (though not the mayo-based ones quite as much), so this should be right up my alley…right?

I think my main problem was that the recipes I tried over-veganified things. This is a term I’m using, starting right now, to describe foods that veer a bit too far into stereotypical-vegan-ingredient-replacement-health-focused-changes for my personal taste. It’s totally subjective! But for me, a chickpea salad that used avocado for the main fat just tasted like weeeeird guacamole. Sunflower seeds didn’t do it for me, either. Too much garlic, an ingredient I usually adore, also kind of ruined the experience. So for the past couple years, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that chickpea salad is one of those vegan things I just can’t get behind, like eggplants and massive portobello mushrooms.

That is, until my friend Kate told me about a chickpea salad she made last weekend. It sounded deliciously simple, and I knew I had to try it as a potential field lunch. When I’m doing fieldwork, I need lunches that are portable, filling, don’t need to be refrigerated, and can survive being jostled around in a backpack for several hours before being eaten while I sit on the forest floor. This chickpea salad sounded like it just might fit the bill…and lo and behold, it did!

No frills, no fancy ingredients, and it comes together in minutes. What more can you ask of a field lunch, really?! Oh, and in addition to being vegan, this recipe is also gluten-free and low-FODMAP. Pretty awesome!

The key to making this a delicious lunch was to eat it with super-crunchy pita chips. I’d packed previous chickpea salads into wraps or sandwiches, where they’d turn into a soggy, monotextural mush by lunchtime. But with pita chips (or maybe a really sturdy toasted bread), there’s a salty crunch that pairs wonderfully with the creamy, tangy chickpea salad.

Anway, that is all to say: I’m so happy to have found my perfect chickpea salad. Thanks, Kate! Let’s get to the recipe:

Simple chickpea salad

It may not look all that appetizing, but personally I don’t think any mayo-based salads are particularly photogenic. Trust me, it tastes good.
  • Serves: 2 as a main or 4 as a side (double the recipe for a week’s worth of lunches!)
  • Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 15.5-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (or about 1.75 cups cooked chickpeas)
  • 1/4 cup vegan mayo
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp dried or 2 Tbsp fresh dill

Instructions

  1. In a medium-sized bowl, mash chickpeas with the back of a fork until a chunky mash forms & only a few whole beans remain.
  2. Mix in the rest of the ingredients & refrigerate overnight to let the flavors meld together. Serve with pita chips or on sturdy toasted bread with Romaine.

“Rain On Me”-inspired makeup

For the past several days, I’ve been jamming to Lady Gaga’s new song (ft. Ariana Grande), “Rain On Me,” pretty much nonstop. The song is amazing, and the music video is equally fabulous. This music release feels like it’s from another world—and certainly, the video must have been shot before the current global pandemic situation. If you somehow haven’t yet seen/head this masterpiece, here you go:

Gaga and Ari’s makeup/entire look in this video inspired me to glam up my own face a bit this Memorial Day. I just washed all my makeup brushes (long overdue—if you’re reading this, you probably should, too. Just sayin’) and they’re currently drying, so I only used sponges and fingers (mostly fingers) for this look, a fun challenge. I usually am a major brush lover, so it was refreshing to get out of my comfort zone application-wise.

Color-wise, though, this look was right in my comfort zone, which is to say, PURPLE. Whenever I’m wearing a non-neutral makeup look, chances are that it’s mostly purple. It’s my second-favorite color (yellow, unfortunately, is not quite as flattering on my face), and it makes brown eyes pop! I’m just obsessed. I used a combination of new and well-loved products to create this look and I’m loving the subtly space-glam vibe. Plus, no fussy application techniques, since again, I didn’t have any brushes to use. Read on to learn what products I used to create this look!

“I’d rather be dry, but at least I’m alive”

Products used

Face

  • Hourglass Veil Fluid Makeup (Nude)
    • sample; this shade was a bit dark for me
  • Makeup Revolution Conceal & Define (C6.5)
  • Covergirl Clean Fresh Cream Blush (390, Ripe & Ready)
  • Kani Botanicals Prismatic Highlighter (Rose Quartz)

Eyes

  • CoverFX Shimmer Veil (Amethyst)
  • NYX Faux Whites (White Smoke)
  • Nabla Dazzle Liner (Royal Blood)
  • Tarte Lights Camera Lashes
  • Essence Lash & Brow Gel Mascara

Lip

  • Bite Beauty Crystal Crème Shimmer Lip Crayon (Grape Glaze)

Rain on me, rain, rain

Thanks for reading!

Spring ephemerals (ramps!) and hearty pantry staples: a recipe

In the gentle slopes of the Appalachian mountains, spring is synonymous with ramp season. Or at least a small sliver of it, anyway—these cheery yellow-green leaves spring up from the forest floor for just about a month. Their impermanence makes them feel special. But due to overharvesting, slow-growing ramps may become elusive in a more permanent way. It’s important to treat these special plants like the special treat that they are. Here is a great resource for ramp identification and sustainable harvesting. Enjoy responsibly.

A friend clued me in to a patch of ramps growing by a nearby pond, and I made the trek to grab a few leaves. I’ve made ramp pesto before, which is delicious, but this year I decided to blend them into a creamy sauce with some white beans I had in the pantry. The light, savory ramp flavor shines through here, with just a few other ingredients to round out the sauce.

RAMPS! just the leaves, of course.

I used sweet potato “noodles” for no reason other than that I was out of pasta and didn’t want to make a special trip to the store, but I’m sure regular wheat pasta would be just as delicious, if not more so (shh, don’t tell sweet potatoes, one of my great loves, that they just don’t hold a candle in this form to the original). Kale was the green veg I had on hand, but if I made this again, I would probably roast up some broccoli instead. Basically, the star of this recipe is the ramp sauce, and the supporting elements are pretty much interchangeable.

Please let me know if you make this recipe, and I hope you enjoy. Happy ramping!

Sweet potato noodles with creamy ramp sauce and crispy kale (vegan)

  • Serves: 4
  • Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes (~1.25 lb.)
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 bunch red kale, rinsed and torn into bite-size pieces
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • Optional: 1 pack Field Roast apple sage vegan sausages

For the ramp sauce:

  • 1 handful sustainably foraged ramp leaves
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 2 cups cooked white beans
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper

Instructions

  1. Spiralize sweet potatoes. If you don’t have a spiralizer, you can use a regular vegetable peeler to create fettuccine-like strips.
  2. Wash and roughly chop the ramp leaves and peel and crush the garlic clove. Sauté the ramps and garlic in 1 tsp olive oil on low-medium heat until fragrant, about 4-5 minutes.
  3. Add the ramps and garlic to a blender along with the rest of the sauce ingredients. Blend until smooth, adding more water if you want a thinner sauce.
  4. If needed, add another tsp olive oil to the same pan. Cook chopped veggie sausage (if using) for ~3 min. on each side until browned. Then, add kale, salt, & pepper and cook for several more minutes until kale is wilted and crispy in places. Transfer to a bowl.
  5. In the same pan, sauté the sweet potato noodles (swoodles? let’s go with it) on medium heat, adding a bit more oil or water as needed to keep them from sticking to the pan. After 3 minutes or so, cover the pan to steam the swoodles until al dente, about 6-7 minutes total.
  6. Add sauce, kale, and veggie sausage to the swoodles and cook on low heat until sauce is heated through. Serve and enjoy!

Notes

  • The sweet potato noodles can get soggy if they are left saucy for too long, so if you’re saving some of this recipe for later, keep the uncooked sweet potato noodles separate from the sauce and saute+ combine them immediately before eating.
  • Recipe somewhat inspired by this one from Minimalist Baker.

Earth Day: global pandemic edition

Palo Verde National Park, Costa Rica

Happy Earth Day, everyone. I’m writing this in a dead tired state and I’m not going to edit it right now, but I wanted to say something (if only for myself) on a day that is normally joyful and poignant for me and for many others.

I spent most of Earth Day in a car. That’s probably a first for me, at least since I have been old enough and cognizant of the world around me enought to care about it. It wasn’t how I wanted to or in some senses should have spent the day, but with my trusty cat in a carrier beside me and the golden-green spring landscapes of New England rolling past, it could have been a lot worse.

My roommate situation in Vermont has become untenable, so today I packed up my cat and my sourdough starter and drove to Pennsylvania to hunker down with my family for awhile instead. I have been considering doing this for some time now, but for several reasons that I will probably get into in a later blog post, the cons seemed to outweigh the pros.

Now, I’m back here in suburbia, at least for the time being. As I scrolled through my camera roll looking for photos to include in my somehow obligatory-feeling Earth Day Instagram post, I reminisced about all the cool places I’ve been so lucky to visit on this beautiful planet of ours. The mossy cloud forests of Costa Rica; the sand dunes piled starkly against the mountains in the middle of Colorado. And both of those were just this year. And who knows when I’ll be able to go someplace like that again, now?

But I’ve seen plenty of beauty in my day-to-day life this week, too. A red-winged blackbird perched on a swaying, top-heavy Phragmites. Ramps (!!!. RAMPS!) sprouting up in a pop of vivid green against the brown earth, startling me with their vibrancy. The fuzzy outlines of dozens of blossoming trees lining the highways I drove down today. The unmistakable and ever-growing red buds of the maple in the backyard I left. Black-capped chickadees chattering in a tree not ten feet from me.

I want to write more about Earth Day action items sometime soon, but for now, for tonight, I’m just grateful. I’m safe and the family dog is snoring gently beside me. The world is soldiering on. Nature is healing. (But really, she always does.)