Monthly Archives: January 2014

#12 Make 12 new friends: Elizabeth

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Cuban Miss Elle

Cuban Miss Elle might just be my newest friend! Elizabeth by day, she is a hard-core derbyist by night.

Miss Elle and I tried out side-by side for roller derby last weekend, and together we both made the cut! Now we’re already pretty overwhelmed by the commitment, and we’ve been relying on each other to figure everything out. We’re really just thrown into it all and expected to jump in right away,

She’s already friends with a few derbyists, so it’s great I found someone as nice and helpful as her to help me learn the ropes. We plan to practice together, and I asked her to tea next week! I hope this develops into something more!

#1 Cook: Stuffed Peppadew Peppers!

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Have you ever raised two triumphant, celebratory hands into the air after achieving something awesome? When I popped one of these little poppers into my mouth for the first time I couldn’t stop an unanticipated, “Woo!”. I looked like a runner crossing the winning tape at a marathon.

Continuing my journey through Vegan! Over 90 mouthwatering recipes for all occasions, I definitely found a winner in these stuffed peppadew peppers!
I spent quite a while stuffing these little baby peppers, but boy was it worth it.
My first attempt at this recipe was explosive on the taste buds, but not so easy on the eye. At first the batter was too thick and sticky, then too runny. You only really get one shot with batter – too thick it turns into dough and even adding more liquid won’t really save it. I tried that anyway any my batter slid off my poppers. Nevertheless, they tasted delicious!

Here’s the recipe! (It needed significant a adapting from the original to get it right)

Stuffed peppers:
1 jar Peppadew peppers (sweet piquante peppers or other baby sweet peppers)
6 T. Vegan cream cheese
2 cloves garlic
2 T. Chopped parsley

2 cup + 4 T. Bread flour
1-1 1/2 c. Nondairy milk
2 T. Vegan yogurt
2 t. Arrowroot
2 t. Vegan bouillon
2 t. Lime zest
1 T. Coconut oil
Sesame seeds

1. Grease baking sheet. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Place the cream cheese, garlic, and parsley in a bowl and mix together. Put a teaspoon of cream cheese into each pepper.
3. Mix the flour, milk, yogurt, arrowroot, bouillon, and lime zest into a stiff batter.
4. Dip each pepper into the batter to coat the outside, then roll in or sprinkle with sesame seeds.
5. Bake for about 7 minutes. Baste with coconut oil, then bake another 7-10 minutes, until crisp.

The second time the batter came out much better. I bumped up the milk and the batter came out the right thickness. It should be a stiff batter, not a dough.

#10 Accomplish 10 things you didn’t think you could do: Roller Derby Tryouts!

Every muscle in my body aches. I feel like an eighty year old man, clutching at arm rests to help myself sit down. The reason: Windy City Roller Derby League Tryouts.


I’ve always admired roller derby divas but for some reason I’ve never had the courage to try out before now. So why know? Its the middle of winter, I haven’t worked out in ages, and I only found out about the tryouts last weekend, so that left me only a week to prepare… But something inside of me told me now was the time to give it a shot, while I have the excuse of this project to drive me to try things I didn’t think I could do. Trying out for roller derby definitely counts as something I didn’t think I could do.

Part of the difficulty of getting into roller derby is that you need to buy your own equipment to really practice. But here in Chicago, they have a great program for recruiting and training new divas. They have Open Skate Nights and they loan out skates and pads to those who need it. The only thing you need is a Mouthguard, and don’t show up without it or they won’t let you on skates!

So I went to open skate last Wednesday, and I learned a bunch of great tips and things to practice and prepare for from the captains. Roller Derby is very much run by the idea of “by the people for the people.” The league all-stars and captains make decisions collectively, and practice and training is also widely self-administered. The Windy City Rollers is a women’s flat track roller derby league consisting of 4 home teams and 3 traveling teams. I learned I’d be trying out of the league pool team. If I happened to make it through tryouts, I’d get to attend league practices and improve with the hopes of getting drafted by one if the 4 teams.

I learned I needed to practice my stops before Saturday, so I went to a roller rink called MLK down on the south side, for one more chance to practice. I worked on getting my speed up, t-stops, wedge-stops, and turn-stops, and by the end I was feeling pretty good about Saturday. I didn’t necessarily think I’d make it, but it was a relief to feel like I wouldn’t embarrass myself too much.

I arrived Saturday morning bright and early and quickly learned that skating would not be my only hurdle that day. First, we spent 30 minutes “warming up” with sprints and ladders and core exercises and thigh-killing wall-sits. I tried to pace myself but by the time we even put on our skates my legs were jelly. I struggled to stand on my skates without awkwardly flailing around but I gave myself a stern mental talking-to and stayed upright. I refused to make it obvious that I was such a newb, and I did my best through the skating drills. I still think I looked like this bitch:
My performance during stops was dreadful because I couldn’t force my legs to push into the floor hard enough to stop quickly and maintains balance. My jelly-legs caused me to fall at least 5 times, but I kept getting back up. I redeemed myself by ski-hopping over the track line 59 times in 30 seconds. Then, during 1v1 races I fell, causing the girl I was racing to trip over me and go down as well. Being the first one up after our topple, I got and maintained the lead for the rest of the race. I couldn’t believe I won! It felt good.
After all the skating exercises, the captains interviewed us individually, and I admitted that this was only my 3rd or 4th time on skates. They seemed impressed with what I was able to master in the short time I had. They asked about my availability and why I wanted to join their league, and I said that it seemed like the right time now that my schedule is more open. I left with a good feeling – even if I wasn’t quite skilled enough to make the cut this time, I met some great people and learned some valuable tips for improving my game. The ladies running tryouts were extremely demanding yet encouraging, and all my other tryoutees pushed themselves to the brink to show they wanted it, and for that they have all earned my respect as talented athletes.


Part 2: The Pain Begins

Today I just got the word: I’ll be seeing you around the track!

I made it into the Windy City Rollers League draft pool! For the next 2 months I’ll get to learn from the best and try to beef up my game so I can get drafted by one of the teams. I’ll keep you guys updated on my progress and various inevitable bruises, and you’ll be the first to know if I make the draft!

I could end up in one of four teams. Which one do you think I’m meant for?

Double Crossers
Hell’s Belles
Manic Attackers
The Fury

#1 Cook: Vegan Cream Cheese!

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#1 – Making homemade vegan cream cheese

On Friday I took on the project of make vegan cream cheese and plain vegan yogurt from the recipe book I’ve chosen, Vegan! Over 90 mouthwatering recipes for all occasions.

I’ve never needed to make cream cheese at home because, thankfully, there is a wealth of excellent vegan cream cheese products out there already. Non-vegans might be surprised at how good they’ve gotten. I love the Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese as an all-around versatile spread. Equally great is Go Veggie Vegan Cream Cheese (formerly Galaxy brand). Both have almost exactly the flavor and texture of non-vegan cream cheese, and each one also comes in a “herb and chive” option!


Vegan Cream Cheese Review: Showdown! via The Very New Vegan
Go Veggie! Cream Cheese Alternative via Go Dairy Free
Vegan Cream Cheese Taste Test via

(My recommendation if you’re looking to try a vegan cream cheese, stay away from Daiya and Follow Your Heart brands as these cheeses tend to be very gummy and too sweet for bagels. They are excellent in a desserts though. Follow Your Heart vegan mozarella cheese on the other hand is A.M.A.Z.I.N.G.)


The recipe was very simple:

6 oz. regular tofu
1/4 c. coconut oil (melted)
1 T. rapeseed (or canola) oil
1 T. lime juice
1 T. agave syrup
2 t. salt

1. Place everything in a food processor or blender and combine well.
2. Transfer mixture to a container, store in refrigerator for up to 1 week.

I mixed everything together in a blender. It came out great and the taste was there, but the texture was much more like ricotta cheese than cream cheese! It was completely spreadable and delicious, but just a little bit thick. Next time I want to incorporate more creaminess by folding in the oil or blending . But it was excellent nonetheless, and it plan to use it in a future recipe: stuffed peppadew peppers!

For a slightly less sweet cheese add less agave. I used a regular firm tofu, but I’ve been thinking about doing it again with silken or extra soft tofu might to create a creamier cream cheese. If I do this I will probably add less liquid all-around!


#2 Failing at making vegan yogurt!

After my success with vegan cream cheese I thought I’d test the vegan yogurt recipe.

The recipe called for:
2 cups sweetened soy (non-dairy) milk
2 T. unpasteurized vegan yogurt
or 4 vegan acidophilus tablets

I sterilized the soy milk by heating it to just below the boiling point. Then I rinsed a glass jar with boiling water to sterilize it.

I cooled the milk to lukewarm, poured it into the jar, and then added the live yogurt.

Next came the tricky part. The recipe said, in retrospect vaguely:

Place the container near a constant source of low heat, such as on top of the refrigerator. Alternatively, wrap it in a towel or newspaper and put it on a hot water bottle. The yogurt should be set within 12 hours. (If the temperature drops too low, it will stop the process or take longer; if the temperature is too high, the bacteria will be killed.

I wrapped the jar in a towel, and placed it in the Crockpot on warm. I tried to keep the temp below 120, but it may have gotten too low a couple times. Regardless of what I did wrong, my product was a curdled mess!

Next time, I’ll be much more careful about my temperatures, and hopefully I’ll be more successful. I’ll update you when I do!

#15 Learn 15 New Things: Women’s Roller Derby!

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There’s no arguing that Women’s Roller Derby is one of the toughest, most fast-paced contact sports around.
I’ve seen the Minnesota Roller Girls a few times and they always keep me on the edge of my seat. The skaters are tough as nails and out to kill. Today I saw a Facebook post by my old favorite team and I felt inspired to learn more about the sport. As much as I’ve enjoyed watching derby and admiring those who play it, I admit I understand little about the rules of the game.

Anatomy and Rules of The Bout:

Women’s Flat Track Roller Derby is played by two teams of 5 skaters, flying at lightning speed in a pack around a track. The players fight to earn points and knock other players out of the ring.
The matches are called bouts and they consist of two 30 minute periods, which are broken up into numerous jams. Each team consists of 3 blockers, 1 jammer, and 1 pivot. The jammer starts in back and score points by lapping members of the opposing team. The teams play both offense and defense at once; they help their own jammer while hindering the other team’s jammer.
Each jam can last up to 2 minutes, and each team scores points according to how many scoring passes their jammer made (every pass a jammer makes through the pack after the first one). The blockers use body contact, positioning, and other tactics to assist their jammer and hinder the other. The pivot is a blocker that can becomes a jammer if necessary.


There are a few teams in every major city across the US these days, and US roller derby leagues represent about half of the 1250 leagues registered worldwide. Chicago has at least two leagues that I know about and each league is made up of at least 4 or 5 teams. The Windy City Rollers were founded in 2004 and the Outfit (an all-traveling league) in 2007. I can’t wait to get out and watch these ladies tear up the track!

The History

According to Wikipedia, roller derby has evolved greatly over the years.

While the sport has its origins in the banked-track roller skating marathons of the 1930s, Leo Seltzer and Damon Runyon are credited with the basic evolution of the sport to its initial competitive form. Professional roller derby quickly became popular; in 1940 more than 5 million spectators watched in about 50 US cities. In the ensuing decades, however, it predominantly became a form of sports entertainment where the theatrical elements overshadowed the athleticism. This gratuitous showmanship largely ended with the sport’s contemporary grassroots revival in the first decade of the 21st century. Although some sports entertainment qualities such as player pseudonyms and colorful uniforms were retained, scripted bouts with predetermined winners were abandoned.

Junior Roller Derby!

Roller Derby has also been taken over by young’uns! In Chicago, as well as Austin, TX, and a number of other major US cities, there are now roller derby leagues for kids age 7-17! In Chicago the Outfit is a parent team of the Chicago Riots, just that type of league! Watching youth derby – even videos online – really does a number on your emotions; you’re drawn in because those kids are absolutely adorable, but then you keep watching because they’re some badass little brats who know how to throw down. If I were a kid I would love the idea of slamming other kids around on roller skates! Here’s to creating a whole new generation of tough chicks!

#1 Cook your way through 1 entire cookbook

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This will be a short post because I haven’t actually accomplished any challenges yet, but I did take a big step toward being on my way… I chose the cookbook I want to cook my way through!

We have over 40 vegan cookbooks, so it was a difficult decision. I considered longer cookbooks, and shorter cookbooks, specialized cookbooks and general cookbooks. We have lots of dessert cookbooks and a lot of cookbooks that are limited to one genre: Vegetarian Sushi Made Easy!, Rawsomely Vegan, Ani’s Raw Food Kitchen, etc. , Although I love my sweets, sushi, and raw food I didn’t want to limit myself… So I wanted to choose a cookbook that covers almost all the bases!

Eventually it became clear that the most well-rounded, best-lengthed, and most exciting book to work with would be Vegan! Over 90 Mouthwatering Recipes for all Occasions.


It’s just fancy enough to make me feel like I’m trying to be a chef, but it also uses a lot of common ingredients or tells you how to make many of the rarer ingredients at home! Here’s to hoping I can accomplish 2 recipes per week over the next year! Shouldn’t be too hard, right?

Here are some teasers if things I’ll be cooking at some point! Feel free to drool.


#15 Learn 15 New Things: Phytochemicals!

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The latest thing I have been driven to learn more about are phytochemicals.


What are phytochemicals?

Phytochemicals are non-nutritive plant chemicals that have protective or disease preventive properties. They are nonessential nutrients, meaning that they are not required by the human body for sustaining life. It is well-known that plant produce these chemicals to protect themselves but recent research demonstrate that they can also protect humans against diseases. There are more than thousand known phytochemicals. Some of the well-known phytochemicals are lycopene in tomatoes, isoflavones in soy and flavanoids in fruits.


According to the Stanford Medicine Cancer Institute, a surge in recent research on phytochemicals is showing a link between these plant-compounds and anti-cancerous qualities:

The scientific community is continually studying the role of diet in the development of cancer. Many results are preliminary and more is being learned every day. Research is discovering that intake of fruits, vegetables, and cereal grains may interfere with the process of developing cancer of the oral cavity, larynx, esophagus, stomach, colon, lung, prostate, and rectum. In addition to reducing the risk of developing cancer, the risk of developing heart disease, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases might also be prevented by eating more fruits and vegetables. There is also evidence that total fat intake of greater than 30 percent of total calories can increase the risk of developing some cancers. This is especially true when total fat intake includes saturated fat and possibly polyunsaturated fat.

The most phytochemicals most people are familiar with are antioxidants.

Antioxidant – Most phytochemicals have antioxidant activity and protect our cells against oxidative damage and reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer. Phytochemicals with antioxidant activity: allyl sulfides (onions, leeks, garlic), carotenoids (fruits, carrots), flavonoids (fruits, vegetables), polyphenols (tea, grapes).

According to, phytochemicals can also help with:

Hormonal action – Isoflavones, found in soy, imitate human estrogens and help to reduce menopausal symptoms and osteoporosis.

Stimulation of enzymes – Indoles, which are found in cabbages, stimulate enzymes that make the estrogen less effective and could reduce the risk for breast cancer. Other phytochemicals, which interfere with enzymes, are protease inhibitors (soy and beans), terpenes (citrus fruits and cherries).

Interference with DNA replication – Saponins found in beans interfere with the replication of cell DNA, thereby preventing the multiplication of cancer cells. Capsaicin, found in hot peppers, protects DNA from carcinogens.

Anti-bacterial effects – The phytochemical allicin from garlic has anti-bacterial properties.

Physical action – Some phytochemicals bind physically to cell walls thereby preventing the adhesion of pathogens to human cell walls. Proanthocyanidins are responsible for the anti-adhesion properties of cranberry. Consumption of cranberries will reduce the risk of urinary tract infections and will improve dental health.

Again referring to Stanford Medicine, “Phytochemicals are chemicals found in plants that protect plants against bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Eating large amounts of brightly colored fruits and vegetables (yellow, orange, red, green, white, blue, purple), whole grains/cereals, and beans containing phytochemicals may decrease the risk of developing certain cancers as well as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. The action of phytochemicals varies by color and type of the food.”

So basically, if you strive for diversity of color and texture among your fruits and vegetables, and you’ll get a wide variety of phytochemicals!


I am reminded of wonderful poster Remy ordered for us at Yoga Lifestyle on vegetarian nutrition, it’s a beautifully visual representation of the nutrients that come from plants!


Here are some more!



#20 Read 20 new books

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The first book I’m reading toward my goal of 20 books is…

Vegan’s Daily Companion!


So far I’m truly enjoying it. It’s a pleasure to read and it’s also helping remind me of one of my other goals: gratitude.

To be honest these days I rarely even think about being vegan. I’ve done it for so long and it’s become so natural that sometimes days go by without me noticing. And from that forgetting comes taking that part of me for granted. I haven’t thought about the positives or negatives of being vegan in a long time. And because of this I haven’t felt as excited about being vegan lately. This book has been getting me excited about being vegan again.

It’s not full of do-gooder save-the-world vegan propaganda, although there’s no denying it’s propaganda of a sort. It’s written like a mantra, reminding the reader of ways to live as a joyful vegan. Its like a Chicken Soup for the Vegan Soul!

So far I’ve learned – or been reminded – through reading and reflecting that my ultimate goal as a vegan is one means to and end: unfettered compassion. I personally cannot allow my personal convenience to outweigh animal violence, and being vegan is one easy way to bring compassion into my life. Not to mention it encourages me to get creative with ingredients and cooking techniques, and I would say that I eat more diverse foods now than before I became vegan.

Ahimsa – the idea of causing no harm, is a phrase I am drawn to while reading this book. I’d like to meditate on this and learn more about ahimsa and nonviolence this year.

The Companion is organized like a day minder, with a passage for each day of the week. Monday is dedicated to “the love of food” and Friday is “stories of hope, rescue, and transformation.” Saturday and Sunday are for “healthful recipes”!

Promise to review more fully when finished!



#12 Make 12 new friends

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On Tuesday night I asked a recent friend I had made online if they’d like to get together. She’ll be the first friend I’ve made outside of Teach For America since I moved here. And since TFA kept us working 70 hours a week in super stressful environments, I was hardly ever able to get together with the friends I did make. So now I have both the time and the desire to make friends that I can spend time with – and this was our first in-person date.

I met Kennedy at a restaurant I’ve been meaning to go to for a while: Mana Food Bar.



It’s all vegetarian and they have lots of fancy drinks. I ordered an apple cider nigori and she had a pomegranate mint cocktail. They were both wonderful!


As an appetizer I was easily convinced to order a vegetable pickle that had kimchi in it, and I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed it!


She also got a wonderful arugula salad with spicy chile dressing that I tried and found delicious.


We had a great time! We have a lot in common – including we both have partners of 5 years and we all enjoy sci-fi nerdery! We got to know each other for a few hours, and it was going so well we called our boys and had them meet us as a nearby Arcade Bar for drinks and old-school arcade games.


Remy and I stayed out much later than usual, and he really enjoyed Kennedy and Andy’s company too! We definitely plan to hang out again soon, and I can see this developing into something great, so I’m checking 2 new friends off the list!