Thursday, September 30, 2010

Giveaway: Vegan Soap from the Fanciful Fox!

Remember a few weeks ago when I celebrated my Blogoversary, and I said I'd be having a giveaway? Well I'm finally getting around to it. SO SUE ME. I've been a little distracted with this. (By the way, there's still time to vote...)

I talk about Scranton a lot around here. It's my hometown, and I love visiting whenever I can. And whenever I visit, I go straight to Adams Ave for all my needs: Eden for tasty vegan food, a cold beer at the Bog, and The Fanciful Fox for the best beauty supplies.
The owners, Kathie and Amanda Fox, are some of my favorite people. They are equal parts adorable, talented, and kind-hearted. What started as a rainy day craft activity has turned into a thriving business that is not only sustainable and eco-consious, but full of luxurious gifts for you and your home.
More about the store from their website:

The Fanciful Fox is a vegan, fair trade store located in beautiful Scranton, Pennsylvania.  The mother-daughter team of Kathie and Amanda Fox work daily to make all sorts of plant- based bath and body products for all skin types.  They are completely dedicated to the planet and all the living creatures on it.
They do not test on animals and research every ingredient in their products to make sure they don’t buy anything that has been tested on animals.  Amanda was  2009 recipient of PETA’s Compassionate Business Award.
Additionally, they do not use petroleum by-products, parabens, or other harmful chemicals.  They use organic and wildrafted ingredients whenever possible.
All products are handmade in small batches, and made with love.
If you stop by their boutique, in addition to great bath and body products you will find an eclectic collection of fair trade products.  They have a great variety of handmade items from all over the world that are made from recycled objects or come from sustainable sources.

The Foxes happen to love my baked goods. I happen to love their soap. It's a beautiful friendship, really. So let's talk about some soap I've tried.
The Dead Sea Soap is amazing. It looks a little funky. And there's mud in there. I'm not gonna lie, I was a little skeptical. But it smells lemony and wonderful, so I brought it home for Ken and figured I'd give it a try. As someone who does not use bar soaps, I must say this soap could convert me. It's amazing! It mildly exfoliates and softens my skin like a dream. It lathers well, but doesn't leave that soapy-squeaky feeling that makes me despise bar soaps. Ken loves it, I love it, it's a crowd favorite!

I also got a chance to try the Breakfast bar, and love it for its mild exfoliating qualities. The top half of the bar has oatmeal, and the bottom half has coffee. The soap has a very mild fragrance, and does not actually smell like oatmeal or coffee. This is probably for the best if you're extra sleepy like me in the mornings, so that you don't confuse your soap with your breakfast. Still, a great exfoliating bar soap!
The Sweet Vegan Bakery soap looks adorable and smells like your Grandma's kitchen, if your Grandma likes to make almond cookies like mine does. It lathers well, but has more of that traditional bar soap feel that I'm not a big fan of. I prefer to use it for shaving my legs, or as a hand soap. Also, because of how sweet it is, this soap is not for everyone. Since I regularly smell like a cookie, I didn't mind it, but if you're not a fan of sweet smelling body products, this soap is probably not for you. Luckily, the Fanciful Fox has many other fragrances for you to try, and they're always coming up with new creations.
And now lucky readers, one of you will get to try these goods for yourself! Because those Foxes are so awesome, they're donating two bars of soap for a super awesome giveaway. The prize will include one bar of the Dead Sea Soap, and one bar of your choice. To enter, just go to their site, check out the stuff, and comment letting me know which fragrance you'd like in your prize pack! It's that simple. Check out their other soaps here.
For an extra entry, you can "Like" both the Sweet Swallows Facebook page and the Fanciful Fox's Facebook page. After you do that, just remember to come back here and leave a second comment so I'll know that you did. I'm not a mind reader, people!

The contest will be open to anyone in the United States (sorry, friends abroad!), and you'll have till Midnight EST on Wednesday, October 6th to get your entries in. I'll announce the winner on Thursday, October 7th. Make sure you don't post anonymously, or I won't have any way to contact you! Good luck!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Voting is open for Challenge 2 of Project Food Blog

Voting is now open for Round 2 of Foodbuzz's Project Food Blog. You can find my entry here. I'd appreciate it ever so much if you'd vote for me again! The process is the same as last time, so if you voted last week you're all set up to vote again. If you haven't voted yet, you will need to sign up for Foodbuzz in order to vote, but I promise it's quick and painless. Here's the link for voting. Thanks again!

For all of you awesome Featured Publishers that are stopping by, please make sure you leave a comment so that I can return the favor! Also, I like meeting new foodies. Let's be friends.

Voting ends on Thursday, September 30 at 6pm, so don't wait! And make sure you check back in a day or two for a super double secret, super double awesome giveaway...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

How NOT to Make Thai Tofu Green Curry

I'm not a chef. I've never claimed to be. I'm a baker. Some people can bridge the gap and do both well. I'm not one of those people. I leave most the cooking to my boyfriend Ken who is quite the snack master. And because most of the time I venture to make dinner it ends in tummy aches and ruined pots.

Here's the thing: I don't like to babysit my food. I don't mind doing extensive prep work as long as I get to pop it in the oven, set the timer, and forget about it for awhile. It's why I love baking. Most recipes have built-in coffee breaks. If I've got to be standing over a stove tending and nurturing a dish, I'm going to end up walking away and ruining it. I don't have the time or patience to coddle you, Risotto. But what's that you say, Lasagne? After I assemble you, I can leave you to do your own thing in the oven? Well then, I think we can be friends.
So when asked to make a dish outside of my comfort zone for the next challenge in Project Food Blog, I knew it had to be a stovetop dish. As soon as I'm pre-heating that oven, I automatically feel like things are a little more right in the universe. You want to make me uncomfortable? Hand me a wok and some vegetables. I'll be cranky and whining in no time. And that's exactly what I did to myself last week.

For challenge two I decided to tackle a classic Thai dish, and one of my favorites: Green Curry. It fit the profile perfectly: a classic ethnic stovetop dish that required some babysitting to develop flavors and cook vegetables. [Insert ominous music here.]

I also love any excuse to hit up the asian supermarket. It's documented here. So I made my shopping list, grabbed $20, and headed to Oregon Market. It's go time.

If you don't have any asian markets near you, I'm really sorry. They're a great source of cheap produce, tofu, exotic sauces, and entertainment. If you're vegan/vegetarian, I recommend staying as far away as possible from the meat case. But if you've been thinking about going vegan/vegetarian, go to your nearest asian market and walk immediately to the meat case. You'll quit cold turkey (pun intended).
The irony of this particular asian market is that even though I know every ingredient I need for my recipe is in there, that doesn't mean I'll get everything I need. This is for two reasons: 1. Good luck finding someone who both understands AND speaks english and 2. although the packaged goods almost always have an English translation, only about 1/3 of the produce is clearly labeled in any language. And getting adventurous in the asian market's produce section is a level of risky behavior that I'm just not comfortable with.

Because I couldn't find the kaffir lime leaves or the galangal the recipe called for, I settled for the pre-made green curry paste (which still took me an hour to find). And I got all this stuff for $15. Vegetarian fish sauce, green curry paste, fried tofu, coconut milk and a slew of produce. Not too shabby.
I wanted to make the curry close to the version I get from my local Thai take-out. While researching Green Curry recipes, I found that though the curry sauce remained mostly constant, the vegetables and meats seemed to vary by author. I decided to follow the recipe for the curry, and guess at the rest of the ingredients in the take-out version. This was probably mistake #1. [Ominous music cue 2]
The curry came together really well. It was very fragrant, and had a great mellow heat but deep flavor. But once I started adding the vegetables, everything went downhill. Perhaps I didn't allow the vegetables to saute long enough. Perhaps I should have let the tofu heat in the sauce longer. Perhaps I added too many vegetables. Perhaps I should have measured the vegetables before tossing them in. Perhaps I should stop thinking I can wing it with things I'm not familiar with and follow a freakin' recipe already. Who knows? There were a lot of variables.
All I know is that it looked and smelled lovely, but it tasted TERRIBLE. I took a few bites, and threw the rest of mine away. Ken, who can usually choke down the worst of what I serve him, ate about half of his, slyly dumped the rest, and made sure to let me know he wouldn't mind if I got rid of the leftovers. Add it to the long list of dinner FAILS that have come out of my kitchen. We both agreed, I should really stick to desserts.

I've heard that eggplant can be a really fickle mistress. I think I'll blame it on the eggplant, and continue to work on my vegetable sauteing skills. Do any of you have an awesome green curry recipe? Or have some tips on working with veggies, tofu and curry sauces in a wok? I'M ALL EARS. For now, I'll share the recipe I used, and hope you've got better skills than me.
Thai Tofu Green Curry
(adapted from Squidoo)

1-2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp soft dark brown sugar
2 lemongrass stalks
14fl oz of coconut milk
6-8 Kaffir lime leaves (if you can find them; I used lime zest instead)
Thai fish sauce (several brands make a vegetarian version, if you can't find it, you can use soy sauce)
1/2 lime zested, and juiced
2 Tbsp green curry paste
1 eggplant, sliced
1 cup green beans
Tofu (I used packaged fried tofu, but you can use regular extra firm tofu, drained and cubed)
Thai basil and sprouts for garnish

Peel away the outer leaves of the lemongrass, cut into pieces and crush each piece with the flat end of a knife to release the fragrance. Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan. Add the green curry paste and sugar and heat over very high heat for about a minute, stir with lemongrass. Reduce heat slightly and add the lime zest (or leaves, if using). Add the coconut milk and fish sauce and reduce heat, simmering and allowing the curry to thicken slightly. Add the tofu, and allow to heat and absorb flavors for several minutes. Add vegetables, and allow to cook about 5-7 minutes, or until reached desired tenderness (You don't really want to listen to me on this part anyway, this is where I messed up!). Check seasonings, and add more fish sauce, thai basil and cilantro to taste. Use sprouts as garnish, if desired. Serve over jasmine rice.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Holy Crap, Thanks!

I advanced to Round 2 of Project Food Blog. I'm so excited, and so overwhelmed by all of the comments and emails I've received from some other amazing bloggers in the contest. You guys are great! Thanks so much for all of your votes!

Real talk? This is dorky but true: I'm also way too excited about all the new foodie friends I've made. I told my mom about it and everything.

The contest is so far from over. There's still 9 challenges, and each week the pool of contestants gets smaller and smaller. I'll be posting my next entry later this weekend, and voting takes place next week. No time to rest on laurels!
And now, as a token of my appreciation, here's some food porn of some Heirloom Brandywine tomatoes I got last week and the vegan ham and turkey sandwich I made with them. Please enjoy.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Worst Cupcake Ever

Why can't I learn my lesson? It's my fault. Everytime I see that Whole Foods has a new vegan dessert option in their bakery, I give it a try. And every time, it's terrible. And not that "kinda gross but I'll still eat it" supermarket bakery terrible. We're talking "took a bite and threw the rest away" terrible.

I saw that the Whole Foods on South Street had a really cute new gourmet cupcake display. One side was all standard, and one side was all vegan, with options like cookies and cream, gingerbread and lemon, vanilla and raspberry, and a few others. They looked pretty cute. They were $1.99 each. I thought I'd give one a try. I picked up the Cookies and Creme.
I think terrible might be going easy on this cupcake. The cake was so dry it crumbled when I thought about picking off a piece. I didn't really taste any chocolate. And the frosting? It was salty. SALTY! I was craving cookies and cream and got a mouth filled with salt. I didn't have a drink on me, and the taste lingered for a half an hour. Worst. Cupcake. EVER.
Whole Foods, please, PLEASE stop making vegan desserts until you learn how to make them well. You're giving vegan sweets a bad name. Or, y'know, feel free to hire me or buy my cupcakes instead. But for the love of all things delicious, stop putting out the crap you're currently selling.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Vote for me as the Next Food Blog Star!

Hey everyone! It's been an exciting week around here. I'm celebrating my Blogoversary, I'm getting closer everyday to having my own baking business, and now I'm entered in Foodbuzz's Project Food Blog to become the Next Food Blog Star!

So, um, I'm sure you want to know what that means. Well, the top prize is $10,000 and a feature on Foodbuzz for one year! But it's not going to be easy. There are 10 specific challenges we must blog about, and the pool of contestants is whittled down after each entry based on the judges' and other contestants' votes. There's currently almost 2000 contestants, and only 400 of us will advance. And let me tell you, after checking out some other entries, competition is going to be stiff!

There's also a reader's choice winner, who advances to the next round based solely on the public vote. And that's where you all come in! To the right of this post, you should see a link to the Project Food Blog site, with my smiling face and banner that says vote for me! Simply click on this link, and it will take you to the voting page. My post, Of Blogs and Blogging, should be the first one you see, and all you need to do is click on the heart to vote for me. You can only vote for each blog once, so be sure to spread the word around, and tell your friends to vote for me too!

For those of you unfamiliar, Foodbuzz is an online community for foodies, a place for bloggers and food lovers to get together to share pictures, recipes and reviews. It's like Facebook for food porn. If you are not already a Foodbuzz member, you will have to sign up in order to vote. I encourage you to check it out if you've got an interest in food. And if it's just not your thing, then please just sign up, vote for me, and forget about it! Pretty please, with a cherry on top? 10K could really help me launch my business!

Voting is only open for 3 days, from now until 6pm on Thursday, September 23rd. The 400 winners who will advance to the next round will be announced at Noon on Friday, September 24th. Thanks so much for taking the time to vote for me!

Check out my Project Food Blog profile, which also links to the voting site!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Of Blogs and Blogging

I'm not always classy. I'm rarely refined. I say silly things at inappropriate times. I never measure vanilla. I usually forget to take photos while I'm baking. I post infrequently, and when I do, there's rarely a recipe. Do these things make me a bad food blogger? NAH. That's just my style. And the beauty of blogging is what makes most "real" writers hate it so much: the inconsistencies, lack of rules, and informal tone.

I started this blog because I HAD NO CHOICE. It was blog, or lose most of my friends from talking about food incessantly.  I knew nothing about blogging when I started. Everything you've seen here over the last year has been a lot of trial and error (emphasis on the error.) I had no idea there was this vast network of foodies just like me, cooking, baking, talking about food, taking pictures of their creations and baring it all for the world to see. It's a place where spell-checks and editing are frequently left at the door, but passion and creativity are required for entry. I like it here. I think I'll stay awhile. 

Like most food bloggers will tell you, I fall asleep and wake up with thoughts of future meals, and usually dream about them inbetween. Having some internet real estate to talk about it is like sweet, delicious therapy, a catharsis for our menu-filled souls. I'm so glad I found a support group that doesn't make me feel ashamed if I talk graphic details about the sandwich I had for lunch, or post pornographic pictures of pies and their sweet, juicy insides. Hi, my name's Colleen, and I'm a food-aholic. 
Having no experience in the world o' blogs, Sweet Swallows took time to take shape. I always knew it would be centered around baking, but beyond that, I floundered for awhile trying to find focus. I started to read other food blogs to get a sense of what's out there. I was intimidated by Smitten Kitchen, and Deb's flawless design, photos, and writing. I was inspired by Joy the Baker's hilarious non sequiturs and delicious recipes. And the number of comments Bakerella gets for any particular post? Humbling. Truly. I got nervous. How could my little blog ever compare with my lack of technical skills and Photoshop? 
But I realized, why stress about it? I decided to just start writing like I was talking to a friend, and then everything fell into place. This is something I do because I love it.  No one is judging my lack of web design knowledge. So my motto became: Keep it light, keep it cute, keep it funny and add more pictures than you think you need. It's been working well for me so far. 

But every blog needs a hook, something to pull the reader in and make them want to stay awhile. So why should you stay here instead of surfing somewhere else? I've got a few things going for me. 

Sassy name with a little innuendo? Check. 

(On a related note, I apologize to any of you who are blocked from this site at work or got flagged for web searches. It's Sweet Swallows BAKING. Please, please, for the sake of your job, make sure you use the baking...) 
Large pictures of graphic food porn? Check. 
Occasional pictures of adorable kitties? Check.  
Beautiful looking and delicious tasting vegan sweets? Check and Check. And really, I think that's the best reason you should stay awhile. 
Now before you go running away screaming because of a bad experience you had with some terrible vegan dessert you picked up at Whole Foods, keep in mind my recipes are all Grandma tested and vegan approved. They're delicious, and I promise I never post a recipe that wouldn't fool the biggest butter-lover in your life. 

My evolution to a vegan baker can be traced through the archives. I started out focusing on dairy-free recipes, with some pizza reviews tossed in. But the more I baked vegan I began to realize that I didn't need to bake any other way. My vegan cupcakes will put most cupcakes filled with butter and eggs to shame. And don't get me started on my vegan oatmeal cream pies. Little Debbie wishes she had these skills.  Srsly. 

And now vegan baking is a challenge. Can I make the best vegan donut in the world? Can I turn my favorite Christmas cookie recipe into a successful cruelty free treat? I will. Or die trying. Sweet, chocolatey, powdered-sugar covered death. I'm OK with that. 
I'm still an amateur blogger. But now, I'm (mostly) focused. I'm determined. The world is at my feet and I'm ready to grab the bull by the horns and [insert 'taking charge of your life/opportunites await' metaphor here]. I've found my voice in this world and have staked my claim in the blogosphere, and things can only go up from here. A life surrounded by food is within my grasp! And the next food blogger star? Perhaps. Anything is possible. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Blog, Blog, Blogoversary!

Guys, these last few months have been a little crazy, and I can't believe I've been neglecting you! But I'm back today, because there's some celebrating to do. It's my Blogoversary! A year ago today I decided to start this blog as a way to document my love affair with baking. The blog has grown and changed so much. In that time, I've gone from baking mostly dairy free to mostly vegan, and the results have been quite delicious. My baking went from strong interest to career focus, and I'm still chugging along towards the dream. Thanks so much to everyone that's read along, left comments, and joined me on the ride. Let's take a quick look back, shall we?
There was my venture into the gourmet vegan cupcake world. 
Pagash! (Pagash, when I go completely vegan, I will miss you most of all)
And lots of other deliciousness.  
There's definitely more changes to come, because I've got big plans for the next year. The biggest announcement is that I've decided to go vegan again! I'm giving myself a year, until my 29th birthday, to phase back slowly. My baking has been 100% vegan for a few months now, and my daily eating is around 90% (about once a month I have seafood, honey, or something with eggs in it).
The last time I went vegan, I wasn't very smart about it. This time, I plan on educating myself completely, learning cooking techniques, mastering recipes and making sure I don't fall off the wagon again. I'll be sure to update you on my progress and give recipes along the way. 
I'm also participating in FoodBuzz's Project Food Blog, and will be posting my first entry in the contest later this week. There are judges that vote on which bloggers move forward, but there's also a reader's choice option where fans can vote on their favorite blog. I'll be sure to let you all know how you can vote to keep me in the contest. 
Pretty soon you should see a new logo, a new layout, and a recipe index. I'm also working on posting more regularly, but, y'know, we'll see how that goes!
Just like I always extend my birthday celebrations, I've decided it's only fair to do the same for my blog's birthday. I'll be posting about some of my favorite recipes and products over the next week, and at some point, doing a giveaway! Make sure you stay tuned, and thanks again for stopping by!