nye party tonight!

come join the VR crew and 100 of our best friends tonight for a new years rager!! it's all going down at 4500 kingsessing ave. in west philly (right across from clark park!).

2 floors of dancing, lotsa booze (including something called a "gin bucket"), balloons, confetti, and a video countdown at midnight.

...and who knows, maybe even some fireworks??

either way, it's sure to be totally awesome and your are invited!
afterwards, we may all end up looking like this:

!! happy new years to you all !!



gem of a jam

my friend and co-worker janina (the brains/brawn behind local, small batch jam company, little isobel) gave me a late christmas gift today, presented in a small brown bag adorned with my name written in cursive. inside, i found 4 treasures - mostly edible, hurrah!! - all handmade and cute as can be. there was a beautiful, slender bottle of creamy, dreamy coquito (veganized, bless her dear heart), a jar of mincemeat, and a jar of sparkling bath salts scented with grown up oils like lavender and sandalwood.

but the kicker, the real cherry on top, was a teensy, tiny jar of alpine strawberry jam. it is so f-ing precious, i kind of can't handle it (i am an unabashed lover of needlessly tiny objects):

{it may be hard to
tell but this adorable
jar only holds
like 2 ounces}

as i soon learned (from the jam master herself), this jar is not needlessly tiny. it is, in fact, need-fully (or whatever) tiny, because apparently alpine strawberries are very rare and very, very expensive. they are so small and delicate, she explained, that they bruise at even the slightest rough touch. once bruised, they soon disintegrate and are then worthless. most farmers won't mess with the alpine strawberry because of the painstaking effort it takes to harvest them and the subsequent price that must be charged to compensate for the tedium and time consumption. lucky for us, janina's fav farmer paul has the guts to raise these tender babies, and janina has the guts to spend a whopping sum to obtain them.

i just now ate a wee spoonfull of this stuff and...whaaa!?! these dainty fruits do not produce a dainty flavor. the strawberry flavor is in there, but the taste is closer to candy than to a product of nature. janina described it as "a cross between smarties and a fruit roll up," and while i do detect those notes, there is also depth and intensity rarely found in those kinds of sweets. in fact, i don't think i've ever tasted anything like it, natural or synthetic. and like all little isobel jams and preserves, the texture is simply perfect, and the amount of sweetness is spot on - the woman can jam the shit out of some fruit! and thankfully, others are starting to take notice.

so i just wanted to share this special little treat with you all (thank you again j), and alert you of the wondrous gems known as alpine strawberries.


the forest for the chreese

Sometimes you wake up at 11:30 are kind of hungover (ok, really hungover). And so, with a hazy imprudent choice, you decide to skip breakfast and go straight to your 12pm co-op shift on an empty stomach. And sometimes, by the time that co-op shift ends two hours later, you've been eyeing up so many different things to take home to make for your angry, empty belly that you spend $67.91 on a variety of lunch options.

This past Saturday, my day unfortunately mirrored the aforementioned scenario. After arriving home, practically salivating due to hunger and succumbing to that just-went-shopping-and-i-want-to-eat-it-all desire, i ate some chips and hummus (half the tub counts as "some", right?), some wildly spicy vegan jerky, a piece of our stepdad Kevin's famous vegetable pizza (two shoutouts in the last two posts is a lot, but it's because the man works magic!), until i finally settled my sights on that old simple favorite. Mac & cheese (no, not this kind) or should I say, ahem, Shells & Chreese.

I heard a friend talking about Chreese products a few months ago, the hilarious Who's On First style "Are you saying trees or cheese?" discussion ensued, and i subsequently forgot about the product altogether. I usually desire only to make mac & cheese from scratch, with a velvety nooch yeast and earth balance roux style sauce, and if i'm feeling particularly fancy, homemade breadcrumbs and tomatoes on top with a quick spin in the 375 degree oven (or if i'm feeling particularly trashy, tofu pups and ketchup mixed in!). All i was feeling on Saturday was a specific laziness that is mostly found in teenagers sleeping till 3 on weekends or twentysomethings sleeping off the past night's rager. Throw a little Frank's Red Hot on and thar she blows:

I'm not one for reviews, but i could probably muster up three sentences about this product:
The taste was good, i liked the shell shapes A LOT because they create little pockets of cheesiness and everyone knows how much i like pockets (usually those of the pant or dress variety, but i'll take 'em in food any day). The sauce looked a little weak and watery at first, but after mixing it with the shells and returning to a low flame, as instructed on the box, it thickened up like a brick. I wouldn't make this for a gourmet dinner party or anything, however, as a late night snack, a simple mid-day meal or a side dish i would make it again!

A note on nutrition: As this blog is relatively new, we don't want you to think we are slothful vegan piggies, although we can't always be held accountable for our actions when we are! We acknowledge the wonders of and definitely condone eating healthy, fresh foods, but once in a while it's kind of nice to be lazy and snack attack some junky stuff too, and that's what this post is all about. Enjoy sparingly, like one would enjoy a bloomin' onion or a vegan milkshake!


dinner at momma's

last night, lauren and i drove to maryland (we still call it delaware) to have dinner with our mom and her husband kevin and with our grandparents who were visiting from yonkers. hardly 5 minutes through the door, i destroyed a snack of homemade hummus and pletzels (more on these later...like when we get the recipe from grandma). then we sat around and had cozy present exchange time. around 8 we cracked a bottle of champagne, toasted to 2009, and proceeded with a three course feast!

we started with a shiitake and scallion soup adapted from the candle cafe cookbook. i actually prepared this dish the previous evening and it was ridiculously simple. basically you just soak an ounce of dried shiitakes for half an hour (this makes the broth), then add some fresh shiitakes, a couple splashes of soy sauce and a bunch of scallions and simmer briskly for another 30 minutes. i also added some arame seaweed, and finally spiked the broth with rice wine vinegar, cayenne pepper, hot sauce and white pepper. it was mild and very, very mushroom-y.

the next course was one of my favorite dishes of all time. you see, my mom's husband kevin is a great cook, specializing in the szechuan style of chinese cuisine. the man can make a mean cold sesame noodle...creamy, spicy, and just perfect, i am infatuated with them. some time back when he and my mom first started dating, he made a big batch of these and instantly won me over. i hope and pray that one day he will share the secret technique with me so that i can make them literally every day. behold these golden sesame threads (two thirds devoured):

the entree was another kevin specialty: orange sesame glazed tofu and peppers. the smoke alarm went off four times as the wok sizzled loudly over a super hot flame. we peeked over his shoulder at the dancing fire, oil and tofu, as lauren sang a little mantra, a la Unk "now wok it out, wok it out..."

as far as i can tell, this is the way it goes: get the wok oil (peanut oil!) super hot, and rock those tofu triangles in batches until crisp friedness has been achieved. lay them on paper towels to let them rest and cool. the green peppers and scallions get a quick tour de wok, followed by sliced ginger, orange peels, and dried hot peppers (totally edible but not for the faint of heart). then everything gets thrown back in and doused with the OJ sesame glaze. once it's all coated and shiny, serve with a mountain of white rice and attack with chop sticks.

by the end of the meal, i was kind of too full to move but happy as i'll ever be. i'm tempted to vow to never go to a crappy chinese restaurant again, so unholy it is to compare greasy broccoli or salty bean curd to the light, perfectly seasoned dishes we savored at the table that night...

late december beach samba

a brief, late night ode to astrud gilberto: of course you can read her bio on wikipedia, for i don't care to rehash the infinite fascinating facts that a goddess of her stature is sure to amass in one tangled lifetime.

no, no, i just want to proclaim my new found love of her. my friend and ex co-worker john introduced me to her work beyond 'the girl from ipanema' via his patented mid-day playlist. i found this record 'beach samba' (still sealed!) at the good record stand in a clark park flea market last summer, and have since listened to it constantly. she's got these silky brazilian vocals soft and wispy over perky samba jazz (which at times is almost show tune-y and at other times reminds me of stereolab). and come on! there's a song on the b-side where she duets with her 6 year old son marcello, it's called 'you didn't have to be so nice.' it's the cutest thing of all time. his voice is all tiny and meek and hers is warm and strong. kinda makes you feel like you're snuggling with somebody under a thin sheet on the beach, napping in the shade of a wobbly umbrella. and that's a nice way to feel in late december.



won't work for food

Recently my job at the farmer's market at Willow Creek Orchards took a much needed winter hibernation leaving me temporarily jobless and free. I've been spending the majority of my time: buying too many presents for the people I love (although, is there such a thing as too many presents?); looking for a job (is it so wrong that my next job must have to do with food, preferably local/organic/sustainable/vegan or at least vegetarian food, and, oh, did I mention I'd love to be able to ride my bike to it?); cleaning the shit out of our kitchen and dining room to make space for new cookbooks and other cooking/baking arrivals and.....yes yes, cooking!

While our kitchen may be tiny, it is mighty, just like Mark Bittman's, (must be an NYT subscriber to read, but it's free to join!) and is the perfect place to spend a cold winter night. Upon first entering the no more than 8 x 11 foot addition to the rear of the first floor you may notice one thing: your breath. As the room was added by our landlord back when he used to live here, it isn't very well insulated against the bitter Philadelphia winter (today's high of 64 might have something to say about that, however). Alas, once you get the soup simmering, the cookies crisping and the brownies baking, you find yourself shedding the scarf you struggled to keep out of the batter, the ski cap covered in confectioners sugar from that icing mishap, or the hoodie dotted with olive oil splatters. And sometimes, when you're eating solo, it's just fine staying in there and eating dinner right on the cutting board that was used to prepare it.

Cleaning, reorganizing and revitalizing our kitchen is almost like spending time in a brand new place! And yet, as that often misquoted Zeppelin lyric goes, the food remains the same.

Please allow us to introduce you to the Clap It Off kitchen:

This, friends, is where the magic happens! Welcome!



a week or two ago, i cranked out a dozen "pomegranate ginger cupcakes" from hannah kiminsky's epic dessert cookbook, my sweet vegan. i usually leave the cupcakery to sis lauren (she, in fact, introduced me to the global vegan cupcake movement), but something about this flavor combo was too winter perfect to pass up.

pomegranates have always seemed so special to me, the mysterious ruby fruit of queens and wood nymphs. when i was in college, my friend kate would occasionally have a ripe pomegranate bobbing about her leather satchel, and generously shared their glowing seeds with me during mae west movie marathons and study breaks. kate is the kind of girl who treats rare, decadent things with both ceremony and indifference - the kind of girl who will slug a treasured 20 year old bordeaux right from the bottle, or wear a flawless, sequined vintage dress to a smoky dive bar. she taught me the importance of being self-centered - no! not like being selfish, but recognizing that you are truly only a Self, a person in the world acting on your own behalf. a person for whom, at the end of the day, there is only waiting what you have left for yourself to enjoy or abhor.

who knows what gestures and words we hurled at one another with juice-stained hands (believe me people, this was indeed before the pomegranate was yet another slutty produce commodity), what impressions we smeared with deep purple fingertips, what pristine white walls were ruined by our thoughtless touches.

...pardon the digression - where were we? oh yes, the cupcakes. these were fairly straightforward, but there was a special finishing touch that i especially enjoyed: pouring a pom-pom syrupy juice concoction right on top of the raw batter before the oven treatment. this technique ended up creating sexy juice ribbons throughout the cakes and a nice little wow-factor for those who peeled off the waxy paper wrapper before consumption.

two small variations to the recipe: the original called for pure pomegranate juice, which i replaced with a (significantly cheaper) pomegranate-açaí blend. it also called for chopped candied ginger to be folded into the batter, but i couldn't find the good, sugar coated kind anywhere. sometimes the co-op has some bagged up in bulk fridge alongside the shredded coconut or carob chips, but not that day. so instead i chopped up some of a green & black's dark chocolate bar that had candied ginger in it. the richness of the chocolate actually complemented the spiciness of the ginger and the tartness of the pomegranate quite nicely.

the whole shebang was topped off with some zippy ginger frosting (though the recipe she included produced far too much frosting for the dozen cupcakes, at least for my taste...i like a thin, smooth layer of confection, not big piped-on wads), and a few pomegranate seeds sprinkled on top for bedazzled garnish feel. also, you simply can't go wrong with gold foil cupcake liners - it's like a pair of these for your dessert!

and okay, this isn't the best photo (but i took it with ryan's iphone! techmologee!) but gives a clue as to their subtle beauty:

also, what is that at the top of the photo? funnily enough, it's an upsidedown caricature sketch of the aforementioned kate (posing with another lady i love, halimah) that a crust punk drew for $5 at a summer rager back in '06.

anyway, i declare these sophisticated babies a success!



welcome to VR - who we are & how we do

welcome to vegan royale (aka VR), the brand new blog from emily k. and lauren k.: two vegan and thoroughly food obsessed sisters, currently residing in west philadelphia. we live in a big, beautiful house named clap it off, an homage to both our love of dancing and a killer song by soul singer shirley ellis. our roomates are 4 rad guys, inclding ryan e., our bff who will occasionally lend some non-vegan flair to the VR posts with his "dairy diary." the sisters will stick to the vegan foodstuffs, and other things that tickle - or enrage - our fancies.

as this blog unfolds, hopefully you will learn more about us and we will learn more about you. however, at this fresh beginning (rife with promise, like a clean and well organized kitchen), here's an introduction to the way this blog will work. basically, our posts will fall into one, or a number of, categories. each category has a corresponding little graphic (see below):

old favorites: classic jams from our collective repertoire. repeats and variations of the meals that sustain us most days of our lives. this is where you'll find the pastas, the stir fries, the curries, and the casseroles we hold dear to our hearts. look here for the splendor of comfort and simplicity.

culinary experiments: this is where we take our chances. dishes sprung from revered veg cookbooks, fancy gourmet recipes given the vegan treatment, or just the products of our insatiable foodie imaginations. eyes peeled for weird-o ingredients, thoughtful presentations, and the occasional failure.

D.U.I. (dining under the influence): man, sometimes it's 2 a.m. and the belgian fries we faced at the bar are just a hazy memory. the warm bed beckons, but so do the contents of the fridge. will we eat the snack or will the snack eat us?

baking: are we the sorts to haunt the kitchen at strange hours, bringing forth batches of peanut butter cookies or huge trays of pecan granola for no particular reason (other than the inherent soothing nature of baking)?
why yes, yes we are.

ryan's dairy diary: from smooth chevre to smoked cheddar, this dude loves it all. watch in awe as he coaxes the magical from the mundane and then proceeds to eat the whole damn thing. pizza lovers, grilled cheese connoisseurs, omelette oglers - ry is your guy.

kitchen tools: not "gadgets," hell no. we will praise the tools, ingenious or simple, that help accomplish the many tasks required to make kick ass food. also, we won't hesitate to make fun of how much wacky crap kitchen stores try to convince us we need (and make fun of ourselves when we buy said wacky crap).

produce notes: 5 a day? pshhh. we shoot for twice that. our discoveries, thoughts, feelings, rants and raves regarding nature's lustiest offerings: fruits and vegetables.

restaurant reviews (cheap): cheap for us means under $10 per person. sandwich shops! falafel stands! salad bars! read here our judgments on the food prepared by others that we could easily make ourselves, but got too hungry, lazy, or hungover to do so.

restaurant reviews (fancy): yes, our definition of the word "fancy" is questionable. regardless, anything over $10 per person will qualify as chic eats for us. here, we search for the ever elusive foodgasm. these reviews may be forgiving, may get brutal, but mostly, we'll just eat and drink our faces off.

outside adventures: accounts of our jaunts into the world beyond west philly. we can only assume that most of these accounts will include some sort of restaurant review(s), because, yeah we'll admit it, we get hungry about every three hours.

stuff we like: we know - though only sometimes acknowledge - that there is life outside of food, preparing food, eating food, reading, thinking, arguing, and dreaming about food. here's where we'll big-up movies, books, comics, art, projects by our friends and anything else that manages to distract us from our one true love.

does that all make sense? please feel free to comment or email us about anything; we're big fans of interactivity. thank you and trust us, there is much more to come soon!

emily & lauren