The Fault In Our Stars

Guys. I've just started reading this book. It's AMAZING. I just had to write a blog post about it! It is so, so good. I am in love. With a book.
                       The Fault in Our Stars
It's The Fault In Our Stars, by John Green, and I realize that a lot of you who are reading this post right now have probably already read this book because it won an award and was on everyone's bedside table a little while ago already, but I HAVE to rave on about this book. So poo you. I've been wanting to read it since this summer but never got the chance to because of all the books I've been reading for school and because I had all these other books I wanted to read too and also just because I have so much to do all the time in general that it's not like I really have the time to sit around for a couple of hours just enjoying a good book. But TGIF, when I got home from school that's exactly what I did! I came through the door, dropped my bag to the floor, took off my shoes, ran up to my bedroom to grab The Fault In Our Stars, ran back down and plopped myself down onto our new fabulous L-shaped sofa and read for two whole hours. It may not seem like a lot to some of you bookworms, but right now having that time to spare without having to worry about anything is pretty rare for me. It was pretty dang awesome.
I guess I had been craving a good book for a long time because my eyes literally devoured more than half the book.
I don't know how to explain what it is about John Green's writing. Sometimes there's just something that keeps you reading, and reading, and reading. His writing is addictive. Is this what it feels like to be on drugs?
He writes so convincingly from the point of view of a teenage girl with cancer, Hazel, that it's almost too hard to believe that John Green is a completely healthy man.
This book is not one of those books on someone with cancer that is unrealistically inspiring, like where the person with cancer wins the marathon, starts a foundation and beats the cancer, and all throughout the book the person talks about how wonderful life is. Not that those books are bad, but this book is so true and real. But not in a depressing way. In a sweet and humouristic way, which is one of the things that makes Hazel so lovable.
This book was perfect for a rainy day like this one (spring has promised us beautiful rays of sunlight but has betrayed us with cold windy showers)
If you haven't already, get your hands on this book.
I can't wait to learn what happens to Hazel and Augustus next!

This is off subject, but today my Grandma is 77 years old. Happy birthday, Grandma! :)

Interview #3: Rachel from The Vegan Mishmash

On Tuesday I posted an interview with Kelly, a vegan baker in New Jersey. Today, I want to share the answers my bloggy friend Rachel answered for me, who is a vegan and also has her own Blog.
Rachel is a Full-Time Student and Part-Time Tour Guide for her school in Maine.
Since when have you been vegan, and for what reason(s) did you become vegan?
My first veganniversary just past. I've been vegan since March 9, 2012, though I've been interested and tried it out on and off since 2009, when I was 16.
I became vegan for ethical reasons. I remember early February of 2012, I was sitting in my dorm room listening to Vegetarian Food For Thought podcast. That particular episode was about chickens, how amazing they are, and all the cruel things humans do to them and I remember thinking "That's it. I'm done." Admittedly, I didn't take the full leap until about a month later, but I came very close. In the end, there weren't any good reasons for me to keep eating animal products, even "humane" ones.

Do you take any nutritional supplements?
I currently take a B-12 supplement and occasionally a D supplement.

How do you deal with people's lectures about how being vegan is "unhealthy"?
I point out that none of the nutritional requirements we as humans have are meat based. The only one that is not plant based is B-12 and that's bacteria based. The common deficiencies associated with veganism, such as iron deficiencies, are common in all people. Everyone needs to make sure they're meeting their nutritional needs, not just vegans and vegetarians. Finally, I point out that cholesterol comes from animal products, not plants.

Do you ever get tempted by non-vegan foods?
Once in a while chocolate or baked goods tempt me, but only if we're out in public, otherwise, I make my own. I have gotten over cheese and other dairy products by not eating them (my palate adjusted) and finding plant based options that I like.
Thank you, Rachel, for taking the time to answer these questions!

Interview #2: Kelly from KZ Cakes

I've been vegetarian ever since I was five years old, meaning it's been eight years since I've chewed a piece of flesh. I've always eaten eggs, butter, cheese and milk, though. And recently I started questioning myself about those also. I've read so many articles, book excerpts, and flyers about how any animal product (especially butter), is bad for you, and most importantly bad for the animals... (for example, by supporting the dairy industry you support the meat industry as well). So in the last few months, when my family's made anything with an animal product, like an omelet or tea with milk, I started saying "I'll pass...". I never made a direct conclusion that I wanted to be vegan, but after some reading and watching of what chickens go through, I just couldn't bring myself to swallow another bite of egg... that's how it started. Then, curious, I went out looking for alternative milks in several stores, tried a few and identified deliciously good almond, hazelnut and spelt milk, read about how great those are for you and just kept buying them. And with those changes in my diet I was almost completely vegan.
The problem was, I never studied the health implications of being vegan, I never considered what would be missing from my diet and how to substitute it. I never consulted anyone about it, I just started avoiding animal products. I never put veganism into question because I know plenty of vegans that are totally healthy. Being a food lover and cookie fanatic, I tried vegan recipes (this is one of them, if you are interested) and luckily they all were fabulous!
I didn't directly tell my family and I didn't tell any of my friends. But when, about a month ago, I got some blood work done, I found out that I had a Vitamin D deficiency...
And where do you find Vitamin D? Meat (that is out of the question), dairy, and eggs.
This means that I can't be vegan, because at school I can't rely on spinach, french fries and pasta for proper nutrition. I will need the eggs and yogurt proposed to keep me going through the day. I have no other choice.
However, because there are so many vegans out there, I know it is possible to be vegan and healthy, and maybe I will be one day. I figured I'd ask a few vegan bloggers some questions. Today I'm featuring...

Kelly from KZ Cakes!

Kelly is a vegan baker in New Jersey.
Since when have you been vegan, and for what reason(s) did you become vegan?

I had tried to be vegan a few times before actually sticking with it. I hadn't gotten used to reading ingredients in everything before eating things, like I'd be eating a bag of cashews from Trader Joe's, thinking, "these must be vegan", but upon checking, they list buttermilk and honey in the ingredients, and so I'd just throw my hands up and quit, until the desire to change my diet for real would come back. I'd been a vegetarian most of my life, but in college I started reading about issues having to do with factory farming destroying our environment, cruelty and conditions the animals endure there, and the overall long-term negative effects eating meat will seemingly have on your body. With knowledge of these issues, I felt it would be irresponsible to continue eating meat and dairy products. I've been eating exclusively vegan since January 1st, 2011, and have never looked back!

Have you had any nutritional problems (deficiencies...)? (If so, what have you done to solve those problems?)
I had been anemic for 12 years, and the first doctor's appointment I had after going vegan, I was nervous to have my iron tested, thinking it would be even lower. Surprise! Becoming vegan helped me eat a larger variety of nutrient and iron-rich foods like nuts and greens and my iron restored to a normal level for the first time in 12 years, just months after starting a vegan diet. I have since wowed my doctor at every following appointment at how healthy I am. Being vegan makes being healthy pretty easy.

Would you say that baking vegan goods is more of a challenge then baking the traditional way?
Have you had to deal with any prejudice about your baked goods being vegan?
I think baking vegan is way easier than baking non-vegan. It's cheaper, for one. Milk, butter and eggs go bad much faster than apple cider vinegar, almond milk and earth balance. Vegan baked goods are much healthier than dairy-laden baked goods, but also, really taste the same. If I didn't tell my family and friends who I first served my cupcakes to that they were vegan, they surely would have no idea. No one has ever told me that my baking suffers due to a lack of dairy or egg. Vegan baked goods win across the board.

Thank you, Kelly, for letting me interview you!

A Brunch to welcome Spring

Yesterday my mom invited a bunch of friends over for brunch. I had the fun of art directing the serving table and making part of the food.
Here is what we served:
First I baked a carrot cake.  Let me take a moment to talk about the greatness of this cake. It is perfection. There is no other way of putting it. It's a little longer to make than other cakes because of the washing, peeling and grating of the carrots first, but it's totally worth it! It's made with olive oil, not butter, and that must be what makes it so moist, fruity, and chewy on the outside. It is the same recipe my mom's been using for the last ten years. It's our all time favorite. The recipe calls for pecans or walnuts (I used pecans) and it is covered in mascarpone icing.
Then I baked three-berry muffins: blueberry, blackberry and raspberry,
and a french onion tart (caramelized onions and thyme over a "pâte brisée").
I have to say, I was pretty proud of myself for producing those three things! Especially the carrot cake and the onion tart.

The brunch was a great success. We also served mini vegetable brochettes (cherry tomatoes, peppers and cucumber),
a fruit salad,
an egg salad,
 and finally, to top it off, a green salad, an abundant bread basket, a bottle of the market's fresh apple juice, and the dessert one of our friends brought (an "amandine aux framboises." Basically it's a buttery ground-almond based cake baked with fruits inside. Yum.) This is what the serving table looked like:

Isn't the stand the muffins are sitting on adorable? I got it at Ikea. When I spotted it from the other end of the room crowded with shoppers I was like I. WANT. THIS. It was cheap as hell!
That onion tart was THE BEST TART YOU EVER TASTED. It smelled fabulous, looked fabulous, and most importantly, tasted (more than) fabulous! I'll have to post the recipe soon. I am still not over that tart!
The presence of salads and all the fresh fruit and veg made this a fantastic spring brunch. It matched the spring-like atmosphere perfectly. The sun pouring down onto our balcony was just lovely.
The weather here in Lyon has been beautiful these days. I hope the weather stays this way and doesn't get all wintery again. An early spring is all I really want right now, truthfully. It is so uplifting. :)
Another fun brunch idea is a yogurt bar. Imagine three or four different types of yogurt available and all sorts of toppings: fresh berries, chopped bananas, peaches... Nuts, granola, chocolate chips... Doesn't that sound appealing? Maybe I'll try that next time. What do you think?

Honey Baked Apples

Honey Baked Apple

Once upon a time there were four lonely apples sitting in a fruit basket. Every time someone passed by, the apples pleaded and begged to be eaten. "Why won't you eat me? I'm good for you! If you don't eat me, I'll rot here in this fruit basket!" they cried. They watched with envy as their friends the kiwis were devoured one by one and complimented with "oohs" and "aahs" and "these taste so fresh". Then there was a girl, who, on her trip to the kitchen one day, heard their cries. "Those poor apples", she thought. The problem with those apples was that they were pretty tasteless. That's why nobody wanted them. "I've got to do something about these", she thought, and settled on baking them in the oven with honey and cinnamon. The autumnal scent of apples and cinnamon baking in honey syrup rapidly filled the whole house, and put the girl's family in a cheerful mood.
Once out of the oven, the apples tasted like heaven. They had lost all their bad qualities, and were enjoyed by the girl's family whose mouths had been watering.
That girl was me (no, REALLY?).  I made these last night with four apples that had been sitting in the fruit basket for over a week. The smell was wonderful while baking and they were truly delicious. This is such a simple recipe! You don't have to respect the exact measures, just be careful not to use too much sugar or the sweetness might be overpowering. Enjoy!

Honey Baked Apples

Honey Baked Apples

- 4 apples (mine were small)
- 1/2 tbsp sugar
- 2 tbsp honey
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tbsp unsalted margarine or butter
- as many fill-ins as you wish: dried fruits or chopped nuts, to fill the hole in the apple where the core used to be (I used almonds, cranberries and... crushed speculoos! Okay, it's not a nut, but because they're cinnamony it went well with the syrup. It tasted great!)

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Core your apples, then near the center of each apple, cut a shallow slit all the way around (this is to prevent the apple from bursting). Don't cut them in half. Just a shallow slit (see picture).
For the filling, place the butter or margarine in a cup and melt it in the microwave. Once it is melted, stir in the sugar and cinnamon, then add the honey and whisk until it is smooth and syrupy. Add the fill-ins of your choice.
Put the apples in a baking dish and fill the hole where the core used to be with the syrupy mixture.
Place the apples in the preheated oven for 40-45 minutes, while keeping an eye on them. Make sure the apples are tender before coming out. You might want to cover the apples with tin foil if you see the filling start blackening.

Honey Baked Apples