August 23, 2011

Recipe - Gnocchi in Pesto Cream Sauce

Dude. Life is stressful! We are on the hunt for a new apartment and it is backbreaking, soul-crushing work. I've spent more time on the subway the past few weeks than is prudent and our dinners have been suffering as a result. (Hello, Seamless Web!) However, I made up this lovely little dinner last week, back when life was still normal, and I wanted to share it with all my friends who I know are busy, too.

Johnny has been a bit obsessed with gnocchi these days (and I'm always obsessed with gnocchi) so I wanted to create the perfect sauce to go with those tiny little dumplings of joy. As a vegan, I really miss creamy sauces at times, and this fulfilled all my creamy fantasies (man does that sound wrong). I started by preparing my own pesto, intentionally making more than I would need in this recipe. Extra pesto kicks butt on sandwiches, roasted veggies, or on pizza. I also used packaged gnocchi to speed things up, but if you'd like to try your hand at making it from scratch there's a recipe for it here on Vegan Yum Yum.

One note: please use unsweetened non-dairy milk! I used plain Silk soy milk and my sauce was a touch sweet. I thought Johnny wouldn't like it, but he didn't seem to notice and happily cleared his plate. Just when I think I have him figured out...

I think fresh corn is the perfect side dish to any meal. Corn with a side of corn anyone?
Gnocchi in Pesto Cream Sauce
Serves 4

1 tbsp olive oil
1 small red onion, diced
1 package mushrooms (cremini or button work best), sliced
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, diced
3 tbsp vegan pesto (recipe follows)
1/2 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk (soy milk is preferable)

1 package prepared gnocchi

Get your gnocchi water heating in a large pot over high heat. In a large skillet, warm the olive oil over medium-low heat, then add the onions. Cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the onions are softened but not browned, add the mushrooms and sundried tomatoes. Cook until the mushrooms start to give off their liquid, about 8-10 minutes. Add the pesto and soy milk and stir until well combined. Allow to simmer and reduce for about 6 minutes, stirring frequently.

When the sauce is about done, add your gnocchi to the pot of boiling water. They cook very quickly (2-3 minutes) and are done when they rise to the top of the water. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the gnocchi to the skillet with the pesto sauce and toss together. Serve with some basil and a sprinkle of vegan parmesan or nutritional yeast.

Vegan Pesto
Makes about 1 cup

1 clove garlic
1 large bunch of basil, stems removed
1/2 cup raw, unsalted cashews
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
1/4 tsp salt
Dash of black pepper
1/4 olive oil

In a food processor, chop the garlic into tiny pieces. Add the basil, cashews, nutritional yeast, salt and pepper and put the lid back on. Pulse until everything is combined, then drizzle in the olive oil as you continually process everything together. This makes a pretty thick pesto, you can thin it out with a few more tbsps of olive oil, a bit of veggie broth, or even water. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

August 3, 2011

My Favorite Natural Beauty Products

New York City... They say if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. This summer  has been a bit intense so far and we New Yorkers tend to feel the heat more than others because we're actually out there IN IT. We walk here - a LOT - and we take the subway which requires us to go deep down underground where temperatures reach hellish highs and the train seems to suffer from some heatstroke induced slowness of it's own. As Ani DiFranco so eloquently put it, "Back in the city the sun bakes the trash on the curbs, the men are pissing in doorways and the rats are running in herds." It's no joke! 

You can imagine how this all leaves a girl feeling insanely sweaty and grimy at the end of a long day! Thankfully, I've discovered some splendid bath products that will wash the city right out of my hair and off my bod and send it all down the drain.

I've been making a serious effort to transition our household to kinder, gentler, eco-friendly bath and cleaning products. I got the scare of my life by looking up my old personal hygiene products on The Environmental Working Group's cosmestics database. It gives you the 411 on the toxic chemicals we slather onto our hair and skin everyday, many of which have been linked to cancer. I've calmed down a bit since then and come to realize that no product is perfect. Unless I plan to brush my teeth with a twig and sprinkle baking soda under my arms, there will probably always be something objectionable in my daily routine. Regardless, I feel good about a lot of the products I've found that are vegan, don't test on animals, and that contain far fewer chemicals than their drugstore counterparts. Plus, I'll take any chance I can get to buy products from small companies as opposed to huge corporate machines. Damn the man, save the empire! Amirite or amirite? Or amirite?

In my quest, I've used a few shampoo/conditioner combos that left my hair feeling like straw, lotions that gave me an oily sheen, and deodorants that left me smelling like someone on their third day at Burning Man. But after many trials, I located a few products that are FAR superior to anything I used before and I hope to persuade some of you to give them a try!


I LOVE GIOVANNI! I picked up this shampoo and some of their conditioner (see below) a few weeks ago at my local health food store and I'm already a devoted fan. The 50:50 Balanced Shampoo smells fabulous, creates a great lather, and gets rid of the grunge without stripping my hair so much that it's dry and frizzy. This one is also suitable for color-treated hair which is rare in natural shampoos as hair color is the devil and no one should be using it anyway. (Though the ever-multiplying grays on my head beg to differ.)


This conditioner is super moisturizing, but doesn't weigh my hair down. It also smells wonderful and makes my hair very manageable. Giovanni products are made in SoCal, their company is family owned, and they are very conscious of using the most natural ingredients possible. They're available all over the place: Target, Walmart, Whole Foods, CVS, Rite Aid... and with such a reasonable price tag, there's just no reason not to give this stuff a try. You'll thank me later!

Body Wash

ShiKai is like that comfy old t-shirt that you want to wear all the time. You buy other shirts in an effort to mix things up, but you come back to it over and again. Okay, that was kind of a tired metaphor, but ShiKai's stuff is not tired! I have yet to find a product of theirs that I don't like. Their shower gel is some of the only natural shower gel I've found that actually foams up and creates that nice lather that, to me, equals clean. And their scents couldn't be more delish; my faves are Pomegranate and Coconut. YUM! I buy it at Whole Foods, but it's also available at Trader Joe's, Safeway, and lots of little health food stores.

Runner-up: I'm also a fan of Nature's Gate Shower Gels. They aren't as foamy as ShiKai's, but they get the job done. Mango is my favorite scent.


You've gotta get the lotion that goes with your shower gel, right? And luckily there's no need to mix and match here, because ShiKai's lotion also rocks! It's moisturizing without being greasy and keeps the skin oh-so-soft. Pomegranate and Coconut are my faves again, but sometimes I switch it up and use Sandalwood when I have the urge to smell like a gypsy. Ooh la la!

Face Wash

Have you ever wanted to wash your face with orange juice? You may not realize it, but you have. I've struggled with breakouts for most of my adult life and have found that most natural products just aren't strong enough to keep the acne under control. But I've been using this stuff for about a month now and have noticed that my skin is actually clearing up! It seems to remove all my make-up and leaves my skin feeling really clean. And guess what? It totally smells just like OJ! It's amazing. Gonna give the matching moisturizer a try next.


I've been hooked on this stuff for a few months now. I used the matching face wash for awhile, but was still getting breakouts. However, the moisturizer is a different story. It's really light and not greasy at all, but it feels really nourishing. And the idea that it has sea moss in it makesme feel like a mermaid. The scent is similar to freshly washed laundry and after I use this at night Johnny always comments on how good I smell. Score!


Confession: I have a really weird allergic-type reaction to most toothpaste... it causes the skin on the inside of my mouth to peel off. Ewwwww.... I know. I was 99% sure it was due to the fluoride added to most toothpastes, so I began using Tom's of Maine fluoride-free toothpaste and loved it for many years. But Tom's of Maine was bought in 2006 by Colgate-Palmolive and I noticed a change in their products for the worse. They started using sulfates in their toothpaste and guess what? Gross mouth peeling business returned!

I since discovered Jason's line of toothpastes which are free of fluoride and sulfates. Happy mouth again! PowerSmile is actually whitening my teeth over time and their Vanilla Mint flavor is like brushing your teeth with delicious icing. No joke. I have to stop myself from eating it straight from the tube every day.  

That's about it for bath and body products. Next on my agenda: I need to transition to natural cosmetics. I have tried a few different products, but find they really don't work so well. Any suggestions my little chickadees? What are some of your favorite beauty products and cosmetics?