Sunday, December 12, 2010

Holiday Gift Guide: Xan Confections & Spork

About 6 1/2 years ago, Tracey Downey experienced a loss in her family and used it as the impetus to make a career change that honored her true interests. She had apprenticed under a French chef at age 17, but upon getting married and having children, had left the culinary world behind. With a renewed dedication to the culinary arts and a request from her new husband to recreate his grandma's homemade caramel, Tracey got to work. She nailed the caramel recipe in three tries, despite not having the recipe. Within a year, she had taken every chocolatier course she could find and developed a product line. She opened a store and was inspired by customers with various allergies and yogis to create a vegan line.

Xan Confections was born in 2009 after her storefront closed and has been thriving with a vegan and an omnivorous line ever since. The vegan chocolates are readily available at Whole Foods either pre-packaged in beautiful assortments or by the piece in the bakery section. It is so exciting to be able to pick up a beautiful assortment of ethical chocolates on a whim! I strongly suggest the delicious Xan Confections for holiday gifts.

Tracey herself was vegetarian as a teenager and resumed her vegetarianism about 3 1/2 years ago, becoming vegan about a year ago. Her new veganism brought her to Spork Foods to learn how to cook to accommodate her new lifestyle. This created a lovely opportunity for the Spork students this past May when Tracey guest-taught a chocolate-making class! I made sure to be one of the first to sign up because I wasn't going to miss the chance to meet Tracey and learn a couple of her secrets.

Enthusiastically knowledgeable about chocolate from its growth to its politics to its history, it was fascinating to listen to Tracey's lecture. The photo above shows her holding a life-size cacao pod replica against a life-size photo of a cacao tree. After the lesson, we were given the chance to make our own chocolates. Tracey demonstrated the making of Vegan Fruit Caramel Ganache (raspberry, I believe, in our case) and then gave us each our own piping bag full to pipe into little chocolate cones.

We also formed Dark Chocolate Swiss Truffles out of malleable chocolate squares, rolling them in cocoa powder, cacao nibs, powdered sugar, and shredded coconut.

I'm overjoyed that I was able to spend a morning with Tracey learning all about chocolate and it was all thanks to Spork Foods for creating the class! Which leads me to the second part of this Holiday Gift Guide post: Spork! There are now two ways to give the gift of Spork. For those who are in LA or who will be visiting LA, Spork Foods offers amazing multi-course meal vegan cooking classes every Saturday and Sunday (except holidays). Each weekend has a different theme with the menus posted on the website so you can choose which appeals most to you. I have my eye on a couple in the coming months. The in-person classes are a really wonderful way to interact with the Spork sisters, meet new friends, and eat delicious food together. Plus, you take the recipes and the knowledge of how to prepare them home with you. You know, treating yourself to a Spork class could really be seen as a gift to your friends and family, too; if you learn how to cook, they'll benefit when you cook for them!

A Spork Online subscription is also an amazing gift. Since I purchased my subscription, I have been watching the high-quality episodes over and over again. You can watch from start to finish or you can watch just the segment with the individual recipe that interests you, depending on how much time you want to devote in the moment. One month is only $7.95, so it's great for a stocking stuffer, and includes access to archived episodes in addition to the episode of the month. Considering that in-person classes cost $65, the online classes are an incredible deal. There are also 6-month and year-long subscriptions for $39.95 and $74.95, respectively. I think you'll find that the person you gift a subscription to will be really grateful!

The moral of the story is that Xan and Spork are two excellent vegan-owned companies to support this holiday season!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Holiday Gift Guide: ResBLENDent

As the holiday season is upon us, I thought I would highlight a few companies I feel are worthy. I featured a gift guide early this year and some of these companies might be repeats from that post, but believe me, they deserve to be repeated.

Today's fantastic company is Blend Apparel, whose soft, thick hoodie is shown above. I've seen this hoodie look equally great on guys and girls and, I have to be honest, my favorite part is the ampersand (&) zipper pull.

Blend Apparel is vegan owned and operated, eco-friendly (apparel is made with organic cotton and bamboo and the website is wind-powered), and a percentage of each purchase is donated to hand-picked charitable organizations. Supporting Blend Apparel is supporting our vegan community.

On top of all this goodness, Blend is having a huge sale right now, where all apparel is at least $10 off (t-shirts are usually $24.99-29.99 and are now $14.99-19.99 and I paid $54.99 for the hoodie, which is now on sale for $34.99). So, get a gift for yourself and the people you love!