Book Review: Blissful Bites

Blissful Bites by Christy Morgan

I was excited to hear that my friend and fellow Texan Christy Morgan was publishing a vegan cookbook, Blissful Bites. And I was lucky enough to receive a copy of the book to review.

To begin with, there are beautiful photos throughout the book, unlike many vegan cookbooks which only have a color section. I work in publishing, so I know exactly why it’s not feasible to have color photos throughout a cookbook for a specialized audience, but I still like to see them as a reader. Another¬†thing that I love about the book design is that each chapter has a table of contents. This makes it so easy to browse through the recipes or find a specific recipe.

The introduction walks you through Christy’s food philosophy, which is largely based on her macrobiotic training at the Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts here in Austin. I admit, this part of the book wasn’t for me. I’m not looking for my food to make me blissful, and I’m a bit skeptical of some of her health claims. If you’re firmly in the science-based nutrition camp, I would skip to the end of the introduction where Christy included photos and directions of how to make basic knife cuts like chiffonade and julienne. The visual along with the directions is perfect for beginner cooks.

Even though I didn’t care for the nutrition information, this is actually a great cookbook for most people on special diets. The recipes are all low-glycemic index, which is good for us diabetics. Many of them are gluten-free, soy-free, oil-free, or raw, and these recipes are flagged with symbols for easy identification. And there’s an emphasis on nutrient-dense foods. Anyone on a special diet for health reasons should absolutely pick up this book. It’s also a good buy for people interested in a whole foods-style of cooking, since Christy cooks by season, sweetens all her recipes with maple syrup or brown rice syrup, and uses whole grains.

Of course, these same qualities might be a downside for some people. Some recipes use harder-to-find ingredients like barley flour and coconut palm sugar. I’m certain I can find these things here in Austin, but if you only have access to a small grocery store with limited options, you may need to order some ingredients from the Internet or substitute something easier to find in order to make these recipes. This also isn’t a cookbook for picky eaters. Or at least my picky eater. And if you’re on a budget, know that some recipes contain as much as half a cup of maple syrup.

Polenta Fries from Blissful Bites by Christy Morgan. Photo by mollyjade. Licensed under creative commons

I took the book out for a spin and tried three recipes. First up were Sage-Infused Polenta Fries. This was a bit of a test for me since I’ve never successfully made firm polenta. I eat soft polenta all the time, but for some reason, I can never get it to firm up well.¬†While my polenta fries aren’t as pretty as the ones pictured in the book, I’m enormously pleased with how firm they got. The recipe was really specific about how thick the polenta should be before you let it cool (the spoon needs to be able to stand up in the pot), and I think that made all the difference.

To go with the polenta fries, I also made the Cashew Garlic-Aioli, which contains nuts, coconut milk, lime juice, coconut oil, and a few other things. From the name, I was expecting a garlicky sauce to go with the fries, so I was a bit surprised when I dipped my first fry in the aioli. I liked it a lot, but it just didn’t go with the sage-flavored fries. Between the lime juice and coconut, it tasted very tropical. I ended up saving the aioli for another day, and it went perfectly with sweet potato fries. It was very creamy and held up well in the fridge.

The final recipe I tried was Chewy Trail Mix Bars. This one was a success with even my picky eater. Even though there’s a good deal of sugar in it (in the form of brown rice syrup), the almond butter, puffed brown rice, and oatmeal made this something I was happy to eat for breakfasts and snacks. And it made so much that the two of us weren’t able to finish it off in a week. Next time I make it, I’ll cut the recipe in half.

If you’re in Austin and you’d like to get a signed copy of Blissful Bites, head to Counter Culture on Saturday between 4 and 7 PM for a book release party. There will be samples of recipes from the book, cupcakes from Kristen at Sugar-Skull, and beer available by donation. And 20% of the proceeds from the book and all the beer donations go directly to Sunny Day Farms.

Austin Bakes for Bastrop: Sign Up Now!

Doggie Biscuits at the Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale in 2009. Photo by dontloseyourlunch. Licensed under creative commons

Vegan bakers, mobilize! The seven bake sale locations to raise money for Bastrop fire victims have been announced, and they’re taking baked good pledges now. I want to see vegan baked goods at all seven locations!

A deal has been worked out so that any leftover vegan baked goods will be transported to the Gathering of the Tribes later that same day for a post-sale bake sale. So even if you’re not baking, the bake sale will come to you. But seriously, bake something.

Tomato Rosemary Scones at Tacoma Vegan Bake Sale in 2011. Photo by Roxanne Cooke. Licensed under creative commons

Baked goods should be individually packaged as cutely as possible (we’re pulling for big bucks here!) and labeled as vegan. The label should also include your name and blog/twitter.

Bake sales will all be from 10 AM to 2 PM on Saturday, October 1. The Gathering of the Tribes is at 5 PM that same day. Sign up here to bake something.

Sunny Days in Texas

I am so excited to announce the release of our Texas fundraiser zine, Sunny Days in Texas. The zine is part of a massive effort to raise money for Sunny Day Farms, which is struggling with the recent drought and extreme heat and the rising cost of hay. I’m so excited to be able to help the animals at Sunny Day.

My recipe for jackfruit brisket is in Sunny Days in Texas. Photo by mollyjade. Licensed under creative commons

But I’m also excited about the recipes in the zine. There’s King Ranch Casserole submitted by Chris and Crystal of Food for Lovers, Ranch dressing from Spiral Diner in DFW, and, most exciting of all, the first-time-ever release of the Wheatsville Coop popcorn tofu. Popcorn tofu is so popular, it has its own fan page on Facebook. There are a total of 30 recipes from vegan bloggers and restauranteurs including Lazy Smurf, Sue at Counter Culture, Krys of Two Vegan Boys, Wes, Natala of Vegan Hope, Spiral Diner, Christy Morgan, author of Blissful Bites, Ariane Leverett of Vegan Food Porn, Mo of Mo Betta Vegan, Kristen of Sugar Skull, Kristen of Tree Wool Knits, Wheatsville Coop, and myself.

The zine will be available at Vida Vegan Con and also at the bake sale at Monkey Wrench books this Saturday. Eventually it will be available for order online as well.

Thanks to everyone who contributed to the zine, and a special giant thanks to Lazy Smurf for putting it together!

Other ways you can help Sunny Day. Donate directly to their hay bale challenge. Buy something at Vida Vegan Con from Panda with Cookie and part of the proceeds will go to Sunny Day. Sponsor Team Sunny Day at the San Antonio Marathon. Or buy baked goods at the bake sale this Saturday.

Sunny Day Farms Fundraisers

Photo from Sunny Day Farms Facebook page

When the drought and heat start affecting our animals friends, what do we do? Roll up our sleeves and bake!

A bake sale benefiting the animals at Sunny Day Farms will be Saturday, August 27, from noon to 6PM at Monkey Wrench Books at 110 E North Loop. You can sign up to bake something vegan or volunteer to table on this google spreadsheet. At the same time, Sue at Counter Culture, just a few doors down from Monkey Wrench books, will be donating 10% of the day’s sales to Sunny Day. So grab a salad or sandwich before heading to Monkey Wrench for dessert. Not a baker? Come buy some goodies and spread the word about the bake sale on Facebook.

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Lots of other efforts to raise money for Sunny Day are in the works, too. There’s a group running in the San Antonio marathon in November (respect) looking for sponsors and runners.

And a group of people who will be out of town for the bake sale are putting together a zine of Texas recipes. More on this soon.

The bar has been raised. What are YOU doing to help feed the animals at Sunny Day?

Gene Baur Traveling in Texas

In celebration of Farm Sanctuary’s 25th anniversary, Gene Baur is traveling across the U.S. in the same VW van he rode around in 25 years ago, selling veggie hot dogs to raise the money that would give Farm Sanctuary its start. Baur is planning to explore vegan culture across the nation, from the food to the people.

Baur’s travels will take him through Texas. He’ll be in Dallas on May 28 and in Austin on May 30. You can follow his journey on the Just Eats Tour website. I’m looking forward to hearing what he has to say about the Texas vegan movement!

While Baur is in Dallas, the Black Vegetarian Society of Texas is holding a walk-athon/bike-athon and potluck where Baur will speak about his work with Farm Sanctuary. Entry is $15. For more details, see the BVST Facebook page.

The Just Eats Tour is also collecting great vegan recipes and pledges to go vegan for the duration of the 21 day journey.

Dinner Benefitting Primarily Primates in San Antonio

Primarily Primates, an animal sanctuary in San Antonio that cares for castoff pets and former lab animals, is holding a fundraiser dinner on June 3 at 7 PM at the Radius Circle. The meal will be catered by San Antonio’s premier vegetarian restaurant, Green Vegetarian. A donation of $35 gets you dinner, dessert, and a nonalcoholic beverage. There will also be a cash bar featuring wine and beer, a silent auction, and music by Parke Hedges and Graham Hall.

No mention whether vegan food will be available, though I’d be surprised if it wasn’t. Green makes some fantastic vegan desserts. You can get more information by contacting Primarily Primates at 830-755-4616 or emailing them. RSVP online.

Primarily Primates throws a great party. For proof,  see this video of a Watermelon Party at the sanctuary. Check out that little guy carrying the watermelon with his feet while he swings from the top of the habitat cage. [Note: watermelon-carrying apes not guaranteed to appear at all Primarily Primates parties.]

Vegan in the Dark

The Austin Blind Cafe will be hosting a unique event that combines fundraising and eduction, March 24-26. For three nights in a row, diners will have the opportunity to eat a meal and enjoy music and poetry performances in complete darkness. Blind waitstaff will guide diners and answer questions. Program organizers say the darkness allows diners to experience the music fully without visual distraction or cell phones. 

According to a Food Matters column, the 3-course meal will be vegan and vegetarian. Tickets are available from Brown Paper Tickets. Part of the proceeds will benefit a summer braille program for children.