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If you are interested in helping the animals, but are unsure of where to start, or are not ready to go vegan just yet, here are three easy ways to make your meals a little less cruel.

1. Switch to Earth Balance and stop using dairy butter. I love Earth Balance! You can use it as you would dairy butter in baking and cooking: you can saute with it, melt it, use it as a spread, and bake with it. The Earth Balance Buttery Spread also comes in stick form so you can easily measure the required amount. Earth Balance products are vegan and they offer soy-free alternatives as well. Earth Balance is found in many stores, including Wal-Mart.

2. Use vegetable stock. For many recipes, you can substitute vegetable stock in place of  beef or chicken stock without compromising the flavor. Vegetable stocks are available in the same section of beef and chicken stocks at grocery stores. If you want a chicken-flavored stock that is vegan, you can get that too. Vegan Essentials sell Better Bouillon Powder in beef and chicken flavors that are completely vegan.

3. Eat one less meat dish a week. If you have a turkey sandwich for lunch every day, why don’t you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch one day? Or if Thursday is stir-fry night, make a vegetable stir-fry and leave the chicken or cow out of the dish. Once you get used to making one less meat-based dish a week, make two meatless dishes a week. And then three.

Even if you don’t go any farther than the three steps mentioned above, you are still making a difference. Making changes to your food choices can be hard and take some getting used to, but I bet that with each change you make you will expand your culinary repertoire and gain confidence in a cruelty-free way of eating.

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A few days ago I went to a new café that opened at the University of Nevada, Reno in the Center for Molecular Medicine. Pathways Café is owned by two local residents of Reno, Nevada and places an emphasis on healthy, organic food. Many of the vegetables used by the café are grown hydroponically by the owners, including their delicious heirloom tomatoes.

I had the gourmet grilled cheese (vegan) which consisted of a yellow heirloom tomato, sun-dried tomato dressing, and two types of vegan cheese on 9-grain bread. The grilled cheese sandwich was absolutely delicious and I am now addicted to heirloom tomatoes!

The prices were also very reasonable. My meal, the sandwich and a drink, was about $9 and we were also given free samples of their vegan cupcakes. The next time I go I am definitely getting the vegan chai cupcake. The sample was just not enough.

The Center for Molecular Medicine is the north most building at the University of Nevada, Reno and the café is on the first floor.

A couple of months ago I bought the cookbook “Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar” by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. This cookbook has become one of my favorites and I frequently make up excuses to cook another batch of cookies.

I have tried about a third of the 100 vegan recipes in this book. And, so far, I have only been disappointed once (more on that later). The Vegan Cookies book has everything you could ask for in a cookie cookbook: classics like chocolate chip and gingerbread cookies to biscotti to thumbprint cookies. The book also offers many recipes for those who want a more healthy dessert like whole wheat chocolate chip cookies.

One of my favorite parts of the cookbook is the beginning. The first section of the book offers tips on baking and suggestions for substituting. The authors discuss every type of ingredient that is used in the book (various flours, sweeteners, egg substitutes, etc.) and the different ways that ingredient acts in baking. The authors have also included a section of the various tools you will need and which tools are non-essentials but very useful.

The only recipe I have not liked so far is the whole wheat chocolate chip cookies. The recipe turned out just fine: the instructions were easy to follow and I didn’t have any problems with baking the cookies. However, I did not like the way the cookies turned out.  The whole wheat flour left a weird taste for me and a few of my friends. I did, however, have several friends who loved the cookies and asked for the recipe. Obviously wholesome cookies are not for everyone but fortunately, the unwholesome chocolate chip cookies are absolutely delicious.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to all of my friends: novice and experienced bakers alike. I can’t wait to try the other recipes in the book.

Chocolaty Crinkle Cookies from “Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar”

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