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It’s no secret that I’m a little in awe of the vegan lifestyle. I’m in love with the founding principle: that animals are left unharmed and allowed to live as freely as we do. And of course the numerous health benefits of a plant-based lifestyle are hard to ignore.

I do feel though, that if I gave up meat, dairy and other animal-based products, I’d be taming my passion for cooking and food. Sure, I can get excited about vegetables. As excited as I do about high quality bacon or a well-marbled steak. But vegetables have always been a part of the equation, not the full equation itself.

That being said, I’ve always wanted to give vegan eating a test run, and after a month and a half of gluttinous eating  – the turkey, stuffing, egg nog, fruitcake, ham and bread pudding extravaganza that we call the holidays – January is the month to do it.

After all, don’t we all love a fresh start in January? A cleansing of the system, a New Year’s resolution to eat a healthier diet, with more whole grains and plenty of vegetables?

My arteries need a rest from my holiday binge. They’re panting at the finish line. Well done friends, you kept me alive for 60 straight days while I shellacked your surface with LDL cholesterol. Now is your time for reward. I give you vegetables, and lots of them.

Starting on Wednesday (Jan 1) I’m going to kick off month of healthy eating. For 31 days I’m going to eat a vegan diet to see whether eating this way feels like a sacrifice or a triumph.

I’m guessing a little of both.

And I’ve been preparing. I’ve been reading through some of my favorite vegetarian and healthy living cookbooks, including the latest from The Moosewood: Restaurant Favorites, classics like Chez Panisse Vegetables, and more recent additions from vegetarian guru Yotam Ottolenghi as well as Sarah and Hugh Forte, the husband and wife team behind The Sprouted Kitchen.

I’ve also been following some great online resources for vegan receipes, including:

And I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention the inspiration that I get from one of my favorite people on Instagram, Amber (RawVeganBlonde) who blows me away on a regular basis with what can only be described as fruit and vegetable art.

So despite preparations to give up some of my favorite foods for a month, excitement has been building, I’ve been tagging recipes and making notes.

I’ve also been updating my Pinterest boards to catalog my growing collection of vegan and health-focused recipes, which you can easily follow by clicking on the links below.

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chickenstock_feedmedearlyIf there ever was a discussion more fraught with angst and frustration in our household, it’s about chickens.

I’d say that I’m a bit thrifty when it comes to food. I touched on it briefly in my post about smart tactics for the kitchen, but truly, when it comes to throwing away perfectly good food, I just can’t do it. This of course doesn’t mean that I keep old food long past its prime. I’m a chucker once things run their course. But good food, perfectly usable? That’s a different story.

So our freezer is where good food goes to die. If there’s a leftover dish that we know we can’t eat because we’re out of town or we’ve eaten it for two days straight, into the freezer it goes.  Baguettes that were accidentally left out overnight? Freezer. And best of all, a chicken carcass or two, you know the drill.

The problem is that we live in New York City, so as much as I’d love to have a second freezer for all of my left over food, it ain’t gonna happen.

Our freezer runs out of space quickly, which results in chicken carcasses (carcii?) taking over whatever available space we have.

So we argue about bird bones.

Rodney, clearing the remains from a rotisserie chicken: “Are you done with this?”

Me: “I’m going to make a stock with it, stick it in the freezer.”

Rodney:  “We have 10 chickens in the freezer already.”

Me: “Put it in that little space where the ice comes out.”

Rodney: “You’re going to break the ice cube tray if you do that.”

Me: “That’s fine, I don’t use that thing.”

And truly, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I didn’t have ice cubes. For my Scotch-drinking husband, this is tantamount to losing power.

So the arguments continue: fresh stock vs. a broken fridge.

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Royalicing_5ways_feedmedearly

If you’ve been following my blog for some time, you’ll know that I’m not the world’s enthusiastic baker. While I can put together some decent final product, I don’t love the process – the smell of raw flour, butter, eggs and sugar; the precision; things like oven hot spots, candy thermometers, and measuring spoons. Give me a cast iron pot and a hunk of beef any day of the week and I’ll be in a much more pleasant mood.

But when December rolls around, it’s hard not to get caught up in all of the baking frenzy. So every year I put down my guard, pick up my sifter, and jump on the baking bandwagon. Here’s my problem though: after a week or two I’m winded. Too much sugar, too much measuring. I can only do so much.

That being said, my kids are starting to think that I’m a one-woman bakery who opens a pop up shop for the holidays. I set the precedent one year, and once you go big, it’s tough to go home. There were cookies for Santa, birthday cakes and cupcakes, peppermint bark; there might have even been a fruitcake.

So I had to figure out a solution to get through it all. A method to keep the volume high, but my sanity in check. And one year, in a gingerbread-making class, I stumbled on the solution.

Drumroll please…..It’s called Royal icing.

OK, not such a big surprise since you saw it in the title.

Did I disappoint you? I hope not. And if I did, it’s either because you’re frightened to death of using it, or because you’re a Royal icing black belt and were hoping for something a little more innovative. This might be a good time for me to remind you that me baking innovation. If you’re looking for that, I highly suggest you check out Joy the Baker or Naomi at Bakers Royale.

But jaded baker, I do have some fun uses for Royal icing, so you might as well stick around for this one post while you’re here. And for the rest of you who want some ideas on how to use it, read on. We’re getting down and dirty with Royal icing today, so roll up your sleeves. And by the way, it’s all kid-friendly so that you can actually get a hand with this stuff.

Royal icing always seemed a little scary to me. It was in a class of substances, along with fondant, which seemed like too much work, the domain of wedding cake designers and holiday cookie artisans.

But then I started to use it. And I realized that you can be really stuffy about how you apply Royal icing, or you can say to hell with it, and start splashing it around on just about anything. It can be died different colors, spread thick or thin, used to make delicate little lines, or giant wobbly ones.

You can use it to glue all kinds of fun candies and treats to your baked goods – always a hit with the kids: attach tiny colorful sprinkles, jelly beans, Lifesavers, even Hershey’s kisses. Nothing is too big – Royal icing is like cement when it dries. I might even use it to hang wall art.

Is it as edible as buttercream? Not even close, but here is why Royal icing is so much better to have on hand for the holidays:

You can make it in advance. As in waaaay in advance. Weeks. Probably months, although I’ve never gone that long. Just mix up a big batch of the stuff early in December, tie it off into separate piping bags, and you are all set for all kinds of adventures.

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And the great thing about Royal icing is that it’s easy for the kids to use. Buttercream can be a bit finicky and messy. They’ll have so much more control with Royal icing. They can use it straight from the piping bags if you show them how to hold and squeeze. Or you can pipe some of it into a bowl, thin it out with a little water, and use it like a glaze.

And last, but not least, your baked goods will keep at room temp, no fridge needed. They’ll be easy to transport and gift. Given how easy it is to mix a batch of this stuff (just add water), and how well it keeps, you’d be crazy to not keep it on your counter, ready to go throughout the holidays. (Just don’t put it into the fridge where it will harden into something that will cut diamond).

Want to see what we’ve been up to for the past month with our stash of Royal icing? Here are 5 fun things to do with your kids:

1. The traditional gingerbread house…

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Loving_the_ricotta_from_Narragansett_Creamery_I_ve_been_spreading_it_on_Wasa_crackers_sprinkling_it_with_smoked_paprika_and_Maldon_salt_

Let’s talk social media for a second. Because I have a confession. I used to be scared of it. I was one of the late Facebook adopters, my primary social media channel for years being Linked In. And only because my fellow business school students guilted me into getting an account. After all, isn’t that why we were all paying our hefty MBA price tags? To connect with our peers so that we’d forever have a network of contacts who would one day answer our calls about a new deal, or a new job?

And I was lousy at it, I’ll be the first to admit. I wasn’t a natural connector, I was content to get my degree, and spend the rest of my time hiking in the Berkeley hills, shopping at the farmers’ markets, and learning to cook everything from duck legs to ice cream. While I’m social and outgoing in person, I need a lot of downtime.

Apparently there’s a word for people like me, and it’s gaining popularity with the wild success of Susan Cain’s book “Quiet” (she did a killer TED talk on the subject too if you’re interested). She coined the term “ambivert” – in my case, I’m a Myers Briggs standard issue extrovert with highly introverted qualities.

Which makes social media the best thing since sliced bread. I can connect with people, which is my fundamental extroverted desire, but I can do it during quiet times. When I’m walking my dog, or standing in line at the post office. It fits into my day, seamlessly fills the cracks when I have a few minutes to spare. 

My favorite social media channel by a landslide is Instagram. While Facebook helps me stay connected with people from my past, Instagram is the ideal tool for connecting with people who share my interests today. The dog lovers, the food lovers, the lovers of all things beautiful – colored glass, approaching storms, kids in bright yellow rain boots. Every day is a visual feast.

This month I’m joining a 31 day photo challenge and linking up with friends from around the world as we tag our holiday food with #31daysofyum. We have a pretty awesome crew lined up: The smartest farm-to-table fast casual startup I’ve seen in years, Tractor Foods, the bloggers behind Eat Your Beets, The Wanderlust Kitchen, Omeletta, and Ten Thousandth Spoon, and LA catering whiz Tehra Thorp from T3 Events.

If you’re on Instagram, we’d love it if you joined us too. Just tag your food for the next 31 days with #31daysofyum. Miss a few days? No biggie, it’s just a chance to join in some holiday fever.  And if you haven’t gotten set up with an account yet, drop what you’re doing ASAP and get on it. Trust me when I say that this little app makes me light up and smile or laugh about 17 times per day. Plus or minus a few.

Here are some of my favorite food pics from Instagram over the last month, and an invitation to our challenge at the bottom. Happy December, hope to see you tagging away.

I just canceled out my vegan lunch #banana #nutella #cupcake #oops

Her croissant is eating my macaroon

Below freezing, it's an inside kind day.

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cranberry_pancakes–feedmedearly
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Thanksgiving has come and gone. Fortunately, in our house, Thanksgiving isn’t a one-day thing. It’s a spirit. A mindset. A way of life that lasts for a few solid weeks. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that my Thanksgiving prep usually starts way back in October when I make the turkey stock.

Then a few days before the big day, I start to prep the other dishes. My counter fills with all kinds of odds and ends: bread cubes drying for the stuffing, my poultry shears, my seldom used ball of twine, dug out from the murky depths of my cupboards.

When people hear that I love to cook, the response is sometimes “I hate to cook – all of that effort, and the meal is over in 10 minutes.”

I get it, and Thanksgiving is the ultimate example. The time spent preparing the meal far outweighs the time we spend eating it together.

But for those of us who love to cook, that’s perfectly fine. Cooking is my therapy. My drug of choice. I’m happy to spend weeks cooking a meal that disappears in minutes.

And for those of you who hate to see it come and go so quickly, I have uplifting news: leftovers.

Was that a letdown? Don’t think of it that way. I used to hate leftovers. I still hate the name. It’s not first date food, that’s for sure. Leftovers need a re-brand. Where are those prune people anyway? Dried plums have never been so popular.

But leftovers can be one of the best parts of Thanksgiving; all of those Tupperware containers stashed in your fridge are calling out to be used in new and interesting ways.

I’ve done a quick roundup of my favorites – some of these (the everything Thanksgiving sandwich, turkey Shepherd’s pie) I make every year without fail. Others (cranberry pancakes) are new to the rotation. Some aren’t recipes at all, but stern orders (make your stock, eat pie for breakfast).

So go forth, make the best of your remaining leftovers while you still have time. The clock is ticking, by Monday you won’t want to lay eyes on any of this stuff again. At least until next November.

If you have questions on how to make any of this, leave me a note in the comments below. If you need directions for how to make pie and coffee, we’re no longer friends. If you throw out your turkey carcass, we are also no longer friends. I’m not kidding. I take carcass seriously.

One last thing….go make yourself a mug of hot apple cider and add a splash of rum. We’re officially into the holidays, Yee Haw.

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