Sunday, November 29, 2009

Autumn Meals

As a little girl, I dreaded turning into my mother. There were a lot of things that bothered me, I'm sure. Among them: her indiscriminate use of praise. The way she approached strangers as if they were casual friends. And her near-obsessive habit of listening so intently and still missing all the jokes. To a shy--and perhaps slightly melodramatic--child, these things were enough to make my sleepy eyes go wide with horror.

I never liked hearing that we resembled eachother, and was determined not to become her as I grew older. What I didn't realize growing up was that I didn't know her very well at all. She's ebullient because she simply loves people. Her outgoing spirit is witness to her own shyness as a kid. And despite a childhood car accident that left her deaf in one ear, she has always been determined to truly hear what people are saying, and to connect with them.

As an adult, it's these same things that I admire so much. Things that, when I see them in myself, made evident in how I hold a teacup or catch myself in the mirror when talking with a friend, I smile and shake my head a little, and am grateful.

Sometimes you become what you never wanted to, and in doing so, realize it's not so bad after all. Which leads me to the main course of my Thanksgiving dinner.

I know. I know. I always said I would never do this, but here it is. I don't understand why vegetarian protein gets shaped like animals, or why we care about approximating wishbones on Thanksgiving. It's ridiculous. But listen: you have to shape it into something. And for a festive dinner, a loaf is just too plain. So this year, my Raw Pecan Sage Loaf took the form of slain poultry.

While I expected this to feel really grim, a reminder of what other Americans are eating this holiday, it wasn't. The silliness of it was pure kitsch, and made the idea of consuming an actual turkey seem even more ridiculous. Carving, however, was a bit disturbing.

Raw Pecan Sage Loaf
8-10 servings
This loaf is perfect any time of year. Vary the spices depending on the occasion.

1 cup raw pecans
1 1/2 cups additional raw pecans, or a combination of raw nuts and seeds (I used brazils, almonds, walnuts, and sunflower seeds)
1 cup mushrooms
3 stalks celery
1 1/2 teaspoons dried sage
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1-2 cloves garlic
1 cup carrot pulp, or carrot processed to a pulp in a food processor, from which you've pressed out the juice
3/4 cup dried cranberries (optional, and usually not raw)
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh parsley

In a food processor, grind nuts to a coarse meal. Add mushrooms, 3 stalks celey, sage, salt, pepper, thyme, and garlic, and continue processing until everything is finely ground, but not quite the texture of a pate.

Transfer nut mixture to a large bowl, and stir in carrot pulp, cranberries (if using), diced celery, and parsley. Use your hands or a wooden spoon to mix and squeeze everything together. Form into a loaf, and dehydrate 4-6 hours, until a crust has formed on top and it's nicely warmed through. The loaf can also be baked or eaten with crudites as a pate if you prefer to skip the dehydrating. Leftovers make excellent sandwich filling.

I love composed salads, in which the ingredients and dressing are all tossed together, then served over greens. They're perfect for making ahead or packing for a picnic, and ensure that your lettuce will stay crisp every time. This one featured grapes, apple, celery, walnuts, and home-dried cranberries (most store bought aren't raw, and contain lots of sugar) with Fresh Herb Vinaigrette.

The simplest Raw Cranberry Orange Relish: 1 cup cranberries, half an orange, and 1-2 tablespoons agave, whizzed up in a food processor

Walnut Herb Stuffed Mushrooms, dancing over a collard leaf like enchanted toadstools. These were topped with dollops of pale green Avocado Aioli (below), for a savory and substantial appetizer.

Avocado Aioli
about 1 1/2 cups
There are lots of vegan mayonnaise recipes that use silken tofu as the main ingredient. This one features nutrient-rich avocado, which blends into a creamy spread with the addition of lemon, olive oil, and Dijon mustard. It's raw, makes an excellent sandwich spread, and can be used anyplace mayonnaise is called for. Add herbs, powdered wasabi, or horseradish as you like.

1 avocado, cut roughly into quarters
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon raw apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

In a food processor or blender, combine all ingredients except olive oil until completely smooth. With the machine still running, drizzle in olive oil in a thin stream until emulsified. Use immediately, or refrigerate for up to 2 days.

I also served a Vanilla Apple Sparkle, made from fresh pressed apple juice, vanilla beans, stevia, and sparkling water, and Roasted Garlic Smashed Potatoes (not pictured). And for dessert:

Raw Pumpkin Cheesecake. I'm still uncomfortable with the idea of eating raw squashes (I made raw butternut tortilla the other day, and it was awful), so I wasn't about to create a raw cheesecake containing actual pumpkin. Fortunately, fresh pressed carrot juice is a great stand in, supplying an earthy flavor and autumnal color. Classic pumpkin pie spices complete the dessert.

Raw Pumpkin Cheesecake
15-20 servings

For the crust:
1 cup raw pecans
1 cup dried flaked coconut
3/4 cup dates
generous pinch sea salt

For the filling:
3 cups raw cashews, soaked for at least 3 hours
3/4 cup raw agave nectar
1/2 cup fresh carrot juice
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2-3 lemons)
1/3 cup virgin coconut oil (any consistency is fine)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, or seeds scraped from 1" of vanilla bean
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice or ground cloves
zest of half a lemon
Make the crust:
Line a 9" round pan with plastic wrap, and set aside.

In a food processor, process pecans and coconut until fine but not oily. Add dates and sea salt, and process again, scraping down the sides as necessary. The crust is ready when it holds together when pressed against the side; if necessary, add water by the teaspoon until it does. Tumble mixture into prepared pan, and pat into the bottom, or use the bottom of a glass to press the crust firmly into the pan. Set aside.

Make the filling:
Combine all filling ingredients in a blender and process until completely smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary. This may take several minutes. Pour filling onto prepared crust. To release bubbles, tap the bottom against a counter several times, then run a knife through the mixture in a figure-8 pattern. Smooth the top.

Transfer to the freezer, and chill until firm and thoroughly cold. This may take up to several hours.

To serve, gently lift with the plastic overhang and transfer to a platter. Ease out the plastic from underneath. Using a small offset spatula, smooth creases from the sides. Cut with a sharp knife, rinsing it with hot water between servings to ensure perfect slices.

I really hope you'll try these recipes, particularly the Avocado Aioli, which has become a staple in our household. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thank You!

Today, I want to give my heartfelt thanks to everyone who follows this blog. This isn't the biggest food blog out there, and it's a joy to me that 54 of you have discovered our little corner of the internets. I really hope you're enjoying what you find here, and am always brimming with excitement to read your comments and thoughts. If there's anything you want to see more of, please let me know.

Enjoy this day and everything it brings. I'll post something on my Thanksgiving meal soon (I'm making raw pumpkin cheesecake right now!) In the meantime, know that I'm thankful for all of you!

With massive gratitude,


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Raising Vegan Children

This is G, my lovely, intensely serious girl. Today is her second birthday.

As the mama of a two-year-old who has never eaten Kraft macaroni and cheese, who has never gnawed on a drumstick or held a sippy cup of cow's milk, and who eats mostly raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, I can say that it's pretty easy to raise your children vegan.

A question I heard frequently while pregnant was, "Are you going to stay vegan while pregnant?" (I did.) And later, after my daughter was born, "Are you going to raise the baby vegan?" (yes, I'm doing it.) After some initial inquiries on protein and social outings, everyone just let me do my thing. Confidence is essential in being a parent, and when you have solid reasons for co-sleeping or homebirth or doing anything differently, there's no need to feel you should constantly explain yourself. Happy, healthy children speak for themselves.

I've had lots of trust from those close to me (of course, I'm always happy to answer their questions), and I'm grateful for their fantastic support. I've also been very fortunate to have great caregivers, who give her only vegan food, so I never need to worry what she ate while at a playmate's house. And her papa is completely in agreement with raising her vegan. In all these things, communication is vital: I make sure those spending time with G know what to expect, and why it matters.

And while the ethics may seem complicated to some, the reality of being vegan is really very simple. Here's some of the everyday stuff my daughter eats.

got green smoothies?

We drink gallons of green smoothies around here. Glory loves the bright green color and the sweetness. I love the amount of undetectable greens I can pack in. If your toddler is thin, coconut milk can be added for healthy fat. And it stands up well to a sippy cup full of whole milk: although milk contains more protein, the smoothie has a superior amino acid profile.

Orange Cream Green Smoothie
1 smoothie
To get a creamier texture, scrape the whole insides of the orange--membranes and all--into your blender. And if you’re new to green smoothies, start with a smaller amount of spinach, and add more next time.

1 banana, frozen
juice of 1 orange
1/2 teaspoon orange zest (taken from about 1/4 of the orange with a rasp)
generous handful (1-2 cups) spinach
½ cup water
1/2-1 cup ice

Combine all ingredients in a blender until completely smooth.

Each serving contains nearly 20% of your RDA of calcium, 15% of iron, 6 grams of protein, over half the recommended amount of folate, and 225% of vitamin C. Blend in some kiwi or dates, and it provides a complete amino acid profile.

Here's what I packed for G's lunch for a childcare swap: rice, beans, avocado, salsa, and Pepita Lime Cashew Cheese, sprinkled with cilantro.

And here's roughly what a day of food looks like for this vegan toddler:

breakfast: green smoothie, half an avocado (sometimes a whole)
snack: lime-salted raw pumpkin seeds, half a pear,
lunch: dal, brown rice, roasted vegetables or crudites
tea: almond-hemp-chia milk sweetened with dates, seasonal fruit, raw brownie/larabar
dinner: half an avocado, raw carrot hemp croquettes with lemon tahini sauce, a few bites of cupcake or some other treat
+ water, breastmilk, and smoothies/fresh juices throughout the day

I also supplement G in several areas, using a rotation of the following, usually one every day: B12, soy lecithin (for choline), K2 + calcium, and DHA-infused flax oil. If your child doesn't consume any animal products, it is essential that you supplement with B12 or eat enough foods fortified with the stuff. DHA is also vital for brain and eye development during the first year, so keep your own levels high if you're breastfeeding, and be sure to give your baby a trustworthy source if you're not. (This is also true if you're feeding your child formula, regardless of your diet--not all formulas contain DHA, and some DHA can be harmful to babies.)

If you're raising a vegan or raw child, there are lots of resources available. I highly recommend Evie's Kitchen by Shazzie, and Raising Vegetarian Children by Joanne Stepaniak and Vesanto Melina.

More parents are choosing to raise vegan children now, so you're in good company! I was at a birthday party yesterday where everything was vegan, and it was so peaceful and fun to know that my daughter could eat anything she wanted. And if you do have to check labels during celebratory occasions, or bring your own cupcake to a school party, don't worry: these little interruptions are so small compared to what your child is doing for animals, the environment, and other people. It's worth it, and I'm reminded of that every day I see this sweet face.

Happy birthday, little magpie!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Of Broken Toes and Cabbages

Three months ago, I broke my toe. Running for the phone in a morning stupor, I lost the stairs under my feet, slipped, and landed hard. The bones were crushed, and I knew it. But a toe is such a small part, really, and it seemed melodramatic to make a thing of it. I taped it up, and went on with the daily stuff of yoga classes, and chasing a toddler, and occasionally still rushing down the stairs.

But it didn't heal, not at all, and by the time I saw a doctor, it was a mess. Terms like "degenerative arthritis" were used, and I was given the option of surgery to remove a bone fragment, or an attempt to re-set the bone (which might not be effective and would still require surgery). Either way, my lower leg would be immobilized in a really attractive boot-like contraption for 6-8 weeks. After a day of consideration, I cleared my schedule, decided to close my yoga studio, and opted not to have the surgery. The re-setting went quickly, and I am now the proud owner of the aforementioned boot.

I have been listening to NPR a lot lately, listening for the most gruesome news. Because with shootings and famine, I can assure myself that closing a yoga studio and doing laundry on several flights of stairs is not a real problem.

So today, I found myself in this silly, gigantic boot, hobbling around the house in such a way that you'd definitely give me a look of pity, after first laughing a little because it looks so ridiculous. And instead of feeling thoroughly sorry for myself--which I was on the verge of doing--I decided sunshine and fresh air were worth thinking about.

I took my toddler outside, and began to rake the dead leaves from the backyard (raking, for some reason, is a surprisingly easy thing to accomplish with an immobilized leg), and had cleared the leaves from my herb area before moving toward the garden boxes. And that's when I saw them.

Cabbages. There they were, among the tattered remains of rapini and the remnants of frost-destroyed zucchini, surrounded by nothing but brown earth. Strutting above the wreckage, like a band of jolly emerald soldiers, were five--no,!--cabbages.

I don't think of cabbage as a hardy crop, and the funny thing was that they grew terribly during the summer season, all sad and reedy. Such that, on encountering someone else's cabbages during an evening walk, I would stop, shift my weight, and with a wry look and a wistful sigh say, "Now those are real cabbages."

But there they were: effortless, preposterous. And suddenly, the act of furiously raking leaves with a giant boot didn't seem silly at all. Neither did going to a concert or an overseas flight, or anyplace, really. Because there were cabbages growing here, and if they could survive two feet of snow and the death of their vegetable cohabitants, it wasn't such a stretch that I could survive a few months like this.

I'm very fond of cabbage now--if not for it's earthy taste, then for its steadfast character--and convinced it is the best remedy for the doldrums of self pity. I want coleslaw every day. I want to make cabbage tinctures, or to distil its hearty leaves into cabbage liqueur. But those things are weird, so I'm imagining more realistic dishes, beginning with Soba Cabbage Wraps. These can be found in my upcoming cookbook, Cook, Eat, Thrive.

Photo by Debora Durant at Invisible Voices

Soba Cabbage Wraps
4 appetizer servings
You'll find many variations on the sesame dressing (below) on my blog. I keep a bottle on hand for tossing with salad, marinating tofu, or whisking together with almond butter and serving with raw carrot noodles. It's one of my favorites, and I hope it becomes one of yours, too.

For the Soba Noodles:
6 ounces soba (buckwheat) noodles

For the Spicy Sesame Dressing:
½ small Thai pepper, seeded and minced (jalapeno, or ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper, is a fine substitution)
½ teaspoon freshly grated ginger root, or ½ teaspoon dried
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 scallion, thinly sliced, green parts only
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil (canola is a fine substitution)
2 teaspoons agave nectar or maple syrup
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

For the Pineapple Relish:
¼ medium pineapple (1 ½-2 cups), peeled, tough core removed, and diced
½ medium cucumber, seeded and diced
½ red pepper, diced
¼ cup tightly packed fresh cilantro, roughly chopped

For serving:
8-12 large cabbage leaves, washed and patted dry
additional cilantro leaves, optional, for garnish

Prepare the soba noodles according to package directions. Drain, rinse with very cold water, and drain again. Set aside.

In a measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together all ingredients for the Spicy Sesame Dressing. Alternately, place them in a jar and shake to combine. Pour the dressing over the cold soba noodles and stir slightly. Allow the noodles to absorb the dressing while preparing the Pineapple Relish.

In a medium bowl, combine pineapple, cucumber, red pepper, and cilantro. Set aside until ready to serve. At this point, the dressed noodles and relish can be refrigerated separately overnight and assembled the next day.

To serve, evenly distribute the soba noodles among the cabbage leaves. Top with equal portions of the relish. Garnish with additional cilantro leaves, if desired, and serve.

Raw Cabbage Wraps
Instead of soba noodles, substitute 2 zucchini, sliced into threads with a vegetable peeler. Make the Spicy Sesame Dressing by substituting nama shoyu for soy sauce, cold-pressed sesame oil for toasted, and raw agave nectar for regular. Use only half the dressing, and allow the zucchini threads to absorb it while preparing the Pineapple Relish. Everything else goes as directed.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Peanut Butter Shortbread with Concord Grape Sorbet

A few years ago, I had the great fortune of living in a tiny apartment in a large mansion. The estate housed several acres of sprawling gardens, designed in the English style. Most afternoons were spent walking through them, across paths lined with dahlias and cosmos, and through a lane shaded by apple and cherry trees, and into a circular rose garden punctuated with flamboyant peonies (I love peonies!). My favorite part was a labyrinth of sturdy pergolas, dripping with age-old grape vines.

In Autumn, the vines sagged with Concord grapes demanding to be picked. So we picked them, pounds and pounds of grapes, with which I made sorbets and glazes, and dehydrated them into raisins. Concords have a rich, spicy flavor and spectacular purple color, so juicing them is an excellent way to preserve their jammy goodness. The juice can be frozen for use in later months, which is what I did here. Of course, if you don't have grape arbors in your backyard, bottled concord grape juice is a good approximation of fresh, and you can make this sorbet year round. Look for a brand with 100% of the Concord variety, rather than a blend of other juices.

If this looks like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, that's the idea. Except the peanut butter is rich, sandy shortbread, and the jelly is grape sorbet, fragrant with red wine. Serve tossed into a bowl, or smashed together, sandwich-style, and you won't mind being a grownup, not one bit.

Peanut Butter Shortbread with Concord Grape Sorbet
18-20 small cookies

½ cup non-hydrogenated shortening
½ cup creamy peanut butter
¾ cup evaporated cane juice (try it with brown sugar, too)
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon sea salt
2 cups all-purpose flour

Corcord Grape Sorbet (below), for serving

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a medium bowl using a hand mixer, beat together shortening, peanut butter, and sugar until pale and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla and sea salt, and beat again.

Slowly add flour, beating at low speed until combined. The dough will appear crumbly and separated, but should hold together when pressed. If it remains crumbly, add water by the teaspoon until it becomes sufficiently clumpy.

On a lightly floured surface, pat, then roll dough 1/3” thick. Cut shapes with cutters, or simply cut into wedges. Using a thin metal spatula, gently lift and place 1” apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Refrigerate for 15-20 minutes, which will ensure crisp, defined shapes.

Bake at 325ºF for 20-25 minutes. The shortbread should be very lightly browned on top, but not at all dark. Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

The shortbread will keep, at room temperature in an airtight container, for up to a month.

Concord Grape Sorbet
About 1 pint

2 cups Concord grape juice
2 tablespoons agave nectar
2 tablespoons cabernet sauvignon, or other jammy red wine
generous pinch sea salt

Stir together all ingredients and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.

Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.

To serve, make small scoops of sorbet and sandwich them between rounds of Peanut Butter Shortbread. Serve immediately, or freeze for up to a day before serving. If you do the latter, allow them to sit for a few minutes for the sorbet to reach a pleasantly soft texture.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Raw Meyer Lemon Cheesecake with a Coconut Brownie Crust

Let's just say it straightaway: this dessert has a ridiculous amount of fat. But it's raw and vegan, and made of whole foods. The coconut oil is packed with healthy EFAs and lauric acid, while agave is low-glycemic and raw cacao adds a natural caffeine punch.

And if the health benefits don't charm you, the taste will: smooth Meyer lemon filling sitting atop a brownie crust (the crust recipe serves as a fantastically simple energy bar or chocolate macaroon). The flavors and textures balance eachother so nicely: sweet and tart, creamy and crumbly.

Meyer lemons are slightly sweeter than most varieties, with bright golden skins concealing intensely juicy flesh. If you're fortunate enough to live in Southern California, you'll notice them in backyards everywhere. Redeem some overripe Meyers that have fallen onto a sidewalk, or just ask to pick some, and most lemon-rich tree owners will be happy to have their yards relieved of the heavy fruit.

Raw Meyer Lemon Cheesecake
15-20 servings
Be sure to zest the lemons before cutting and juicing them. For this, I use a rasp--sometimes sold under the Microplane brand--which removes thin shreds of colorful zest and omits the bitter pith entirely. To remove the juice, I prefer a citrus reamer with a strainer underneath to catch the seeds and membranes. A 2-cup measure is the perfect vessel to hold the liquid; it allows you to measure the amount directly without risk of it spilling over.

For the Coconut Brownie Crust:
1 cup raw walnuts
1 cup dried flaked coconut
2 tablespoons raw cacao powder
3/4 cup raisins or dates
generous pinch sea salt

For the Meyer Lemon Filling:
3 cups raw cashews, soaked for at least 3 hours
3/4 cup fresh meyer lemon juice (from 2-3 lemons)
3/4 cup raw agave nectar
1/3 cup virgin coconut oil (any consistency is fine)
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
zest of 2 meyer lemons
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Make the crust:
Line a 9" round pan with plastic wrap, and set aside.

In a food processor, process walnuts, coconut, and cacao powder until fine but not oily. Add raisins or dates and sea salt, and process again, scraping down the sides as necessary. The crust it ready when it holds together when pressed against the side; if necessary, add water by the teaspoon until it does. Tumble mixture into prepared pan, and pat into the bottom, or use the bottom of a glass to press the crust firmly into the pan. Set aside.

Make the filling:
Combine all filling ingredients in a blender and process until completely smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary. This may take several minutes. Pour filling onto prepared crust. To release bubbles, tap the bottom against a counter several times, then run a knife through the mixture in a figure-8 pattern. Smooth the top.

Transfer to the freezer, and chill until firm and thoroughly cold. This may take up to several hours.

To serve, gently lift with the plastic overhang and transfer to a platter. Ease out the plastic from underneath. Using a small offset spatula, smooth creases from the sides. Cut with a sharp knife, rinsing it with hot water between servings to ensure perfect slices.

Serve with fresh berries or seasonal fruits, and a fizzy or tannic drink to cut the cheesecake's richness.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Dia de los Muertos II

Si tu recuerdas el poste del ano pasado sobre Dia de los Muertos, sabes que me gusta celebrar con pasteles calaveras. Y porque my Spanish is really mas horrible que anything death-related, I will continue en Ingles...

This year, I hosted my favorite local vegan parents--and their kids--for drinks and little bites. Everyone brought something to share, and among the treats were a caramel chai apple pie, some fantastic chocolates, and cashew Chévre topped with muffaletta.

The cake is crafted in rolled fondant using the same technique as last year, and features shades of old lace and faded paint, piped in Victorian style. It's an homage to the 115-year-old Victorian house I live in, in all its odd beauty. From the Battenburg lace cap to the intricate piping, the details are as authentic as possible. I love the contrast of delicate pastels on a hard, angular skull. And while I'm sure Italian Cornmeal Cake wasn't a regular fixture in the 1800's party scene, I suspect it would've been embraced with gusto. Well, as much gusto as those prim Victorians could muster.

Below, a classic Victorian motif graces the skull's forehead. Piped in White Chocolate Buttercream, the designs were tinted with beets, tumeric, and spirulina.

I hope your celebrations are sweet and full of beauty, whatever incarnation they take!