Last weekend was a 4-day fiesta of non-stop merriment, special occasions, eating, and celebrating! I was super busy, and I'm still trying to catch up with all my emails, but I have no complaints. Celebrations are fun!
The following events were observed:
My birthday (43! woot!) ~ Two of my besties received their PhDs (!!) ~ My niece graduated junior high, my nephew graduated high school, and my other nephew had an end-of-the-school year event at his school ~ Parties were held for all the various graduates ~ my mom & my two aunts and I walked/ran in an annual 5-mile race that we do every year in memory of my grandma (their mom)
The Best Way To Start My New Year: fancy breakfast!
First things first, it was my birthday. I like birthdays and I like doing as many of my favorite things on my bday as possible. This year I started off with a good workout with my trainer, and then came home and prepared a Super Special Birthday Breakfast for Mr. VE&T and myself. I love love love special breakfasts. I made a fancy summertime fruit plate because summertime fruits are the best, Puffy Pillow Pancakes (from Isa Does It) - with added blueberries, Garlic Tofu Cubes (from Oh She Glows), and of course, a big cup of hot coffee. I love blueberry pancakes, but Mr VE&T prefers plain ones... so usually I just do that. But on my birthday I call the shots, including the fruity pancake shots. They were so delicious and perfect. I like the way some of the blueberries get all gooey and cooked. I enjoyed my pancakes with my homemade vegan butter (recipe from The Homemade Vegan Pantry) and real maple syrup. Perfect!
eating pancakes for my birthday breakfast makes me super super super happy!
many years ago, this beautiful lasagna dish was a birthday gift for me from Mr. VE&T
With so many family gatherings and my usual weekday teaching schedule, I wasn't even sure if I would try to have a party for my bday. I mean, no one really needed another family gathering last weekend! ha ha. But, as the day grew closer, I was in the mood, so I decided to host my own birthday party! On the day before my birthday, I made one of my all-time favorite treats: Lasagna! In fact, you can find my recipe here on my blog on an old post called "Birthday Lasagna." Lasagna is so special and delicious, and it's also a good bit of work, so it's definitely a special occasion kind of a treat.
simple and delicious family dinner!
We had a fun and intimate family dinner - kept it nice and simple! In addition to the lasagna, I made a big bowl of steamed Romano Beans, because I am seriously into Romano Beans right now. My aunt Laura brought a huge and beautiful salad full of veggies and my salad-loving family ate so much that she had to make a second bowl of it. Woot!
it was so funny to draw this, because I used to draw Garfield over and over again when I was a little girl!
Even with 8 people, there was a fair amount of lasagna left over! I guess everyone was busy eating all that salad. Anyway, I was stoked, because the best thing about birthday lasagna is leftover birthday lasagna that you can eat for lunch the next day, and again the day after that. It's the gift you make for yourself that keeps on giving!
Happy Birthday To Me!
a long time ago, this daisy platter was also a bday gift for me from Mr VE&T
The afternoon of my birthday was spent in the kitchen - baking cakes! I made a birthday cake for myself, and a graduation cake for my PhD pal. That's a pretty okay way to spend my afternoon, since I enjoy baking. For my birthday cake, I made a really simple one-layer carrot cake. I love carrot cake so much! I used the recipe from Vegan With a Vengeance, but that recipe is called "Tropical Carrot Cake," or something like that. I used orange juice & orange zest instead of pineapple juice, replaced the macademia nuts with walnuts and pecans, and omitted the ginger altogether. I think I also reduced the sugar a little bit.
For frosting, I made the Cream Cheese Frosting recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. I used Kite Hill Almond-based Cream Cheese. The frosting was a little sweeter than I wanted it to be, so I added a teaspoon or two of lime juice, and then it was perfectly tart -- just the way cream cheese frosting should be. When I was putting the frosting on, I wasn't sure what to write. Just writing "Happy Birthday" seemed kinda sad and writing nothing seemed sad too... but "Happy Birthday to me" was perfect! I was super happy with how yummy this cake was, and there was even some leftover. I put it in the freezer, and all week I've been cutting off little pieces. It turns out carrot cake is also delicious straight out of the freezer.
I love having ice cream with cake, and I've been wanting to try this Snickerdoodle Cashew Milk Ice Cream from So Delicious. It was such a great combo with the carrot cake! This ice cream has a nice cinnamon flavor (but not in an over-powering way) and is full of little bits of snickerdoodle cookie dough. True confession: this is a photograph of an empty carton because that ice cream didn't last long at all. Ha ha!
PhD Graduation Party!
a super special cake for a super special PhD pal!
Here is the other cake I made on my birthday! Like I said, two of my very beloved pals got PhDs last weekend, and after the ceremony they held a big joint celebration party along with one other friend. To make a long story short, there were already going to be two big cakes at this party, but neither of those cakes was going to be vegan. Someone needed to make sure that my friend Sophia could celebrate her amazing accomplishment with a vegan cake of her own!! That person was me!
I made the Chocolate Cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World - but intensified it with 2 extra tablespoons of cocoa powder and an extra teaspoon of chocolate extract. I used my small 5" cake pans, and made a super-cute mini layer cake. In between the two layers of cake was a raspberry buttercream made with vegan butter, powdered sugar, liquid from thawed frozen raspberries (seeds removed through a sieve) and a bunch of dehydrated raspberries ground into a powder. Whoa! It was bright red and super raspberry-ish! I used the Ganache recipe from VCTOTW and did two layers. The first layer covered up any lumps or irregularities, and I waited until that had cooled and set before smoothing on the second layer.
My berry decorations were inspired by a super beautiful and awesome and over-the-top Instagram feed @therexsa - a vegan cake baker from the East Bay. Her creations are pretty amazeballs. Sophia and I love to go to the farmers' market together and we always enjoy sampling the different fruits and berries - so this seemed like an especially appropriate way to decorate her cake. I used blackberries, red raspberries, golden raspberries, strawberries (all from the market) and even threw on a few Little Secrets vegan m&m's in their dark chocolate raspberry flavor.
baking with love!
It was okay to make my own bday cake, but it was *super fun* to make this cake for Sophia. It just feels so good to make something special for someone you love. It's lovely to think of them the whole time you're making it. Best of all, I even got to share it with her at her party, and it was crazy yummy!
Junior High & High School Graduation Party!
Open-faced BLTs with Shiitake Bacon
Next up in my weekend of festivities was a party honoring my niece and nephew and their graduations. My brother and his fiance threw a huge party and had lots of "non-vegan" options, if you know what I mean. They sometimes tease me about being vegan, but actually, they've come a long way. I promised that I would help out by bringing a bunch of food that was vegan "but wouldn't gross people out." ha ha.
Whenever I'm faced with cooking up a bunch of foods for a party, I always turn to my trusty copy of Vegan Finger Foods. VFF isn't necessarily a book for weeknight dinners, but it is such a perfect book for party foods. I really love it.
First up, I made a version of their Open-Faced BLT's. Let me just say that the shiitake mushroom bacon from this book is - to date - the best vegan bacon I have ever made or tasted. It was SO GOOD. That is very important news! The recipe called for a base layer of guacamole, but I simplified and just used avocado slices. These little creations were extremely delicious. Mr. VE&T and I considered skipping the party and staying home to eat all of these ourselves. I might have to convert this into a weeknight dinner sometime soon!
finger foods are super fun!
Mean Bean Taco Cups
one of my favorites!
This recipe for Tiny Tomato Pies is one of my very favorites and I think this is the 4th or 5th time I've brought these to a party. The crusts are super easy press-in crusts, and the filling is a delicious spinach-basil-tofu mixture. They're made in a mini-muffin pan and the recipe makes 24 little pies, which is a good quantity for a party! Plus, they're just so cute and a perfect nibble size - maybe 3-4 bites. I totally recommend this recipe!
Birthday Dinner Part Deux, with Friends
Summery Sandwich Fixin's
To cap off my weekend of celebrations, one of my very close friends and her husband came over for a dinner date - as a bit of a belated birthday time together. They are such wonderful people and it always feels great to be together with them.
When we were brainstorming what to have for our low-key dinner party, the idea of veggie burgers came up. But I guess I'm not all that jazzed about veggie burgers lately. Then I remembered one of my all-time favorite sandwiches: The Grilled Herb Tofu Sandwich with Sun-dried Tomato Pesto from The Real Food Daily Cookbook. It's especially fun because our friends are farmers who grow organic strawberries and tomatoes -- and I used the very last of my sundried tomatoes from last year's crop for the pesto! I guess I didn't get a picture of the finished sandwiches, but here you can see all the parts - fresh sandwich rolls from the bakery near our house, a big dish of sun-dried tomato pesto, grilled tofus (after marinating 24 hours in a fresh herby marinade), sauteed red onions, and fresh greens. Such a magical combo.
enormous platter of salad goodness
Jane brought along a huge and amazing salad: fresh greens, red bell peppers, red raspberries, blanched sugar snap peas (good salad idea!), and a center of the most perfect potatoes ever -- cooked and seasoned with total perfection. Between the four of us, there was just a tiny little bit of salad left over at the end of the evening. It was too delicious to stop ourselves!
summery fruit crisp
For dessert, I made a simple fruit crisp with a mixture of peaches, apricots, blackberries, and blueberries. The topping was something I pretty much made up: some whole wheat pastry flour, oats, slivered almonds, cinnamon & nutmeg, a little bit of brown sugar. It was such a yummy and summery dessert.
A Cherry Party With Myself
I always associate my birthday with cherries and stonefruits and after a few years of not-great cherry harvests, this year was a pretty good year for cherries here in California. Apparently, this week was the last week for cherries at our market - and only one farmer still had any to sell. I always make the most of the brief cherry season by going ALL IN for the entire duration! Non-stop cherry eating! When I heard it was the last week for cherries, I took the plunge and bought $20 worth of cherries -- many of which were eaten before I made it home in order to take this picture. What a perfect way to top off a weekend of festivities... with my own private cherry indulgences. There are still some left, and I'll be sure to savor them. Until next year, cherries!
i love cherries!
Phew! After all that eating and cooking and celebrating, I'm really looking forward to this weekend, with many fewer commitments. I'm scheming up a weekend of working on more blog posts, lots of yoga, Sanskrit homework, dog walks, friend time, and maybe even catching up on my emails!
~ Giveaway Winner! ~
Hey! By the way! Congrats to Sarahhhhhhh for winning a copy of Vegan Richa's Indian Kitchen! woooooot! Send me an email : ameyfm (at) yahoo (dot) com and we'll get you your book!