Friday, November 20, 2015

Recipe: Glutenfree Pumpkin Tart with Pecan Praline

Thanksgiving is all about celebrating the fall harvest with family and friends, and what better way than with a decadent dessert? This recipe features traditional flavors of pumpkin and warming spices but with a healthy vegan twist.  The luscious and creamy filling is lighter than the dairy version, yet equally delicious.   

When I think of Thanksgiving I think of pies, and this recipe tastes like holidays to me.  Sweet scents waft through the air when this tart is baking in the oven.  The aromatic spices have a warming effect on the body which is perfect for when there's a chill in the air.

It's a three-step process, so you'll need to do a little planning for this recipe.  Start by preparing the crust, and chill it in the freezer for a few minutes before popping it in the oven.  While it's baking, pulse together the pecan praline topping.  When the tart crust is finished baking and has cooled, pour in the pumpkin filling.  Sprinkle with the pecan praline, then pop it back into the oven to finish baking.

This is a heavenly treat that guests will not believe is vegan or gluten-free.  With only 2 tablespoons of coconut oil, it's low fat as well, but it tastes decadent nonetheless.

Add this winning dessert to your ThanksLiving menu!

1 cup almonds
1/2 cup dried shredded coconut
1/2 cup rice flour
2 Tbl coconut oil, softened
1/4 cup agave syrup
1 pinch of sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Oil bottom and sides of an 8-inch springform pan.  Line with a circle of parchment paper and oil both sides of the parchment.  

Pulse nuts and coconut in food processor to form “flour” consistency.  Add flour, coconut oil agave syrup and a pinch of salt and pulse until a ball forms.  Transfer dough to pan and carefully spread evenly, making sure to press it into the sides.  Lightly prick holes into bottom with a fork and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.  Place pan on baking sheet and bake 15-20 minutes or until crust is golden brown and firm.  Remove from oven and set aside while preparing filling and pecan praline topping.

Pecan Praline
1/4 cup vegan sugar
1/4 cup rice flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup pecans 
2 Tbl coconut oil
1/8 tsp sea salt

Pulse together all ingredients in a food processor until pecans are roughly chopped.  

14 oz. can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup almond milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup vegan sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger powder
1/4 tsp allspice

Blend filling ingredients in a food processor until smooth.  Pour into prepared crust and sprinkle with pecan praline topping.  Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 40-45 minutes, or until top is firm. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack.  Chill in refrigerator several hours before serving,  To serve, slice the tart using a thin, sharp knife dipped in cold water.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

PlantPure Nation Screening

It's pretty amazing when a movie has such a powerful impact on its audience.  Such was the case this afternoon with the Hartford, CT premier of "PlantPure Nation," the new documentary by Dr. T. Colin Campbell and his son, Nelson.  This documentary continues in a similar theme as "Forks Over Knives," with the emphasis on building supportive plant-based communities.  I think that's exactly what we're doing in Connecticut.  

I was thrilled to walk into a packed theater, which is rare these days. We had a HUGE turnout of 87 people, a third of whom stayed for the lively discussion afterward. 

We talked about the points in the movie that resonated most, and many agreed it was that eureka moment when everything comes together and we declare, "why didn't anyone ever tell me about this?!!"  We also discussed the need to have a vegan support network, ways of integrating the message into our everyday lives with family, friends and co-workers, and how to stay connected through Meetup and social media.  

When asked about questions which remained to be answered, many wanted to know more about the next steps for the PlantPure "Pods."  While that process gets more formalized, in the meantime I invited everyone to join my Vegan Health & Wellness Meetup to stay in touch and keep posted on upcoming events.  

I'm so excited to be part of this growing community and I look forward to continuing to spread the vegan message. Thank you everyone for attending! 

Friday, October 30, 2015

VegUp!! Part Two!!

Last night we had another fantastic gathering of the Hartford chapter of VegUp, an organization founded by Jane Velez-Mitchell to promote a sense of community among vegans.

After our first meeting just a little over a month ago, I already feel like I've known everyone forever, as we've fast become good friends.  I'd even go so far as to say my second family!

Sixteen of us gathered together at Fire & Spice, a vegan Jamaican restaurant in Hartford.  We started out in the front room, thinking that there would be around 8-10 of us.  That rapidly grew to the point where we were crowding the entire tiny space, so we moved our group to the back room.  There we were able to spread out and have a lively conversation about the topic of being vegan for the holidays.

Everyone had a chance to introduce themselves and share a little about their vegan journey.  We were thrilled to have four new members, one of whom was celebrating his first day being vegan with us!  It was an honor to be able to answer any questions he had and share our personal experiences to help him prepare for the journey.  This felt like true community support, and exactly what every vegan who has ever felt lonely and confused needs.

Al celebrating Day #1 as a Vegan!!

Here's what one participant had to say about her experience:
"I had *SO* much fun tonight. You are such an inspiration and excel at repeatedly organizing a bunch of strangers to come together and have some heartfelt, meaningful discussion. Every time I walk away feeling so happy to know I'm not the 'only one' around... there is a whole community of fabulous humans who were just waiting for a little (vegan!) glue to pull us together smile emoticon I'm excited to meet new friends who share my passion... thank you!"
Our next get together will be a holiday potluck in December.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who is already looking forward to it and scouring cookbooks and food blogs for the perfect impress-your-guests dish to bring.

Thank you all who attended!!

Monday, October 26, 2015

A return to Boston Veg Fest

I was thrilled to return to Boston for the 20th Anniversary of the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival this weekend.  Highlights were seeing one of my vegan heroes, Jane Velez-Mitchell, give a rousing talk imploring vegans to get active for the animals.  She gave examples of many recent demonstrations and disruptions which are having a powerful impact in galvanizing support for animals among the general public.  I'm excited to be part of this growing movement!

Jane Velez-Mitchell inspires the crowd to tip the tipping point

Evelyn Kimber, organizer of Boston VegFest

Dr. Kim Allan Williams speaking about the connection between diet and disease

Vegan Treats from Bethlehem, PA, always a crowd favorite

Sabertooth Bakery, Taco Party and FoMu

Friday, October 23, 2015

Recipe: Gingered Butternut Squash Bisque

When the chill is in the air, there's nothing better than a warm bowl of soup.  This recipe satisfies in so many ways.  Its bright orange hue is perfect for the season with leaves turning and pumpkins decorating our doorsteps, making it a lovely soup for the autumn harvest table. It’s loaded with sweet and savory flavors as well as antioxidants from bright orange root vegetables and winter squash. The hint of ginger gives a little zing to each bite as well as a boost to the immune system to fight off those seasonal colds and flus.

I like decorating this soup with toasted spiced pepitas and cashew crema. You can learn how to make that fun spider web design by watching this quick clip of my appearance on WWLP-TV's "Mass Appeal" show.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Making Choices

I've been thinking today about choices... (this is what happens when I have a day off after 2 weeks straight of craziness and somebody dies suddenly). Prepare yourself. 
When I first started my vegan personal chef business 12 years ago I did it part-time while working another job, and then when I left that job three years later to focus on my business full-time, somebody said to me "you're lucky you can do that. It's easier to take a risk when you aren't married." I just thought, REALLY? Cause I had to sell my house and move into an apartment since I couldn't afford to pay the mortgage after I left that job. I had to downsize and overhaul my life. I had to take on ridiculous temp jobs to make ends meet. I had to figure out what the hell I was doing and not rely on anyone but myself. There was no one there to help me. But I did it anyway because the life I had been living wasn't fulfilling. I'm fortunate to have my parents, who supported me in spirit, and friends who were there to listen.
There have been other times in my life when I've made radical changes. I've quit jobs, I've bought and sold several houses and moved about a dozen times, I've had many painful breakups. I was married to my best friend who I loved and thought I'd be with for the rest of my life, but I was always learning, growing, changing, exploring and he was unhappy because I was no longer "the girl he married," so we got divorced (that's the short story). Through it all, one thing has remained constant, and that's the person I am. When something didn't feel right because it crushed my soul or sucked my spirit dry or compromised my zest for life, I knew it was incompatible with my needs. Even if it was just a faint hint of dissatisfaction, I've learned to trust my gut (though I still try to ignore it and hope that nagging feeling goes away). But here's my point: it doesn't go away unless you do something about it.
If you've ever had that experience and think patience, compromise and acceptance will make everything better, let me suggest that while that may be the compassionate approach that will make your situation tolerable in the short-term, ultimately you're sacrificing your personal long-term happiness to remain in a less than ideal situation. Self-help gurus and therapists probably won't tell you this. Most people would agree it's preferable to accept less than what you need than to risk everything and potentially be completely unhappy. But I think they're wrong. Let me assure you, losing everything is not the worst that can happen. It's really more redirecting you to the path that will lead to happiness. If you think you don't have it in you to make radical changes in your life, why don't you try and prove yourself wrong? A friend once said to me "I wish I was strong like you, but I'm too afraid to change." Again, I have to say, REALLY? How do you think you get strong? Each time you face your fears and do EXACTLY what you're trying to avoid ("Oh no, I CAN'T quit my job/leave my husband/stand up to my parents/be seen with those people/speak up at work/ETC.") you get stronger. You'll get through it. No matter how hard it is. 
Someone I know died in a car accident two days ago and he was an amazing person who lived a life with purpose and passion. I think of all the people he inspired, myself included, and I can't help but wonder: imagine if he had never taken a risk to start his own business teaching people how to be healthy by eating raw foods. Imagine if he had just played it safe, living unhealthfully like everyone else. Imagine if he had said, "nope, I could never do that." And believed it. How many people would not have healed themselves by changing their diet if they hadn't learned from him? 
If you've read this far, ask yourself these questions: What would your life be like if you continue to play it safe? What would your life be like if you do what you think is impossible? Which is preferable?
Live bold and brave. Today and every day. Because it could end any moment, and if you wait until you're ready, you may never get the chance.