The Recipe for Happiness

Vegan CupcakeThere are many roads to happiness – and one of the paths must certainly be lined with cupcakes! There is something inherently happy about a cupcake – an individual, perfectly proportioned cake topped with a swirl of buttercream frosting which invites a mini-celebration, no reason required …

While cooking is enhanced by improvisation, baking is an exacting science: the outcome can be greatly affected by the slightest adjustment (for better or worse). I’ve done a lot of experimenting with different recipes to perfect my vegan baking skills, and am grateful for friends’ willingness to be my baking tasters. I’ve found that when a sampler says: “mmm, that tastes like a healthy cookie”, it’s not the ideal response you’re hoping for. All baked goods, vegan or non, should conjure melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness.

Luckily, I was gifted an amazing cupcake cook book: “Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World” – every recipe I’ve tried has been fantastic. Favorites include “Mucho Margarita” (yes, a shot of tequila included – yum!), “Gingerbread with Lemony Frosting” (perfect for an autumnal dinner party) and a classic winner: “Chocolate with Buttercream Frosting”. I made a batch of chocolate cupcakes recently to celebrate a friend’s visit to NYC – I hope you enjoy the recipe!

 

 

 

YOUR BASIC CHOCOLATE CUPCAKE (makes 12 cupcakes)

Ingredients:

1 cup organic soy milk

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup canola oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract, chocolate extract, or more vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup cocoa powder, Dutch-processed or regular

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F and line muffin pan with paper or foil liners.

Whisk together the soy milk and vinegar in a large bowl, and set aside for a few minutes to curdle. Add the sugar, oil, and vanilla extract, and other extract, if using, to the soy milk mixture and beat till foamy. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Add in two batches to wet ingredients and beat till no large lumps remain (a few tiny lumps are okay).

Pour into liners, filling three-quarters of the way. Bake 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to cooling rack and let cool completely.

FLUFFY (VEGAN) BUTTERCREAM FROSTING

Ingredients:

1/2 cup non-hydrogenated shortening

1/2 cup non-hydrogenated margarine (Earth Balance is great)

3-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted if clumpy

1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 cup plain organic soy milk or soy creamer

Directions:

Beat the shortening and margarine together until will combined and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat for about 3 more minutes. Add the vanilla and soy milk, beat for another 5 to 7 minutes until fluffy.

Frost your cupcakes, add some happy sprinkles, share with friends, and Enjoy!!

 

Green Tea CupcakesVanilla Bean Cupcake with Chocolate Ganache2

Super Energy Raw Chocolate Smoothie

Chocolate Smoothie

A lot of friends ask me about cultivating health and vitality on a vegan diet, and I am happy to share some of my favorite recipes and products with you!

I love making this delicious, nutrient-packed high energy smoothie which I learned about from raw food expert David Woolfe (I’ve adapted his recipe). I enjoy this often for breakfast; it also makes a yummy dessert if you make it with a thick, ice cream-like texture. The raw cacao boosts serotonin levels, so it’s a great replacement for caffeine and a wonderful afternoon pick-me-up when you might be craving coffee and sugar. [Read more…]

NYC in Bloom

Park Avenue Tulips

Park Avenue Tulips

One of the amazing things about NYC is that spring literally blooms in the span of a week. We get a few teasers of warmer weather approaching, and then, all of a sudden, the city is in bloom. And in that moment, the city revives… Her inhabitants breathe a collective sigh of relief – a long awaited respite from battling the elements during the winter season. Maybe we New Yorkers feel more worn out from the grey months of winter because it’s another thing added to the ongoing navigation of the urban jungle – the crowds, noise, smells, crazy (sometimes wonderful, sometimes not) energy … [Read more…]

Amsterdam Diary!

Amsterdam Cafe

“In the midst of winter, I discovered that there was in me an invincible summer.” Albert Camus

As we wait for the ground to thaw here in NYC and a glimmer of spring to finally arrive, I find myself dreaming not of spring, but of summer! For a little inspiration, I’m sharing with you my adventures of last summer … which led me to the wonderful city of Amsterdam. I had the great pleasure of visiting Amsterdam for the first time, and fell in love with the city immediately! Amsterdam is utterly charming … I was enchanted with it’s old world architecture, winding canals and relaxed vibe. It has the same artsy, alive energy as NYC, less the frenetic pace. It’s earned a place on the list of my favorite cities: NYC, Rome, Prague … Amsterdam!

Amsterdam Flower Market

Amsterdam Flower Market

Amsterdam Flower Market Sunflowers

Amsterdam Flower Market Sunflowers

There is definitely an active art scene in Amsterdam – of course the renown Van Gogh Museum is a must-see. I’m a long time lover of fin de siècle art, and besides the museum’s permanent collection of over 600 of post-Impressionist Van Gogh’s paintings, drawings and prints, they house many works of his contemporaries as well as an important collection of fin de siècle prints.

Van Gogh's Iconic Sunflowers

Van Gogh’s Iconic Sunflowers

During an afternoon of exploration in the city, we stumbled upon Dutch artist Mark Raven’s gallery. His self-proclaimed “life long love affair with the city” is readily apparent in his artwork, and I liked his combination of lithography, etching, painting and image manipulation, resulting in a unique interpretation of the city scenery.

Mark Raven Artwork

Mark Raven Artwork

Bikes along a city street

Bikes along a city street

Our gracious host Francois sings with De Nederlandse Opera, and he invited us to the company’s production of Parsifal, which was in production during our visit. I must confess, that even for a professional opera singer like myself, who has logged countless hours of performing, rehearsing and watching opera, viewing a 5 hour Wagner opera is a bit daunting. Happily, we completely enjoyed ourselves, as De Nederlandse Opera’s production was engaging, compelling, and well sung, and I felt the modern production aesthetic worked dramatically. A bonus was the world-renown Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra playing the gorgeous score. The performance we saw was being filmed – this is one to check out if you get the chance! During the intermissions, we enjoyed a libation on the opera house’s lovely balcony overlooking one of the city’s many canals.

My Amsterdam host Francois, me and Dutch friend Danielle at the stage door of De Nederlandse Opera

My Amsterdam host Francois, me and Dutch friend Danielle at the stage door of De Nederlandse Opera

 

View from the Opera House balcony

View from the Opera House balcony

Now at this point, I’m sure you’re wondering about our low-brow fun … what about the notorious red-light district? Yes, we did take a stroll one evening with the libertines … and really, I didn’t find it terribly debauch – the Dutch just seem more up front about certain actions and transactions. But, I did see something elsewhere in the city that I found rather shocking … for more details, gentle reader, you’ll have to ask me in person … (and please do ask me! As a long time New Yorker, I feel like I’ve seen it all, but clearly I haven’t!)

Amsterdam canal with boats

Amsterdam canal with boats

I once heard it said that every year you should revisit a favorite location and travel to some place new. As a lover of travel, I’ve embraced this adage and we shall see where my adventures will lead me this year. At the moment, I feel bell’Italia calling my name … I’ve thrown my coins into the Trevi Fountain, so I am bound to return!

Happy Travels!