Way back in this post, I asked you all if you’d be interested in tips on speeding up the process of cooking whole foods from scratch. Today, I’ll begin to answer that question. I realized there is so much to say on this topic that I’d need to split it up into two smaller posts. So today’s post covers the first four tips; come back next week for the rest of them!
If you cook 98% of your food from scratch as I do, it’s really just a basic survival strategy to find ways to speed up the process and make it easier. Below are some of the things that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve come to most of these ideas on my own over time, but have also found some useful information on blogs and sites I’ve read along the way. So thank you to all the lovely bloggers and writers whose words contributed to this post!
Note: A truly “from-scratch” meal would be made entirely on my own, without ANY help from food manufacturers. If most of the ingredients were fresh and/or cooked entirely by me, I consider that from-scratch. If I use a canned or packaged product that is basically a single ingredient and one I could also make at home (most common in this category would be canned diced tomatoes or natural nut butters, for instance, but I also do use packaged alternative milks), then I also consider that “from scratch.” Of course, you have to draw your own line where it feels comfortable to you.
[This post is part of an ongoing series of interviews with cookbook authors, bloggers, women entrepreneurs and home chefs whose work I enjoy and admire. If you've got someone in mind you'd like me to approach for an interview, please shoot me an email at dietdessertdogsATgmailDOTcom, or leave a comment here and let me know! And now, enjoy today's installment!]
Today I’m thrilled to share my interview with Iris Higgins, who blogs at The Daily Dietribe, and Brittany Angell, who blogs at Real Sustenance. Both women blog gluten-free (with many vegan recipes), use whole foods ingredients, and create delicious, health-enhancing foods within their own dietary restrictions.
[Brittany Angell on the left; Iris Higgins on the right.]
They also share their personal journeys as they navigate health issues and learning to eat–and cook–in a new way. As Iris says on her blog, “The Daily Dietribe was born out of a realization that I had more to share than I knew. I write about my gluten-free journey, and about the ups and downs of living this lifestyle. But I also write about life in all its strange and awkward experiences, food related or not. “ These days, Iris practices as a women’s wellness coach and hypnotherapist, and is studying for a Master’s in nutrition.
In Brittany’s case, a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s disease, compounded by various food allergies, led her to seek out and create recipes that are free of major allergens, with the ultimate goal “to connect, engage and understand the needs of others and to guide them through their journey to health through education, support and recipe development.” And, I would add, a magical ability to create incredible, mouth-watering desserts that almost everyone can enjoy!
This power team co-wrote The Essential Gluten-Free Baking Guides, Part I and Part II.Why two books? Well, once they began to write the books, Iris and Brittany quickly realized that there was much more information to share about gluten-free baking, the different flours, ingredients substitutions and how best to use each flour than they’d anticipated. So they decided to present the information in two more manageable parts. If you have a favorite gluten-free flour that you like to use for most of your baking, you can select the book that features it. Of course, I’d recommend both books so that you have the full array of flours to work with!
I asked both women the same six questions. Here, I share their answers. They’ve also graciously agreed to let me publish the recipe for Breakfast Carrot Cake, which made a wonderfully light and moist snack the other day, with a cup of Bengal Spice Tea. I made my cake without raisins (both because they weren’t included in the original recipe and because they’re not part of the ACD); but if you can eat them, I’d highly recommend adding some to this lovely snack cake! (see recipe after the interview answers).
1. What was your impetus for writing the books?
IRIS: It all started with Facebook…as does everything these days, right? Brittany and I had recently become Facebook friends, and I loved chatting with her about gluten-free baking. One day, I posted a recipe for coconut biscuits (a recipe that I am dying to rework now that I understand coconut flour so much better), and Britt and I were talking about how there are certain flours we shy away from because we don’t understand them well. Recognizing that there was a need for a resource that would explain these flours to us, we took the conversation offline and started brainstorming. Our ideas got bigger and bigger, and the next thing we knew, we were talking about writing a cookbook together.
BRITTANY: Back in 2010 when I first went Gluten Free, like many I was completely overwhelmed, especially when it came to baking. Stepping into the grocery store and seeing over 10 different types of flour left me lost in a daze. The first six months of baking entailed me following recipes created by others. While I was learning about how gluten free batters differed from conventional, I was still at a loss understanding exactly why I was using so many different flours and what each one did in the recipe. In a Facebook conversation, Iris and I got into a conversation about how coconut flour worked. Neither of us really knew, and that sparked continued conversation via email. At first we spoke of creating a blog event to teach our readers how to use this specific flour, but then from a blog event grew the seed to write an e-book. From e-book came the idea of a full blown book. From one book, it became two. Before we knew it we had a publisher on board and were in the midst of writing two books detailing how 12 different gluten free flours work–to be completed within a 9 month time frame. It was exciting, exhausting and wonderful!
2. Who is the target audience for your books? Who do you think would benefit most from your books?
IRIS: Anyone who wants to learn how to understand gluten-free baking better. The home cook who knows how to follow recipes, but wishes she could adapt recipes like she used to. Parents who are baking gluten-free for their families. Those newly diagnosed with Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance who are scared of baking. Any baker who has ever thrown her hands up in frustration after a failed gluten-free recipe! Our goal with these books is to teach people how to understand what’s happening in the oven so that they feel they have more freedom in the kitchen.
BRITTANY: Nearly anyone interested in gluten free baking. Our books are the very first on the market to explain in detail how each of the gluten free flour varieties work, taste, what kind of texture they provide, the types of recipes they work best in and, most importantly, how to exchange them! Up until this point the only way to learn all of this information would be to spend several years in the kitchen learning little by little. Iris and I put our recipes through hundreds of tests with different flours to compare results to find our answers. We really longed to give bakers freedom once again in the kitchen to experiment safely and have fun without worrying about having the classic disasters that gluten free baking often brings. We hoped by providing the education, that bakers of any skill level would be given a platform to play! Additionally, it was important to us that we covered in great detail how to substitute other ingredients such as sugar, corn, soy and eggs. With the growing number of food allergies, knowing how to convert recipes is a necessary skill. One that again can take time to learn–unless you read the pages of our books
3. What was the most surprising thing you learned (related to gluten-free) while working on the books?
IRIS: Learning how to transition away from using gums was a game changer for me. I had seen a few other bloggers and authors doing recipes using flax, chia, and psyllium husks, but I had never experimented with it. Once I learned how to bake that way, I found I liked the texture of those recipes better, and loved that I could make them higher in fiber with that little change. Also, that our recipe testers were some of our best resources. There were a couple of testers that I ended up e-mailing all the time, and they shared all the tips they had learned from years of gluten-free baking. Baking can be a wonderful collaboration, and I loved working with Brittany and all our testers because every one of us came to the project with a different style and taste palate.
BRITTANY: Just how important the flour grind is. Many commercial gluten free flours are as coarse as sand and that really can have a negative effect on baked goods. Additionally, not all brands work being exchanged for one another due to the different milling of the flours. Superfine rice flour and regular rice flour will behave totally differently in a recipe. The finer a flour is milled, the more moisture is sucks up and the better texture your baked good will have.
4. Is there anything you found impossible to replicate gluten-free? If so, what?
IRIS:That’s a great question! There was really nothing we couldn’t eventually make happen. I spent forever on a gluten/dairy/egg/nut/soy/yeast-free sandwich bread, and developed a Pizza Roll Up recipe that I would take over regular pizza any day. That being said, we had originally planned on having stevia recipes in the book. But we found that our testers just weren’t happy with the stevia recipes (unless they were already used to it, like you) because it wasn’t a flavor they expected. We decided to keep the recipes in these cookbooks refined sugar-free, but save the stevia recipes for our blogs and possible future books. Which reminds me that I have some stevia recipes I developed for the cookbook and never used…I’ll have to find those and put them on the blog!
BRITTANY: I believe that all things are possible gluten free. It may take a little extra effort, but where there is a will there is always a way.
5. Do you have a favorite recipe? If so, what is it, and why?
IRIS: I don’t know if I can pick just one…I am partial to the Italian Style Flatbread, which is in Book 1. I recently made it for a cooking demo, and was so happy when someone told me afterward that it was the best bread she’d ever tasted. And then proceeded to sneak a second sample. I love that recipe because it’s very simple, adaptable, and great for potlucks
BRITTANY:I am really fond of the Sweet Rice Pie Crust as it behaves exactly like a conventional crust–it doesn’t crumble while you work with it and it’s incredibly flaky and buttery. I’m also nuts over the Cinnamon Rolls. I spent nearly a month making them day after day to get them just the texture that I wanted. I’m particularly proud of them knowing they have brought happy tears to a number of individuals with Celiac disease. I live to give people hope and happiness again. No one should miss out on their favorite foods.
6. What is your next project?
IRIS: It’s top secret. But I can say this: There will definitely be gluten-free food involved.
BRITTANY: As I’m working primarily with grain free flours now, I hope to eventually write a third baking guide. I have a few other projects as well in the works, but until they are further developed, my lips are sealed!
Thanks so much, ladies, for giving us an insight into your process and the books!
Iris and Brittany have also graciously offered to give away a copy of one of their books! See the giveaway details at the bottom of the post, below the recipe.
1/3 cup (80 ml) mild-flavored oil (I used organic sunflower oil]
1 tsp (5 ml) pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 325F (170C). Grease an 8″ (20 cm) square pan, or line with parchment.
Grate the carrots and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the potato starch, garbanzo flour, white rice flour, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, salt, cinnamon and sugar*.
In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the coconut milk, apple cider vinegar, oil and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and mix well. Stir in the carrots.
Spoon batter into the pan and bake for 45 minutes, rotating the pan about halfway through, until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes before turning onto a cooling rack. Cool completely before frosting (if desired–I ate mine plain). Best when eaten on the first day, but can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge, or frozen for later. Makes nine large or 16 smaller pieces.
Now, for the giveaway! Please remember that you must use the Rafflecopter form to submit your comment–just click on the option (“+1 Do It!” ont he form) and then follow the directions, indicating that you’ve completed the comment. Once you do so on the form, you must still submit an actual comment in the comment section, below. Sorry for the extra step–but it makes the giveaway run so much more smoothly, and choosing a winner is automated this way, as well–no worries about counting wrong!
What: A copy of The Essential Gluten-Free Baking Guide, Part I (from which this recipe hails! Plus an interview with me in the book–you REALLY want it now, right?!)
Who: Anyone in Canada or the U.S.
When: Today until this coming Sunday, September, 30, at 11:59 PM my time.
How: Just leave a comment (using the Rafflecopter form to indicate your participation first), telling me: Which favorite recipe of yours would you like to make over as gluten-free? This can be one you’ve already done, or one you are dreaming about.
Some decisions in life are just no-brainers. Did I wish to get a second dog after Elsie? Uh-huh. Should I move in with the HH? Duh. Do I present at Nourished when asked? Uh, yeah. Will I accept when Ellen finally invites me onto her show? OF COURSE I WILL!! And when Casey of KitchenPLAY emails to see if I’d like to be part of the “Build a Better Salad” event featuring olives and olive oil, do I agree to create a recipe and blog about it? Well–talk about a no-brainer!
To read more about this event and to see my recipe, click here.
Never miss a recipe–or a comment from The Girls! Click here to subscribe to Diet, Dessert and Dogs via email. (“We love subscribers, Mum. . . almost as much as treats!”)
Whew! I think my hair just got a new ‘do after the breeze that whooshed by as hoards of you ran for the exits! For those of you still here, grab a cup of tea, have a seat, and settle in as I explain why, after a lifetime of baking with wheat, I’ve come to love gluten-free baking even more.
In a nutshell, here are my five top tips to create amazing baked goods–all without stress, anxiety, or trauma (and of course, no gluten!).
When I first learned that I’d have to adopt a gluten-free diet (as part of the anti-candida regime I’m following), I was more upset about having to give up baking than having to give up gluten per se. As someone who’d been baking since I was about six, I simply couldn’t imagine a life without delicious baked treats!
In Stage 2 of the diet, as soon as I was able to start incorporating flours back into my recipes, I pulled out one of my favorite recipes (I think it was a carrot loaf), and baked it up using brown rice flour in place of the all-purpose wheat. Hmmm. . . .can you say, “brick”? Or how about, “Crumbly, totally tasteless brick” at that!
It wasn’t until I realized that baking gluten-free is an entirely new endeavor that I finally began to learn about–and appreciate–gluten-free baking on its own merits. If I moved to Florida from here in Toronto (and believe me, deep in February, I’ve often thought about it), I wouldn’t expect to wear the same winter clothes over there, now, would I? Or if I started dating a new guy (no worries, HH, this is for illustration purposes only), I’d never expect him to have the same taste in wine, like the same music, or dance the same way as the previous beau, either. So why should gluten-free baking work exactly the same as glutenous baking? Once I “got” that reality, the rest was easy.
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel (or wheel of foccacia, either, for that matter). Whenever I begin a new enterprise, I first check out what the authorities in that field have done before me. I rely on their wisdom and experience to get me started. In the case of gluten-free baking, I began by using all-purpose mixes that would allow me to substitute one-for-one instead of wheat flour, and baked up several batches of my favorite sweets that way first. By using tried-and-true flour mixes, I knew that my baked goods would work and would give me a feel for what goes into an all-purpose gluten free flour mix.
What’s in an all-purpose mix? Well, to answer that question you’ll need to consider a bit more about glutenous versus gluten-free flour. Here are some key points:
i. Gluten-free flour has no gluten (duh).
Gluten is the protein in wheat that acts as “glue” to bind together the baked goods. It provides texture and holds things together. Without it, baked goods crumble and break apart like dried-out sandcastles on the beach. By combining different gluten-free flours in one mix, you help to alleviate that effect. (Another trick is to add a binder that replaces the gluten–see number 3, below).
ii. Wheat flour comes in only a few varieties, but varieties of gluten-free flour are almost endless.
In fact, this is one of the reasons I love baking gluten-free: most of us grow up used to the neutral, bland flavor of wheat in baked goods. Gluten free flours, on the other hand, are often derived from other grains that confer their own distinct taste. Amaranth and quinoa offer a sturdy, almost mineral flavor; buckwheat is earthy and nutty; teff resembles a combination of carob and cocoa; rice is mild and delicate; and so on. In addition, there are loads of non-grain gluten free flours; major categories are starches (cornstarch, tapioca, arrowroot, potato starch, etc.); bean and legume-based (chickpea, garfava, bean, soy, etc.); and nut based (coconut, almond meal, hazelnut, etc.). For a fairly comprehensive list of gluten-free grains, starches and flours, check this post.
iii. The best gluten-free baking uses a combination of flours. I know that some of you out there will disagree on this point, and certainly there are some gluten-free recipes that use only a single flour (often millet, sorghum, oat or almond, in my experience). But since gluten-free flours are so different from wheat and each is unique, I find that my best baking projects combine different flours depending on my mood, the recipe and the kind of result I seek.
For instance, muffins or quickbreads work better with more hearty flours such as quinoa, amaranth, or sorghum; light and delicate results follow when you use a greater percentage of starchy flours or mild-flavored grains like rice or millet; and sandy, chewy cookies seem to work best with a combination of all three main types of flours (grain, bean, starch). As you experiment in the kitchen and learn more about the types of flours, you’ll discover which flavors and textures you like best in your own baking.
But no one wants to waste ingredients while they’re learning, right? So for those who are just beginning, I’d recommend the following all-purpose mixes I’ve tried from some of my fellow gluten-free bloggers:
As I mentioned above, gluten is the “glue” that helps to bind (and to a lesser extent, leaven) baked goods. As a result, the best gluten-free baking usually includes a binder meant to replace the gluten. The most common binder is eggs, but since I don’t use those, I add flax meal or other vegan egg replacers in my baking. Other binders include fruit purées, nut meals or flours, or nut butters (I tend to use nut butters more than meal; I also sometimes use seed butters, such as tahini or sunflower seed butter).
However, in recent years, most people also use xanthan gum, a powdery substance that you sift into your flours before you mix up your batter or dough, which creates results a lot like gluten in baked goods. You can also use guar gum. I’ve also seen recipes calling for agar agar (a vegan gelatin) as a binder as well, when xanthan gum isn’t used. As a general rule, most flour blends use about 1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) xanthan gum per cup of flour; for more sturdy baked goods such as muffins or scones, you may need to add a wee bit more (up to 1 tsp/5 ml per cup). I always use an egg replacer plus the xanthan gum; after all, glutenous recipes contain eggs and gluten, right?
[Yes, you can still have light-as-air, cakey Whoopie Pies, gluten-free!]
4. Lighten Up.
Gluten free flours tend to produce a slightly heavier product than wheat flour (another consequence of losing that gluten!). As a result, I always add a bit more leavener to my gluten-free creations than I used to with my wheat-based baked goods. If a wheat-based recipe calls for 1 tsp (5 ml) of baking powder per cup of all-purpose flour, with my gluten-free mix, I use 1-1/2 tsp (7.5 ml) instead (plus about 1/4 tsp (1 ml) extra baking soda for heavier flours). Again, you may need to experiment a bit as you go, but that’s a good rule to start.
Yes, pun intended: those of us who must eat gluten-free are already going with our guts, of course! But it’s also important to learn what works for you and your digestive system, then experiment until you find those ideal recipes. For me, too many starchy ingredients cause a recurrence of my candida symptoms, so as much as I love fluffy, feather-light cupcakes and cakes, I don’t bake too many of them these days. Luckily, I also love fudgy, dense chocolate brownies and cookies–and they have made several appearances on this blog since I went gluten-free.
So that’s why I love gluten-free baking: it allows me to be inventive as I mix up something different each time. I can tailor the final flavor and texture to match the character of the particular baked good, whether light and airy or more substantial and dense. And I can benefit from the varied nutritional profiles of the different flours when I bake, instead of producing baked goods that all offer the same set of nutrients over and over in their flour.
Like any creative endeavor, cooking is never quite the same each time we do it; and the same is true of gluten-free baking. If you approach the task with a bit whimsy and a bit of adventureousness–like a playtime in the kitchen–you’ll find that gluten-free baking is fun, satisfying, and really easy, after all.
There will be a whole month of 30 Days to Easy Gluten-Free Living posts on Diane’s blog. Here’s a list of all the topics and contributors:
This month, with so many of us thinking about spring and green shoots finally making their way toward the sky, Kim and I have chosen an ingredient that is itself a harbinger of spring. With its lively green hue and tender, pine cone-like tops, this veggie is often enjoyed even by those who don’t otherwise consume many veggies. Our happy ingredient this month happens to be
When asparagus hits the grocery stores and markets around this part of the world, we know spring is just around the corner. And who doesn’t love spring?
Available in most places from April to May (though much earlier in California and much later in the midwest), asparagus is beloved by many as a special treat.
Actually part of the Lily family, asparagus is available in three varieties: green (the type with which most people are familiar), white, which is grown underground to inhibit the chlorophyll and thereby prevent any color from developing; and purple, which is much smaller and more delicate than the standard type.
Perhaps part of its elite appeal is the fact that asparagus is more perishable than many other vegetables; it stays fresh only a few days, and, in fact, begins to lose its antioxidant value more quickly than other veggies. The best way to store asparagus to keep it fresh is to place the cut ends in a little bit of fresh water; I stand my bunch of asparagus upright in an empty (clean) large yogurt container or glass jar, with about an inch (2.5 cm) of water in the bottom. I invert a plastic veggie bag (usually the one it came in) gently over the spears for storage. It will keep a couple of days this way.
With its high fiber content, asparagus is a great aid to digestion. It’s also an excellent source of folic acid and Vitamin K (essential for healthy blood and bones) and is a good source of other B-vitamins. The high amount of Vitamin A (just 6 spears provide 25% of the daily requirement) is great for healthy skin; and it’s also a mild diuretic, which means it can help to reduce swelling or other conditions in which one retains water (such as PMS). Finally, it also helps to detox the body with antioxidants like glutathione (important for liver function). And let’s not forget that it tastes delicious and often appeals to folks who don’t otherwise enjoy their veggies!
Most of us think of asparagus as a savory ingredient, used in classic dishes like quiche or risotto, above–and of course it’s delicious that way! But it’s also great shredded, raw, in salads; creamed in soups; or grilled. And if you can think of a tasty sweet use for this vegetable, you’ll get an extra-special mention in this month’s SOS Roundup!
How to Participate:To play along with this month’s challenge, simply cook up a new recipe–either sweet OR savory (or both)–using asparagus.
Be sure to follow the general SOS guidelines for ingredients and submission requirements (please be sure to read the guidelines before submitting! We hate to remove links, but we will do so if they don’t comply with the general guidelines). You may submit your own recipe or one you found on a website or blog (even one of ours). Then link up your recipe via the linky tool at the bottom of this post, or any of the other SOS: Asparagus posts that I publish this month. Be sure to also add a link to this page on your post, and if you wish, include the SOS logo.
Your recipe will be displayed on both Kim’s and my blog via the Linky, and will be featured in a recipe roundup at the end of this month. As always, we look forward to more of your innovative, delectable, enthusiastic entries this month!
[The main course table from my recent holiday potluck with nutritionist friends, clockwise from top left: [out of the photo--Balsamic Glazed Brussels Sprouts]; Southwest Brown Rice Casserole with Beans [white bowl behind cutlery]; Tempeh-Brown Rice Curry and Vegetables; Baby Spinach Salad; Rutabaga Gratin; Cinque Pizza with olives, green pepper, faux meat and onion; and (in red casserole in center) Carrot and Sweet Potato Latkes. The latkes were fried–I have no idea what kind of oil she used. Yes, I ate one.]
In recent years, it seems, we’ve all become hyper aware of the connection between food and health; it’s one of the hottest topics on the internet, twitter, blogs, or in magazines; you can’t read anything, flick on the television or listen to the radio without someone discussing a new study or mentioning a specific food and how it is or is not good for us. Goji berries? Superfood. Kale? Will save your eyes. Sugar? The devil. Trans fats? Avoid at all costs. Refined flours? Shortcut to a heart attack. And so on. How do you decide what to eat?
Well, I had originally planned to tackle this rather amorphous topic in the new year, once we’d all recovered a bit from the holidays and I had more time to craft a thoughtful post about it (since I’ll be on vacation then–whoo hoo!). Instead, I’m going to leap right in today after receiving the following comment on the Simply Bar giveaway post (the first part in quotation marks is what I wrote in the original post itself):
“In addition, the company has prided itself on using real, natural ingredients, without any added fillers in their bars. For example, the “Cocoa with Raspberry” flavor contains soy crisps (like rice crisps in texture and taste), organic agave nectar, organic brown rice syrup, organic cocoa, raspberries, organic canola oil.” Six ingredients–that’s it!”
SOY CRISPS! has the world gone mad? I appreciate that these bars only have a few ingredients in them, but they are a few, highly processed ingredients.
Soy crisps – a bean that is only truly digestible when fermented, is processed into a crisp?
Canola oil – oil that is high in inflammation promoting omega 6, processed from rapeseeds and should only be eaten raw.
Agave syrup – the sugars of the agave cactus without the natural brake of fibre, controversy rages about whether it is low or high GI.
Brown Rice syrup – sugars inherent in rice – highly processed, super high GI, even though it’s brown rice!
Only six ingredients? Whatever happened to the good old nut and fruit bars of my childhood made entirely from nuts and dried fruit? I’d rather have a bar of dark chocolate than one of these!
Since I not only promoted the bar on my blog but actually eat them, I felt a response was in order (and I will respond to the email itself toward the end of the post).
First, let me outline how I decide what to eat and what not to eat; here, then, are the principles I follow and firmly believe in when it comes to “eating healthfully.” (This is not a post about how to keep to a healthy diet over the holidays; I dealt with that subject here. )
[African Sweet Potato Stew--pretty darned good for you.]
I. Aim for a Diet That’s 100% “Good-for-You”. . . .
More than anything else about food, I believe that we are, literally, made up of what we put into our mouths, whether food, drink, or breath. Whether fresh or rancid, pesticide-laden or organic, whole grain or refined, local or imported, dirt-still-clinging-to-its-roots or packed in a BPA-lined bag inside a box, food will contribute to the makeup of every cell in your body.
In nutrition school, we learned about a diet called NAG–Natural, Alive, and Good Quality. I wrote more about it in this post. Basically, the diet aims to include only real, whole, unprocessed and organic ingredients, with most (if not all) nutrition coming from plant sources. Lucky for me, I love healthy foods (I also happen to love unhealthy foods–but that’s a topic for another post).
My own tweaks to the NAG foundation were made because of the anti-candida diet I now follow (about which I wrote more here and here), and include, for the most part: no sugar (and most other sweeteners), no sweet fruits; nothing fermented (with a few exceptions); nothing moldy or yeasty (mushrooms, nutritional yeast, alcoholic beverages, many nuts and some fruits, etc); nothing highly processed (packaged or most canned goods); no gluten; very few legumes; no eggs or dairy. (The ACD typcially allows organic chicken, beef and fish, but I don’t eat those.) I include tofu occasionally, which is considered “acceptable” in about half the anti-candida diets out there (there is quite a bit of variation about what is included in the diet).
With the ACD, you will ideally re-introduce many of the banned foods after you’ve been following it for a while and are feeling better. For instance, now that I’ve been on the diet for over two years and am 90% better, I am eating some fruits, using (gluten free) flours, and consuming the very occasional treat with agave nectar or coconut sugar.
About my own eating habits, let me be clear: during the first couple of phases of the ACD, I followed the diet one hundred percent, 100% of the time–I never “cheated.” That’s because I was in great distress about my poor health and wanted to heal as quickly as possible. However, as one of our teachers at nutrition school remarked, even following the ACD “most of the time” will, eventually, lead to diminished yeast in the body and better health; it will just take longer.
Just as highschool graduates might send their first applications to Ivy League schools; as aspiring editors aim to nab a spot at a ”big house” like Farrar, Straus and Giroux; or as newly-graduated life coaches dreams of being on Oprah, when it comes to eating, I believe we should endeavor to eat only the best quality, healthiest foods. But what happens when the grad isn’t accepted by Harvard or Yale; if the young editor is offered a job at Harlequin; or the life coach lands a local radio spot instead? Do they decline the lesser offer, or worse–give up entirely? Of course not.
In an ideal universe, I’d be eating a top-notch, 100% “perfect” diet all the time. My meals would be 70% raw, all organic, as close as possible to the condition they’re in when they’re plucked from the ground, and entirely unprocessed–things like this, or this, or this. While I may have lofty ideals when it comes to food and eating, I understand that reality doesn’t always comply. Consequently, I try not to beat myself up if I can’t achieve that ideal. If I can remain compliant 90% of the time, I’m okay with having something less than perfect the other 10%. (Certainly, there are otherfoodbloggers out there who manage such menus far more often–and more consistently–than I).
For example, I’ve mentioned before that the HH enjoys eating in restaurants, and we still frequent them occasionally. I’ve found a couple of places that actually serve ACD-friendly food (at one, ”Israeli Salad” consisting of fresh cucumber, tomato and onion with olive oil and lemon juice alongside hummus; at the other, gluten free pizza crust with toppings of my choice, usually roasted garlic, baked tomato, red onion, spinach and black olives). As a result, we tend to patronize either of those most of the time.
Once a month, though, we head to a Malaysian restaurant I adore. They’re willing to provide vegan options and also hold the sugar at my request. Great! But I am fairly certain that they don’t grease their woks with organic coconut oil (or anything organic, for that matter); and I am not willing to stress about this. If I consume a small quantity of less-than-healthy oil once a month, I rely on the remaining 90% of my uber-healthy diet to compensate; it’s worth it to me to be able to enjoy the rest of the meal.
For the past couple of years, I’ve been rediscovering books by Geneen Roth and am devoted to her intuitive approach to eating–letting your body determine when, what and how much you eat. The woman has effectively peeked into my psyche (and my pantry), and I relate to her ideas on food as psychological comfort, how food serves many other purposes besides nourishment, and how we can learn to enjoy eating in the most natural and instinctive fashion. I’m not entirely “there” yet when it comes to attending to my body’s messages, but I’m learning.
I had my first epiphany about listening to my body only about a month ago, when I first began to experiment with coconut sugar. Having baked only with stevia (and a miniscule amount of yacon or agave) until then, being able to use a one-for-one sugar replacement was thrilling. I went a little crazy in the kitchen, baking cookies, brownies, bars, muffins and whatever else I could think of. I also tasted them all. . . and then some. I probably ate more baked goods in that week than I had in the previous six months. If that episode had occurred two years ago, it would likely have spiralled into an endless round of sweet binges, fuelled by sugar and guilt and the rationalization that “it’s the holidays.”
Instead, something odd occurred: I suddenly didn’t feel like eating so many sweets any more. My body said, “Give me kale! Give me black bean soup! Give me cinque e’ cinque!” (somehow, my body managed to pick up Italian while I was sleeping). I averted a crisis simply by listening to the physical signals I routinely ignored in the past. It felt great, and I’m striving to improve my skills in that area, and practise it more often. Your body intuitively knows what’s good for you. Listen to it.
Earlier yesterday on twitter, a famous vegan cookbook author asked, “Q: how much oil in a recipe before you won’t make it? Does mention of 1/2 c olive oil freak anyone out? 1/3 cup better? What is OK?”. Well, I think the answer depends on several factors. What kind of oil is it? How many servings does the recipe make? How much of it will I be eating at one sitting? How often will I eat it? Half cup (the amount in the recipe) is 8 tablespoons (120 ml) or 24 teaspoons (24 x 5 ml). If the dish yields 20 servings (a baked dessert), that’s less than 2 teaspoons per serving. If it’s a main course that makes 8-10 servings, it’s still 1 tablespoon or less per serving–less than most people use on one salad. Mostly, I wouldn’t think twice if the dish were a special occasion recipe–it’s only once in a while, anyway.
What struck me about the exchange was the idea that based on the amount of oil alone, people would eschew the entire recipe. I know people who eat raw coconut oil by the tablespoon, yet the idea of 1/2 cup in an entire recipe is anathema.
A while back, I was asked in a comment on this post about whether roasting nuts renders them less healthy–and, of course, the short answer is “yes.” But do I want to eat raw nut butter all of the time? No. I like the taste of toasted nuts better than the taste of raw nuts. Nuts still contain healthy fats. They are still a real food. So I eat them toasted sometimes, and I don’t worry about it.
My point is that you can be so focused on the health-related characteristics of your food that you overlook the fact that food is supposed to taste good and confer pleasure. As Andrew Weil notes in his book, Eating Well for Optimum Health, a rigid adherence to eating only “healthy” foods can negate the pleasure we get from sharing our meals with others–and sometimes the social contact is more important to our health than the absolute quality of the food we’re eating.
Which brings me back to the comment that started it all. Here’s my response to each of the points made by the commenter:
Soy crisps – a bean that is only truly digestible when fermented, is processed into a crisp?Yes, soy crisps are processed (they contain non-GMO soy protein, tapioca starch and salt); see my comments above about 90%/10%. As I’ve mentioned before, even though fermented soy is more easily digestible than non-fermented (eg, tofu), I do not avoid tofu or other non-fermented soy (eg, soymilk) in moderation. It is a great source of protein and contains isoflavones that are advantageous in myriad ways, plus many other health benefits. While it’s not for everyone (you can read about the pros and cons yourself), for me, soy’s numerous health benefits–and the fact that it’s been a staple food in many Asian cultures for centuries–makes it a desirable food.
Canola oil – oil that is high in inflammation promoting omega 6, processed from rapeseeds and should only be eaten raw. As far as I know (or can find information in my nutrition texts and online), canola oil is considered a “monounsaturated fat” because it contains mostly (about 55%) monounsaturated fatty acids. Like any oil, canola is made up of mono-, poly- and saturated fats in different ratios. It does contain Omega 6 oil, but it also contains a larger percent of Omega 3. In any case, unless the canola is organic and cold pressed, I wouldn’t want to consume it at all. Like any oil that is liquid at room temperature, canola is best when unheated. It might not be my first choice for baking or cooking (I don’t ever use it at home); however, I am not too concerned about eating a snack with it on occasion (see point II, above).
Agave syrup – the sugars of the agave cactus without the natural brake of fibre, controversy rages about whether it is low or high GI. I know that some people think agave is evil. I am not one of those people. The glycemic index (GI) of agave, when organic and processed without excess heat or chemicals, is relatively low (38 or so). Like any other natural sweetener, agave is harmful in large quantities. However, having readseveralarticles about it, I’ve decided that, for me, agave is a good sweetener as long as it’s organic and not overly processed. Like maple syrup, it requires some processing to convert the raw sap into what we buy in the store. It is still a delicious, low glycemic sweetener–but like any sweetener, should be eaten in small quantities and as a treat.
Brown Rice syrup – sugars inherent in rice – highly processed, super high GI, even though it’s brown rice! Again, brown rice syrup is a traditional natural sweetener that’s been used for ages. The sugars inherent in rice are no worse, as far as I can tell, than the sugars inherent in wheat, spelt, millet, or any other grain. And while some processing is, of course, required to convert rice to a sweetener, I have been able to find absolutely no corroboration that brown rice syrup is high GI. Most of the articles I’ve come across list its glycemic index as around 25-35–rather low.
Given my own approach to healthy eating, I am comfortable consuming snacks such as The Simply Bar on occasion. If the bars’ ingredients don’t jibe with what you think is healthy, please, don’t eat them. I’m grateful to the commenter for prompting me to examine my viewpoint on these ingredients and articulate my eating philosophy in general.
["Does this mean we get to listen to our bodies, too, Mum? Because my body is telling me that it's time you gave me a treat."]
Perhaps most importantly when it comes to our diets, however, is that I believe each of us must make our own informed choices about the food we put in our mouths. If my approach doesn’t resonate with you, that’s fine; there are many other approaches out there to pursue. With so many sources of illness in our world–toxins, pollution, carcinogens, molds, bacteria, germs, viruses, electromagnetic pollution–I could go on–I think it’s essential that we don’t allow ourselves to become bogged down in the negative impact of them all. It’s still possible to eat well and enjoy your food while keeping an eye open to the possible drawbacks.
Whew! And if you made it this far in the post, well, I think you deserve a reward. Go get yourself a huge piece of chocolate, or maybe a (thin) slice of cake–made with real, organic ingredients, of course.
I’d love to hear what you think about the issue–what constitutes a “healthy” diet in your mind?
Just a quick note to share some exciting news: my recipe for Orange-Infused Chocolate Almond Cake is featured in this month’s Clean Eatingmagazine!
When I was asked by the folks at the magazine to create a recipe for a healthy, fudgy chocolate cake (that met the Clean Eatingrequirements, of course–basically the NAG diet that I follow anyway), I was thrilled and got to work! I actually submitted the recipe last summer, but that’s how far in advance the schedule is planned. I didn’t want to mention anything until I saw it in print with my own eyes. . . and now it’s finally here–yay! Wow, did their food stylist ever make that cake look gorgeous (the pic above is mine, not theirs–the magazine version is much more attractive!)
For those of you who can get the magazine where you live, it’s the March/April issue, with a bowl of Black-Eyed Pea Stew on the cover and the banner headline, “Try Our Chocolate-Almond Cake: Enjoy a Second Guilt-Free Slice”. And while my recipe was mentioned on the cover, to see my name credited, you have to squint really hard, then look at the teeny, tiny, teensy weensy little print along the fold to the right of the recipe (which is on the last page of the mag, in the “Happy Endings” section).
For those who are interested, the magazine is based on the philosophy/diet of Tosca Reno, who wrote the book Eat Clean. Some of the articles in this particular issue include 5-ingredient entrées, nutritious snacks, allergy-proofing your home, risotto by Food Network host Aida Mollenkamp, and antioxidant berries, goji and acai (and no, I have no personal stake in the magazine–I’m not affiliated with them in any way except for having developed that recipe for them).
I wish I could reprint the recipe here, but I can’t, as Clean Eating purchased the recipe rights as well. But I think you can at least get an idea from the photo above!
New recipe next post, I promise
PS Vegan/Vegetarian readers take note: while 22 of the 68 recipes in the magazine are vegetarian, most do contain eggs or dairy (mine doesn’t, of course!).
“Mum, if clean eating means ‘cleaning out your bowl every time you eat,’ then I think we could write for that magazine, too. Or maybe we could just be taste-testers. Much better than eating snow, I’m sure.”
For those of you who read my blog regularly, you know that I’m on a cleansing diet this week, an outgrowth of the Total Health course I’ve been taking for the past month and a half. Well, I hadn’t intended to post yet another non-recipe entry this week, but since I’ve received quite a few questions about why I’ve chosen this particular cleanse and how it works, I thought it might be useful to share a bit about cleansing in general and my own choice for this week in particular. I’ll warn you, though: what follows is a fairly long post (word count: 2443). If you’re simply interested in the food I’ve been eating, I’ll post that later–so feel free to come back then!
[Please note: This is a condensed and somewhat simplified account of the process, based on what I learned while studying to become a nutritionist, my own reading on the topic, and my personal experience with cleanses over the past five years. It is by no means intended as any kind of medical or professional advice and is purely my own perspective on the topic, presented for informational purposes only. ]
Q: Why Detox at All?
Whether you use the term “fast,” “cleanse” or “detox diet,” the process focuses on a single goal: detoxifying and rebalancing the body’s internal operating systems, primarily the digestive tract (but also the liver, respiratory system, urinary system and lymphatic system). Given the environmental factors, lifestyle, and eating habits of most of us in the modern world, I believe that everyone, no matter how thin, active or deemed “healthy,” could benefit from a cleanse once in a while. Even the instructor for our course (who has been following a strict regimen of ultra-healthy eating coupled with cardiovascular exercise, strength training exercise, yoga, dance, nia, sports, and a daily spiritual practise for over 20 years) undergoes a cleanse twice a year.
As denizens of the modern, industrial world, we are exposed to myriad toxins daily, both from within and without. Just by virtue of living near the great and wonderful metropolis of Toronto, I have the pleasure of inhaling highly polluted air most days of the week. For the first two months that we lived in this house, I could smell the distinct aroma of fresh paint gases (courtesy of the landlord, who was actually attempting to do us a favor) every time I entered the house. I ingest all kinds of unsavory substances that leach through plastic water bottles, the plastic containers I use to transport my lunches to work, the dyed and bleached clothing I wear, or the cleansers I use (though I’ve tried to eliminate as many of those as I can).
And that’s only the exogenous toxins. We also take in toxins from the food we eat, whether hydrogenated oils from junk food, artificial colors or flavors, or “milk” shakes at McDonald’s or Burger King. Because these substances are not made in nature and our bodies weren’t designed to process them, the liver works overtime to detoxify them out of the body (as much as possible) to keep us healthy.
When your liver is on overdrive neutralizing toxins that you take in, free radicals are formed. Free radicals are basically cell-killers, and they can result in cancer and chronic diseases that are often connected to inflammation (such as arthritis, heart disease, etc.). Those of us with weak immunity or overworked filtering systems (such as myself) suffer the consequences and wander around with stuffed noses, digestive distress, joint inflammation, or other chronic conditions that are so often attributed to “aging” or simply “life in general.”
One of my natural health practitioners put it this way: imagine a pile of bricks that’s being built into a little tower, one brick at a time. Each brick is a different toxin that your body has to deal with and try to eliminate. As with a pile of bricks, you can add quite a few to the pile without any dire consequences at all; in fact, observed from the outside, everything appears hunky-dory, stable and unchanged. One would even infer that the extra weight being piled on top is doing no harm, making no difference whatsoever.
But then you reach the point where the pile can no longer support even one more brick. You place that last brick at the top of the pile and–BAM! (not to quote Emeril in such grave matters, or anything)–the pile completely collapses. Your body works the same way. When you were younger (or healthier), you may have been able to tolerate a huge number of toxic “bricks” in your system. But tax the system long enough and then, suddenly, it appears as if everything breaks down at once.
That’s what happened to me several years ago. After assuming all was well for years (even though I drank up to a liter (quart) of aspartame-sweetened pop a day, had 3-5 coffees a day, imbibed wine and spirits on weekends and consumed whatever junk food, candy, cookies, cakes, or other garbage I desired on a regular basis), everything came crashing down. I spent about a year suffering from symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, endured multiple recurrent sinus infections (one so serious that it required four–FOUR!–courses of antibiotics to eradicate), and suffered almost continuous yeast infections, coupled with fatigue, depression, and general feelings of “lousy.” At that point, I really needed a cleanse.
All this to say, if there’ are any actions we can regularly take to diminish our load of toxic “bricks,” we should do so.
Q: What Is a Cleansing or Detox Diet?
Basically, cleansing means “cleaning up the diet (and, ideally, environment) to allow the body to rest from fighting off and eliminating toxins for a while, so that it can repair and rejuvenate.”
There are many levels of detox, depending on where you find yourself to begin with. It’s recommended that people start at a level just one echelon away from (less toxic than) where they are now, because detoxing encourages the toxins to exit the body quickly (through elimination and sweating, primarily), and if too many to escape too fast, you’ll end up feeling sort of like a deflated baloon in a mud puddle–or one really sick puppy (this effect is called a “healing crisis“).
The very first time I went on a detox diet, my naturopath–only two months into her practice–didn’t think to warn me what could happen if I changed my eating habits too drastically. She prescribed what is essentially a NAG diet, but without any animal products. After one day of the diet, I was felled by my body’s extreme healing crisis (I describe the event here). Luckily, it passed in a couple of days.
By starting “slowly”–that is, without altering too many aspects of your diet or life at once–you avoid a severe healing crisis. Most people feel a little bit tired or sleepy; some experience mild flu-like symptoms such as a sore throat, but these ususally disappear in a day or two.
Q: How Do You Know What to Eat and What to Eliminate on a Cleanse?
The diet you choose should depend on the diet you eat regularly before the cleanse. If someone enjoying a SAD (Standard American Diet) decided to embark on a water fast, it would likely spark a full-scale healing crisis and the person would feel rather sick. So decide where you are now, then move in baby steps toward a full-scale cleanse.
There are basically five or six levels of cleansing diet. Ideally, you would work your way up to the most challenging level as you clean up your diet over the years.
Level One: Basic non-toxic diet for everyone. (from Elson Haas, The Detox Diet)
Level one is what I often refer to as the NAG diet, the diet that, if followed regularly, should allow your body to exist with minimum toxic intake and to keep you pretty healthy. (Other versions are Anne Marie Colbin’s diet in Food and Healing, Tosca Reno’s The Eat Clean Diet; or Elson Haas’ diet in Staying Healthy with Nutrition.). If you’re not already on this type of diet, it would be the first step. Try this for a week and see how you feel. You could theoretically stay on this diet for the rest of your life.
Rotate foods [ie, eat each of these no more than once every four days or so], especially common allergens such as milk products, eggs, wheat, and yeasted foods.
Practice food combining.
Eat a natural, seasonal cuisine.
Include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and, for omnivarians, some low or non-fat dairy products, fresh fish (not shellfish) and organic poultry.
Cook in iron, stainless steel, glass, or porcelain cookware.
Avoid or minimize red meats, cured meats, organ meats, refined foods, canned foods, sugar, salt, saturated fats, coffee, alcohol, and nicotine.
And while it’s not stated in this list, Haas also prohibits anything processed or made with chemicals or artificial colorings–this should go without saying.
["Sounds good, Mum, but do we have to do the part about avoiding meat?"]
Level Two: (this and later levels from Caroline Dupont,Enlightened Eating).
Level two is a step beyond level one, as “it eliminates all animal products and glutenous grains.” As Dupont points out, this can be a lifelong diet rather than a detox diet if mostly organic foods are eaten and sources of protein and vitamin B12 (which can only be acquired naturally through animal products) are carefully monitored.
For those who already eat a Level One diet as their regular fare, Level Two would be considered a mild cleanse.
Level Three: Living Foods Only
This level kicks it up a notch (seriously, WHAT is Emeril doing in this discussion?) by allowing only raw foods, effectively eliminating grains (except for sprouted grains). People at this level eat raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, freshly pressed juices, sprouts, and possibly raw dairy.
Q: Why Is Raw Supposedly Better? Why Are There No Grains? Isn’t That a Lot of Fruit–Why is All That Sugar in the Fruit Acceptable?
RAW: A raw diet provides the body with readily available digestive enzymes in raw, but not cooked, foods; these would otherwise need to be generated courtesy of your saliva, stomach, and pancreas. For that reason, it is much easier to digest raw versus cooked food; raw foods give the body a bit of a break so it can concentrate on other functions, such as detoxifying, maintaining, and repairing. People on all-raw diets have experienced incredible boosts in energy as well as healing effects.
GRAINS: Unsprouted grains (the kind we normally eat) are more difficult to digest than raw foods. There is nothing inherently wrong with eating grains, especially if your digestive system is in tip-top condition; but for those of us with digestive issues, or when cleansing the system, grains are just a bit too challenging.
FRUIT SUGARS: It’s true that a raw diet provides a large number of fruits, and fruits do contain natural sugars. But please don’t confuse naturally-occurring sugars with refined white sugar (or even honey or maple syrup, which are both concentrated sugars). When you eat something refined, the sugar is converted to glucose (a monosaccharide–the smallest sugar molecule, as it’s broken down by the body and passed into the bloodstream) extremely quickly, because it’s already practically in the form of glucose when you eat it.
With fruits, the sugars are bound up with fibre and other nutrients, and the body must work to extract the different elements in the fruit and to convert the sugars to glucose in the body. This means you won’t get the same kind of spike in blood sugar levels from eating a fresh fruit as you will from eating a piece of cake or even cup of coffee with sugar in it. Sugar in fruits is healthy and doesn’t generate toxins in the body. (Think of diabetics, for instance–they’re allowed most fruits). Fruits with extremely high sugar levels could be eaten in smaller quantities, but even then, they are still healthy foods. And fruits are digested very quickly and easily in the body–they are the easiest foods for your body to break down, so they don’t tax the system.
["Give us more fruits is what I say, Mum!']
Level Four: Blended Foods, Smoothies and Soups
By blending foods, you render them yet more easily digestible. Dupont suggests incorporating some of these foods into a raw foods diet; furthermore, this level is presented as an excellent “introduction to fasting for people with hypoglycemia, bowel disorders [or] constipation.”
Level Five: Juice Fast And/Or Master Cleanse
At this level, you’re basically removing the need for your bowel to process any fibre and are providing very nutrient-rich clear liquids that are processed very easily by the digestive tract. At level five, a person consumes only freshly squeezed or pressed fruit and vegetable juices, or the Master Cleanse, a mixture of filtered water, lemon juice, maple syrup and a pinch of cayenne pepper.
Level Six: Water Fast
At this point, only those who have already gone through the other five phases should attempt a water fast; drinking only pure filtered water gives the body’s internal organs the ultimate work break. According to Dupont, no one should even attempt a water fast who has not first “established a consistently healthy diet for at least 6 months first.”
["Yes, pure water is definitely good, Mum. Especially in summer."]
Q:Why Did You Choose the Cleanse You Did?
When I was in nutrition school, after spending a full year following the NAG diet and trying out most of the other diets we learned about, I felt ready to complete a Level Five (Master Cleanse) diet for almost a full week. At that point, my “regular” diet was so non-toxic that the Master Cleanse was a good step. I felt great while on it and did reap the benefits of better digestion and more energy.
These days, however, my regular diet is more like Level Two, above. I already don’t eat meat; I already don’t eat refined foods; I already don’t eat most gluten grains on a daily basis. When I examined the next level–all raw–I realized that would be too challenging for me, and I was afraid I’d slip if I tried to limit myself to raw foods alone. As a compromise, I chose a diet that still eliminated the grains, but retained some cooked foods. I’m happy with the compromise and am feeling some pretty good results so far.
Maybe next time, I’ll be ready for another raw-go-round.
Q: Readers: What Do You Think?
If you’ve made it this far, I’d love to know: how many of you have tried detox diets or cleanses? What was your experience? What worked, and what would you warn against?
As you may know, I was a startled and very delighted recipient of Nava Atlas’s latest cookbook, Vegan Express, as a result of Susan’s contest a while back on Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen.A couple of weeks ago, I was thrilled to receive the book in the mail, and set about making a whack of recipes from it.I thought I’d write a bona fide book review so you can all get your own taste of express cooking, vegan style!
Vegan Express by Nava Atlas
Vegan Express is the most recent addition to the long line of popular publications by veteran cookbook author Nava Atlas, already well known for her previous classics such as Vegetariana or The Vegetarian Family Cookbook and website, In A Vegetarian Kitchen.A vegan herself, in this book Atlas addresses one of the foremost hurdles for vegan eaters, both established and newly inclined: prepping veggies can take up lots of time!
Vegan Express provides an antidote for the kitchen weary by proving the truism untrue after all: turns out you can prepare fresh, healthy, vegetable-rich dishes in less time than it takes to watch the evening newscast!Every recipe in the book, from appetizer to dessert, takes between 30 and 45 minutes from assembling the ingredients to digging your fork into that first steaming mouthful (and many take even less time).
In order to write an objective assessment of the book, I decided it would only be fair to test as broad a range of recipes as I could manage in a week. As a result, I prepared seven of the book’s recipes, attempting to sample dishes from many different courses (though, given my natural inclination, I did lean rather heavily on the desserts).
The book begins with Atlas’s own story of how she converted from vegetarianism to a vegan diet. She actually found the transition fairly easy, as nowadays, substitutions for eggs, cheese, and milk abound, even outside the larger cities.
The book also discusses vegans’ nutritional needs and how to achieve them, debunking some common myths about acquiring sufficient protein or vitamin B12. And while Atlas does include some convenience foods (this is a book about cooking shortcuts, after all!), I had no problem using the recipes even though I don’t consume products such as soy cheeses or meat alternatives (as you’ll see when I discuss the pizza, below).
The book also contains a variety of ease-of-use features to help home cooks prepare their meals in a flash. For instance, following each recipe is a “Menu Selections” sidebar that provides possible partners for the dish or other ways to serve it. Many recipes include variations for flexibility and to accommodate different tastes. There is also a fair number of “recipe-free” quick options, as well as further suggestions for some basic ingredients (such as “Speedy Ways to Prepare Tofu”).
The book’s design is aesthetically pleasing, with clean, simple lines and two-color print (and how could we miss those luscious, color-suffused photos by Susan Voisin of Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen?).Many of her readers may not be aware that Atlas herself is an artist with several solo and group exhibitions to her credit. Her cheery line drawings adorn the pages as backdrops that highlight individual dishes and ingredients.
And the recipes?They do, indeed, deliver as promised! All the dishes I attempted were quick to prepare, with straightforward, easy directions. Atlas also includes some nifty tips with certain recipes (such as cutting your pizza into slices before adding the toppings, as it’s so much easier that way).
Finally, here’s what was cooking in the DDD kitchen last week:
Soup and Entrees:
Nearly Instant Thai Coconut Corn Soup
This is listed as one of Atlas’s favorite recipes, and a “must-try” for those who buy the book. As its title suggests, the soup cooks up in no time, and was truly delicious–light yet creamy, with a subtle spiciness interspersed with sweet, chewy corn kernels.Fast, simple, easy…perfect.
I’ve was a huge fan of Singapore noodles in restaurants back in the day, but could never figure out how to make them. Who knew it could be so simple? The HH and I both love spicy foods, so if I had any suggestions for this one, it would be to add more of the spice mixture (I used the maximum amount suggested and would have liked still more kick in this dish). The original recipe called for peas, but since we didn’t have any, I subbed edamame.Still worked beautifully.
Rich Peanut Sauce
This sauce, suggested as an accompaniment to Golden Tofu Triangles, was ready in a snap.Still in a noodle frame of mind, I poured it over some cooked kamut-soba noodles, tossed in an assortment of chopped and sliced veggies, and enjoyed a terrific cold noodle salad. Great the next day, too!
Very Green Veggie Pesto Pizza
This dish was by far the biggest hit of the savories–the HH ate half the pizza all by himself, and I must admit it was my own favorite as well.My photo doesn’t do it justice, as the subtle variance in shades of green comes across here as rather monochromatic, but this combination of pesto underlying oven-roasted veggies is a perfect melding of flavors and textures.
One change I made, however, was to omit the “cheese” originally called for (to be melted over the pesto, and under the veggies).Since I avoid processed soy, I simply omitted that ingredient and sprinkled a little nutritional yeast over the top instead. Both the HH and I agreed that the pizza didn’t even need the cheese, which, I think, would have actually detracted from the disarming flavors of the pesto and veggies.For the crust, I used my own trusty spelt pizza crust recipe, and baked it about 15 minutes at 425F before adding the remaining ingredients.
While Atlas’s recipes are already healthy, I did make some minor adjustments to accommodate my own dietary restrictions. In general, I used spelt flour instead of wheat, and Sucanat for sugar.It didn’t seem to matter—everything still came out terrific.
Dense and Fruity Banana Bread
This is a moist, not-too-sweet loaf with chopped dates and walnuts nestled in a banana-cocoa base.As you can see from the photo, I was so anxious to try this one that I sliced it while still a bit too warm.When I first tasted the bread, the cocoa was extremely understated. By the next day, however, the flavors had matured, yielding a lovely balance between the chocolate and fruit.I thoroughly enjoyed this with some almond butter.
Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cake
This cake reminded me of treats my mother used to make when my sisters and I were kids.Baked in a 9” square pan and cut into squares, this is the perfect after-school snack (lucky for me, I’m still in school!).Peanut butter whispers its presence rather than bellows in this surprisingly light and tender cake.As you can see, I cut this one while still warm, too, when the chips were still melty. Cut your slices small, because you’ll want more than one.
Butterscotch Mousse Pie
I had really, really wanted to try out the Caramel Pudding, but since I couldn’t find vegan caramel syrup and didn’t think my homemade caramel would work, I made this pie instead.I’m so glad I did!Although I’m not usually a “pie person,” this was truly delicious.In fact, I’m going to post an entire entry about this one (including the recipe!!) in the next day or two—so stay tuned.
I had enormous fun trying out the recipes from this useful and enjoyable book, and definitely look forward to sampling more. Thanks again, Nava and Susan, for this wonderful opportunity–and for adding another treasure to my cookbook collection.