gwen learns

Fool them all: Vegan Mac and Cheese

Posted in recipes by gwenlearns on April 23, 2012

I usually don’t like vegan recipes that imitate non-vegan recipes.  First, because they contain fake, heavily processed ingredients like soy curls or TVP (ick!).  Second, because they never seem to match up to the original… “it tastes so much like it!”  just doesn’t cut it for me (think The Polar Express and its uncanny valley issues).  Except when it comes to this mac and cheese sauce.

leftovers: my favorite mac and cheese with brown rice rotini


(based on this recipe from VegNews)



Posted in recipes by gwenlearns on April 20, 2012

Sweet Potatoes and Broccoli…

Dr. McDougall (who I kinda see as the “grandfather” of the plant-based diet) has been known to say that if you really want to make things simple, just eat sweet potatoes and broccoli for a while.  You wouldn’t believe how much nutrition you can cover with these two veggies!

I just started using cronometer this week… it’s this food diary on steroids.  I love how you can make it fit your diet, unlike other food tracking sites that have built in recommendations that I don’t agree with!   But following the USDA recommendations, I inputed five sweet potatoes and four cups of broccoli, both cooked, and here’s what you get:

5 sweet potatoes + 4 cups broccoli

Do you realize how amazing this is!??!  I wish I could take this space to show you what olive oil, milk, and chicken look like… you just can’t get the same nutrition from concentrated oils or animal foods!

Anyway… off my soapbox now.

So here’s something to dip, pour, or smother over your SP&B:

(based on this recipe)

(chili paste is at safeway or here)

(okay! one more: I like to drizzle this sauce cold over hot food. When sauce thickens the next day, thin it out a bit with some more hot water so you aren’t caking on the heavy sauce)

the perfect smoothie.

Posted in recipes by gwenlearns on April 17, 2012

I am a big fan of the smoothie.  I love how you can just throw in whatever you’ve got on hand and it almost always seems to work out.  I’m not a big fan of smoothie recipes though… the thought of measuring anything first thing in the morning is just not my thing.  But this morning, I measured my ingredients for your benefit.  So here is generally what I do:

Some tips:

– Freeze almost all your ingredients so you don’t have to worry about things going bad.

– To save money, chop up your own greens and freeze in zip-lock bags.  I find a mixture of 1 bunch kale, 1 bunch spinach, and 1 bunch collards can last you 3-4 months of smoothies if you chop them all in one day. If that’s too much work, buy pre-chopped frozen greens.

– For more creaminess:  add a frozen banana, use soy milk or other milks with higher fat content instead of water, and avoid berries that have seeds that get stuck in your teeth (raspberries and blackberries).

– To save money on berries, buy in season when there’s a surplus, wash ’em up, dry on a towel, and freeze.

– To make it sweeter: Use fruit juice as your liquid, but realize this will spike your blood sugar.  I have a big sweet tooth and I’ve found this isn’t necessary for me!

– For more nutrients: Use vegetable juice as your liquid!  Save your juicing scraps in a zip lock in your freezer to make broth another day.  It’s more clean-up but you get a ton of additional nutrients!

– About flax and chia: I’ve heard flaxseeds must be ground for you to absorb them.   Since they can go rancid once they’re ground up, store them in the freezer pre-ground up.  This step is not necessary with chia seeds.

– Rinse your blender and cup right away.  Saves a lot of scrubbing later.

Cowgirl cookies

Posted in recipes by gwenlearns on March 8, 2012

A particular vegan restaurant in town serves a version of these cookies and I had to try to make them at home… so here’s my version, based off of Dreena Burton’s homestyle choc. chip cookies.  I made these last fall and just haven’t gotten around to posting… so here they are:

changing things up.

Posted in Uncategorized by gwenlearns on February 2, 2012

Been thinking about changing the look of my place, and thought I’d share some sources of inspiration.

1. Etsy

Click here to see my favorites on Etsy.  I love searching “upcycled” or “recycled” and just being in awe of the way that people re-purpose things.

So my mom collects this green depression glassware, and I recently discovered that they have this pretty light purple color (which was originally clear/colorless and has since been turned purple by the sun).   And NOW…. I like it even more because I googled it and found some people who get really upset over the fact that this antique glass has been “nuked”.  Not sure I’ll ever collect anything, but if I do, I could see myself starting with this controversy-laden lavender glass.

This is what I envision my new living room to look like:

2. Dreamy Whites

A minimalist version of shabby chic.  Maria, the creator of this blog and these photos has this style that I’m in love with!

3. Houzz (iPad app and website)

A great app and website for ideas and brainstorming.  It’s pretty much just thousands of interior design photos.  On the app, you can easily tag pictures to an “ideabook” to save for later.  On the website, I suggest using the search feature and  just browsing.

4. Urban Outfitters (Apartment stuff)

Back when Allison was my roommate, I found this magazine on our coffee table one day.  Ever since then, I’ve been checking out their apartment section for inspiration.

Always read the preface.

Posted in Uncategorized by gwenlearns on January 12, 2012

So I always feel compelled to read the preface… I feel like it’s either one of those things that publishers make mandatory or authors feel compelled to include, and since I’m not sure when it’s the latter, I always just read it.  Last night I started reading Right Here, Right Now: Everyday Mission for Everyday People and came across this great quote, and yep… you guessed it… I found it in the preface.


Posted in Uncategorized by gwenlearns on December 30, 2011

For a while now I’ve been wanting to highlight a few movies that I believe are underrated (ie. should have won more Academy Awards) but fell victim to the “released-too-early-in-the-year” curse.  I noticed in the last couple days that my newsfeed was full of stories about why box office revenues have dipped this year, and my (unsubstantiated) theory is that it’s b/c all the good movies are now released in the last two weeks of the year.  People’s memories are weak… so in order to secure an Oscar nomination and win, they have to wait till the end of the year to show their movie.  But who has enough extra money or time around the holidays to see 10 great movies?

Anyway, here are two movies that I believe should have won more Academy Awards earlier this year:

Shutter Island

(released February 19, 2010)

This movie has everything!  (spoiler alert… don’t read on if you don’t want to know what happens)

1.  You get TWO movies for the price of one.  Once you find out what in the world is going on near the end of the movie, you have to watch it again.  Some characters that seriously disturbed you on the first run-through will become another person entirely on the second viewing.  Much of the dialogue will take on a different meaning.

2. How this movie deals with violence, and how it affects the main character… a fascinating theme throughout.  First, you have the Nazi concentration camp where Andrew chooses to let this Nazi officer suffer instead of letting him end his own life quickly.  Then you have his wife, someone he loves, who also committed an act of violence.  She also asks for a quick way out, but this time he gives the offender what she asks for.  It’s possible this is his way of forgiving her, but I think it’s more about setting her free from punishment and her own insanity.  Then, at the end you have this great line at the end of the movie spoken by Andrew himself: “Which would be worse – to live as a monster? Or to die as a good man? “… and we are led to believe (at least in my opinion) that Andrew has chosen to go under the knife so he won’t cause anymore violence himself.

3. This movie deals a lot with truth vs. fiction and fantasy.   In fact, it’s really all about how fiction can lead you to the truth.  I think many critics of this movie sort of rejected this crazy idea that a mental institution would allow this sort of fantasy to be played out.  To that I would say, of course it’s ridiculous!  I think the characters are aware of how unusual it is.  But I just think it’s fascinating how letting the main character live out this fantasy is in itself a fantasy for the psychologists in the movie.  And I do believe that fiction and fantasy can more often lead you to the truth than non-fiction.  It’s the difference between law and the principle behind the law… something Jesus lived out.  It’s why I believe he so often chose fictional stories to communicate his message.

4.  The music.  From the first deep horn sounds that are like a boat signaling to the dock (and also a signal to the audience that we’re entering eery territory).   Then all the way to the end credits, where you find this brilliant mix of Dinah Washington’s “This Bitter Earth” and a modern classical piece “On the Nature of Daylight” that’s played in key scenes throughout the movie.  And then everything in between….  I just couldn’t believe this wasn’t a score!  It’s just well-chosen pre-published music.   Pretty amazing.

5. Not a horror movie!  The trailers were pretty deceptive.  They made it look like a horror movie, but I think it’s really in the drama/mystery/psychological thriller arena.

6. Water and fire.  Just pay attention to how they use these two elements during the course of this movie.  They did a good job of weaving these throughout.

How to Train Your Dragon

(released: March 26, 2010)

Don’t get me wrong… I am a big fan of Pixar, and I really liked Toy Story 3, but in 2010, How to Train Your Dragon was the winner in my book.  Just watch it and see for yourself!

Vegan Thanksgiving

Posted in recipes by gwenlearns on November 28, 2011

I just wanted to post our recipes/pics for thanksgiving, in case anyone is planning ahead for Christmas!  We found all our recipes online, so I’m posting links (click the recipe names or photos) and our modifications below.  And of course… we will start with dessert!


Vegan Pumpkin Pie

– only thing we changed was to let the pie chill uncovered overnight… it needs more than 2 hours to get the perfect texture.

Double-Layer Pumpkin Cheesecake

– only used 1 Tbsp lemon juice

– used Mori-Nu brand tofu

– this is amazingly good… honestly and seriously will fool any omnivore.  Don’t be afraid of the tofu in this… there is no soy aftertaste or weird texture.

Apple Pie

– added 1 tsp cinnamon and used only 6 apples

– subbed earth balance margarine for the butter

– mixed in half of the sauce in with the apples, poured the rest on top.

Pie Crust

– used earth balance shortening for a non-hydrogenated version

The Main Course

Scalloped Potatoes with Eggplant Bacon

– we added 1 cup of unsweetened, unflavored almond milk to the sauce

Cranberry Sausage Stuffing

– my own creation based on a number of other recipes

Field Roast Sausages

Green Bean Casserole

– also my own modification of other recipes

Sweet Potato Casserole

– I didn’t use a recipe for this, but here’s the basic idea: 2 lbs. sweet potatoes, some cinnamon, some sugar, some earth balance margarine… at whatever proportions taste right to you!

– Top with your favorite vegan marshmallows (for some reason we used conventional here, but you should definitely try Dandies or Sweet & Sara brands… esp. if you are more than a little grossed out by this, as gelatin is a main ingredient in marshmallows)

Hazelnut Cranberry Roast En Croute

Mashed Potatoes

Mushroom Gravy

Golden Gravy

– Also another adaptation of multiple recipes found online

– I recommend pureeing this in your blender to get all the lumps out… or use an immersion blender.

Better Bay Biscuits

I didn’t take a picture of these, so I’m stealing this from the creator of this recipe, but we did also make these for thanksgiving.  And let me tell you, they really are just like the ones at Red Lobster.

– I recommend using Daiya brand vegan cheddar cheese.

– I recommend saving the garlic salt to sprinkle on top instead of mixing it in with the butter and parsley first.   It will make it easier for the salt to be evenly distributed among the biscuits.

Steve Jobs and Legacy

Posted in Uncategorized by gwenlearns on November 11, 2011

A couple weeks ago, I read Steve Jobs’ biography.  I don’t really want to get into whether or not I think he needed to be cruel and manipulative to come up with beautiful products, whether I believe in open vs. closed, or whether I think he was more of an artist or a salesman.  I just want to talk about the last chapter, which, believe it or not, is entitled “Legacy.”

I’ve never really been that attracted to the idea of legacy.  It gives me a sort of sick feeling in my stomach, and words like “self-promoting” and “futile” come to mind.  But needless to say, whenever someone dies, everyone starts going crazy over this word.

Steve Jobs believed his legacy was creating a company that lasts.  He wanted to create a company among the ranks of Disney, Intel, and Hewlett-Packard, all of which he considered to innovate long after their initial innovator was no longer around.

But let me ask a question, a question that I’m grateful the author asked Steve in the last few paragraphs of the book.

What lasts?

What really lasts?  I remember asking myself this question when I was 15.  I wasn’t thrilled with my life.  I didn’t get high school.   I didn’t get why everyone had to get good grades, the first of many necessary achievements in life like college and having a family… all leading to this one ending point of death.  Steve Jobs didn’t like it either.  He even teased that’s why Apple devices never had an on-off switch.

The thing with this question is… it really has two branches.

The first: What lasts, given life is just an on-off switch? When I read the passage above as a 15 year-old, it was the first time in my life somebody was answering this branch of the question dead-on directly.  Nothing lasts!  No one is going to remember you!  If your life just ends, nothing you do matters!  Meaningless.

The second: What lasts, given we somehow live after we die?  This question doesn’t have a direct answer.  Some say it’s wide-open with possibility and hope; others say it’s crazy or a dream.

Statistics say most of you hang out in the second branch.  I don’t buy it… I don’t believe what people put on surveys.  When people fill out surveys they aren’t lying in their bed, alone, in the dark, and staring at the ceiling (what I believe to be the go-to setting for honesty).  I’ve believed in God since I was a teenager and I still have those moments in the dark where I question it all.

At the end of his life, Steve Jobs was 50/50 on that second question.  He hadn’t given up on it.  I don’t know how far into my life I am, but I’m not giving up on it either.

P.S. Eulogy for Steve from his sister

madeleine bistro

Posted in Uncategorized by gwenlearns on October 19, 2011

My dad said it right.

Madeleine Bistro treats cuisine like a craft.

Sometimes the best way to get your creative juices flowing is to enforce a restriction…

Dr. Seuss limited himself to 250 of the simplest words in English and wrote Cat in the Hat.

The masterminds behind Madeleine Bistro limit themselves to plants.

Pear endive salad with smoked “cheese”

Beet Tartare on Cheesy Tofu Crouton with cucumbers and balsamic drizzle (cut it half before I took the pic! bummer.)

Portobella on Polenta with this creamy sauce, and roasted cauliflower with two amazing sauces

Asparagus Risotto on a bed of kale with eggplant bacon

Holiday Preview: Herb-crusted Seitan, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and coconut yams.

Fancy food doesn’t do much for me.  Originality does.  And I found it here.