Monday, December 14, 2009

Almond Shortbread

I adore shortbread. Adore it. Like the rush of falling in love or the anticipation of place you long ago left, the thought of it lightens my whole day, and I involuntarily rub my index finger and thumb together in anticipation of its sandy crumbs. When I was a pastry cook, I'd talk my work-bruised feet into busying themselves just a bit longer, convincing them to stay in the kitchen while I baked the stuff. but listen, it's shortbread. you know how you love shortbread! Mine was made with blanched almonds, at once bold and delicate, really delicious.

I'm eating mostly raw these days, so I don't have cause to revisit the old recipe. But when Angela Stokes said a bit about her yumpot (don't worry if you pull a face on hearing the term; it's weird), and mentioned that it contains lucuma, and wistfully exhaled--in her very charming and otherwise sensible English accent--"It tastes like shortbread!" I knew I must do something wonderful with the lucuma in my cupboard.

Lucuma is a fruit native to Peru, prized for it's sweet smoothness and dry, dense texture. In English, it's known as eggfruit (named so for its intense yellow color, like a yolk) and tastes a lot like pumpkin. Fresh lucuma is scarce outside of South America, but markets in areas with large Latin American or Peruvian populations may stock its frozen pulp. The dried powder is frequently used to flavor ice creams and other desserts, especially in North America and Europe. I purchase organic powdered lucuma from The Raw Food World, but there are plenty of great sources for it.

This shortbread makes the most of lucuma's powdery nature, lending your cookies a texture that's so similar to baked shortbread, your guests won't guess it's raw.

Raw Almond Shortbread
12 thick or 24 thin cookies

1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1 cup raw almonds
1 1/4 cup dates
1/2 cup lucuma powder
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
additional lucuma powder, for dusting (optional)

Line a 4" x 9" baking pan with plastic wrap, allowing the excess to hang over the sides. This will give you very thick, substantial pieces of shortbread. For thinner cookies, use a 9" x 9" pan, or a 9" round pan, which creates nice wedges.

In a food processor, combine coconut and almonds, and process to the finest powder you can achieve before it turns into a paste. Add dates, lucuma powder, almond extract, and sea salt, and process again until the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs. It should appear quite sandy, but should hold together loosely when pressed between two fingers. If the dough is too sticky, add additional lucuma powder by the teaspoon until it reaches the proper consistency.

Press dough firmly into prepared pan, and level the top by patting with your fingers, smoothing with an offset spatula, or using the bottom of a glass. Prick the tops with the tines of a fork for an authentic shortbread look, if you like. Refrigerate until very firm, at least 20 minutes.

Using the plastic overhang, gently lift shortbread out of the pan, and place on a cutting surface. With a sharp knife, cut into rectangles; I like them 1" x 2" or so, or pie-shaped wedges about that size if using a round pan. For a perfect shortbread-y finish, dust the wedges with additional lucuma powder, moving them around to lightly coat every surface. The shortbread will keep, well-covered and refrigerated or at room temperature, for several weeks.

Serve the shortbread with steaming cups of tea and seasonal fruits, or include in your holiday cookie tin.

And news! This morning was the cover shoot for my upcoming book Cook, Eat, Live: Vegan Recipes from Everyday to Exotic. It was so much fun, and I'm thrilled that the finished book will be on shelves soon.

Tomorrow I'll be leaving on a massive road trip through Grand Junction, Las Vegas, and my hometown of Los Angleles, and returning to Denver through Phoenix, Sedona, Flagstaff, and Santa Fe. I love new adventures and side trip spontanaeity, so recommendations for stops are welcome! I'll certainly be spending lots of time at Ronald's Donuts, and my favorite Madeleine Bistro, and I can't wait to dine at Sedona's raw vegan Chocolatree...but things are always open to improvisation. Let's hear your favorites!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Vegan Kid Checkups

I am all about kid posts these days, so please forgive another one (and another--my girl just had a birthday, and I'll be posting that soon too!). My daughter had her 2 year checkup recently, so it's a good time for me to revisit vegan children and their general health.

We take G to regular checkups, as I believe it's really important for raw and vegan diets to stand up to medical scrutiny. Vegan children should have nutrient levels and growth relative to other kids, and pediatric care is a great way to confirm this.

This visit, she was in the 50th percentile for weight at 26.5 pounds, and the 55th percentile for height at 34 inches. That's a bit of a jump from her growth pattern, which has put her around the 25th percentile in both weight and height, after being born a hefty baby. She's growing fantastically, and thriving on whole vegan foods! Nutritional testing has been minimal, since our doctors are perfectly content with her growth, and fully supportive of her being vegan.

Iron levels are also important to keep track of, and children on any diet can tend toward anemia. G's levels have always been fine, and at 13.8 this time (anything between 10 and 14 is normal), they still are. To be honest, I don't think about iron much since our family's levels--even as vegans--are consistently pretty high. To boost your child's iron naturally, be sure to include plenty of leafy greens like parsley, kale, and spinach, and dried fruits like raisins, prunes, and apricots. Vitamin C increases absorbtion, so be mindful when planning meals or try green smoothies. Raw nuts and seeds are also an excellent source of iron, and are easy to incorporate into everyday recipes, so make an iron-rich Hemp Tabouli with your falafel dinner, or add a handful of sesame seeds to your salad.

And here's the PSA, echoing the thoughts of Shazzie: Your raw or vegan child should not be smaller than children on standard diets. If your child is thin, short, appears birdlike, or has pinched features (yes, this actually happens!), please see a pediatrician right away; it's likely there's a serious deficiency. Many of these deficiencies are not reversable (B-12 at young ages, for example), so it's best to be sure your child is well-nourished from the start. Of course, omniverous children can suffer from deficiencies in B-12, calcium, and other stuff as well, so all parents should be tuned in to their children and thoughtful about their diets.

As you track your child's growth, be sure your pediatrician uses the appropriate growth chart. Many doctors still use outdated guidelines from the 1950's, when nearly all children were formula fed, so if your baby is breastfed, she will appear smaller on them. Visit Kellymom for breastfed baby charts, or see the WHO child growth standards for more information. If your child is in the 25th percentile, remember that it's perfectly normal. And if your child is in the 3rd percentile, and so is everyone else in your family, that's fine too; some families are petite, and it's likely your child is just growing accordingly.

Finally, I cannot emphasize how important it is to find a medical professional who accept your choices. While your doctor doesn't have to be an advocate for breastfeeding or raising vegan children or vaccinating selectively, it's vital that they respect and support your decisions as a parent. It's simply not worth it if you're being pressured at every visit. Really, if you breathe a heavy sigh before every ped appointment, and know you'll encounter opposition, find a new provider. Our little ones deserve the very best care!