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.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Recipe: Gluten-free Vegan Blueberry Streusel Muffins

If your freezer is filled with bags of pick-your-own blueberries, this is the recipe you'll want to make when the weather starts getting cooler and you're missing the dog days of summer.  It's the perfect amount of sweetness that makes for a light dessert or yummy breakfast with a cup of hot coffee or chai tea.  The added crunch of toasted almond coconut streusel contrasts with the moist crumble of the cake, giving a very satisfying chew.

I returned to the set of WWLP-TV's "Mass Appeal" in Springfield, MA to demonstrate how to make this delicious recipe. You can see how easy it is to make this recipe by clicking on this link.

With just a 1/2 cup of oil, these muffins are low in fat and their sweetness comes in part from apple sauce mixed into the wet ingredients.  You can probably substitute more applesauce and make them entirely fat-free.

Enjoy some today!

Gluten-free Vegan Blueberry Muffins with Toasted Coconut Almond Streusel
For the Muffins:
1 1/4 cups brown rice flour
1/2 cup garbanzo bean flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1 cup organic cane sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1 Tbl ground flax seed mixed with 5 Tbl water
3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 Tbl vanilla
1 tsp almond extract
1 cup frozen blueberries
For the Streusel:
1/4 cup slivered almonds
3 Tbl organic cane sugar
1/4 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup shredded coconut
pinch of sea salt
1-2 Tbl melted coconut oil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine Streusel ingredients in a small bowl then set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together brown rice flour, garbanzo flour, tapioca starch, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, sea salt and cinnamon. Add oil, applesauce, flax seed mixture, almond milk, vanilla and almond extracts and whisk together until combined. The batter should be thick but spoonable. Carefully fold in frozen blueberries. Line muffin tins with papers. Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup, scoop batter into the papers. Sprinkle about 1 tsp of streusel topping over each muffin and lightly press down to ensure topping adheres to batter. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until tops are springy and sides of muffins are lightly browned. Cool for 5-10 minutes in the pans, then transfer to cooling rack to continue cooling completely. Sprinkle with a pinch of sugar before serving.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Vegan Movie Night: Speciesism

I'm so excited to be able to offer some free events through the Vegan Health and Wellness Meetup I recently formed.  In just two months we already have over 160 members, and I can feel the momentum growing after our initial meeting with 17 people, followed by a potluck with 23 people, and a movie screening last night with 36 very enthusiastic attendees.  This fills me with such hope that a vegan community is growing here in Connecticut. 

We had a fantastic event screening the groundbreaking film, "Speciesism:  The Movie" to a packed house which was followed by a lively discussion that continued into the parking lot after we got kicked out of the library as it was closing.  

Sometimes when you go to see a movie, people sneak out during the credits, or when there's a Q&A more people charge for the door. That was not the case last night: everyone stayed. There was such positive energy in the room that I hope everyone else left feeling as inspired as I did. I look forward to continuing the conversation at future events.

The positive comments flooded my Facebook event page and Meetup group when I got home:
"Wonderful event--thought-provoking film & discussion. Nice to meet so many vegans."
"This was my first vegan meetup and I am extremely happy I went! Feels amazing being in a room with like minded people. I look forward to getting to know all of you." 
"Thank you so much for putting it together! It was a great experience and it was great to be around people who feel the same way I do, when usually I'm surrounded by people who do not open their eyes to truth. I look forward to future get togethers as well!" 
"Insightful and useful." 
"Very powerful."
"Great movie, great event!"
And on and on.... The message was clear.  Films like this are so needed for people to come together and create a community of compassion, to feel connected, to be inspired to take action for the animals, and most of all, to spread the vegan message in everything that we do by being an everyday activist. 

Thank you to Mark Devries for this thought-provoking film and for asking some great questions.  I'm glad to have had the opportunity to screen it.  Thank you also to Tofurky for the generous donation of delicious products, coupons and recipe books, and to PETA, Compassion Over Killing and Vegan Outreach for the literature and DVDs.  Everything got gobbled up, and I'm sure word will spread far and wide about this experience! 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Recipe: RAW "Zoodles" with Sundried Tomato Marinara and Cashew Parm

This is the perfect recipe for summer when you don't feel like heating up the kitchen but are still craving comfort food.  The flavors of the sauce will make you think you've been slaving away for hours, and yet it comes together in just seconds.

Instead of traditional pasta, the base of this dish is zucchini noodles, or "Zoodles," made with a spiralizer.  It's a fun little gadget that's great for kids or even the kid at heart.  You'll enjoy making these!

See how to make zoodles with sundried tomato marinara!

Raw “Zoodles” with Sundried Tomato Marinara and Cashew Parm 
Zucchini noodles or “zoodles” are made with a spiralizer and they’re a fun way to get kids involved in meal prep. The sauce can be whisked up in mere minutes with a food processor so you can have dinner on the table in no time.

Ingredients:1 zucchini
2 campari tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes (about 8)
1/4 cup kalamata olives
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbl chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
2 Tbl extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt to taste

Directions:Cut ends off zucchini, slice into pieces that will fit easily into spiralizer, and spiralize on thin setting to make “zoodles” Pulse tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, olives and garlic 5-6 times in a food processor or until coarsely chopped. Add remaining ingredients and pulse 1-2 times to combine. Use as topping for spiraled zucchini spaghetti.

Cashew ParmIngredients:1/2 cup raw cashews (soaked, drained & rinsed, then dried)
2-3 Tbl nutritional yeast
1/4 tsp sea salt

Directions:Pulse together all ingredients in a food processor until finely chopped and well blended.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Announcing: Vegan Home School!

I'm excited to announce the launch of my newest endeavor, Vegan Home School.  For anyone new to the vegan lifestyle who wants to learn how to prepare delicious, healthful whole foods, plant-based recipes, this is for you!  

Vegan Home School offers opportunities such as one on one, hands-on private lessons, group classes, cooking parties, and family meal prep all in the comfort of your own home.

Classes are scheduled at your convenience, so you don't have the stress of arranging your calendar to meet somebody else's schedule or traveling to a remote location... and you don't even have to leave your house!  Everything is done for you...

  • Customized lessons based on your skill level
  • Menus developed according to your taste preferences and dietary needs
  • Delicious whole foods, plant-based recipes that you can eat and enjoy
  • Quick, easy, and affordable

Want to learn more?  Contact me to get started right away!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Recipe: Eggless Egg Salad

As the weather heats up and dinner moves outdoors, summer picnics become the solution.  Eggless Egg Salad is perfect for al fresco dining because no cooking is required and the recipe comes together effortlessly in just a few minutes.  I like serving it on endive leaves and cucumber rounds dressed up with edible flowers, but even on top of lettuce everyone will eat it up! 

 See me demonstrate how to make the recipe here.

1/4 cup green onion, finely sliced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 dill pickle, finely diced
1 package of extra firm tofu, drained
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup vegan mayonaise
1 Tbl Dijon mustard
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
salt to taste

Place green onion, celery, and pickle in a large bowl.  Crumble tofu into small chunks on top of veggies.  Sprinkle with turmeric and sea salt.  Gently stir in vegan mayonaise, Dijon mustard and apple cider vinegar until color and texture resemble chopped eggs.  Add more turmeric if it needs to be more yellow, but be careful not to add too much or it will turn a day-glo hue!  Season with salt, as necessary. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Life lesson #36

This is a little different form my usual food and gardening posts.  It's a story followed by a metaphor which will end with a life lesson, as I'm forever trying to put meaning to whatever random thing happens in my life. Read on if you like that kind of stuff.
I took my dog Boo out for our morning walk to the park, but halfway there I realized I was wearing my flip-flops instead of sneakers which meant I couldn't walk through our usual spot we've parted through the bushes because of all the poison ivy. Instead, I walked past that area and decided to cross the street to walk the grounds of an abandoned nursing home that's for sale. It's a fairly large property with woods surrounding it and nice plantings in front, so I figured at least it would be something new for Boo to sniff and explore. I'm glad I did because along the side of the parking lot I noticed tons of sweet-smeling dried berry debris, and when I looked up it was as if I had entered a magical kingdom of mulberry trees. There was a whole row of them, all with fruit in varying stages of ripeness. I gorged for about 10 minutes, but since I didn't want to make myself sick I decided that my new plan for the week is to come back every morning for foraging. Also in the back of the property were some peach and pear trees - a mini orchard! It was like a secret paradise only the birds and we knew about. I'm going to feast there all summer!
OK, that's the story. Now the lesson. As I was thinking about the whole proceedings of discovering this hidden fruit forest, I realized I would never have found it if I hadn't accidentally worn flip-flops. Which made me think "happy accident." And then also, "changing paths." How many times do you find yourself stuck in a routine and feel like you can't get out? As if you're in shackles and you have no choice. Always remember that you DO have a choice. Take a different path, at least once, for one day, even if it's just a different route to work. Notice everything around you, observe what's new and different. Maybe you'll find that hidden fruit forest. Or maybe it will just clear your head for a few minutes and give you a new perspective for the day. Change things up in your life in little ways because that's what makes living an adventure. You may end up opening a whole new world of possibilities you never even imagined. 
I was feeling it, being in the moment, just listening to the birds, feeling the cool morning breeze, the wet dew on my feet, and letting it all happen. It reminded me to not get caught up in my head and my worries, to just observe and be present and open to new discoveries, because they're right there in front of us. Sometimes I forget to let that part of me be open. This is the revelation I needed, that I was hoping a hike in the woods would bring me, and yet even without the hike it happened anyway.
Change paths. Make mistakes. Wear flip flops.  heart emoticon

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Vegan Ice Cream Social

Summer is here, and what better way to kick it off than with a good old fashioned ice cream social!  Eleven of us gathered together at Well on Wheels headquarters to learn how to make icecream and feast on a menu featuring strawberry shortcake, four flavors of vegan icecream, double chocolate brownies and coconut whipped cream. I feel like I ate a house. 

 I'm really happy to be able to share delicious food with everyone, and I loved the positive response.
"So delicious, Mary!!!"
"That was quite a treat today!"
"Karen and I had such a wonderful time, and felt so at home with everyone. Thank you so much for hosting such an amazing afternoon,'re fantastic!!! ...and for the chance to meet such awesome people."
Preparations began nearly a week ahead as I transformed the kitchen into an ice cream production facility.  Recipes were tested and tweaked and flavor combinations invented to create a Five Course Dessert Tasting Menu of pure decadence.  

We started off with a seasonal favorite, Strawberry Shortcake.  This version was made with a spongey, gluten free cake layered in a parfait cup with gorgeous, sweet local strawberries and topped with a luscious coconut whipped cream and mint sprig from my garden.

Then we got into the ice cream.  The next course was a Hot Fudge Sundae made with Maple Bourbon Butter Pecan and Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk ice cream.  The scoops sat atop a dense double chocolate gluten free brownie and were topped with a stream of chocolate sauce.    

I think the unanimous favorite was the Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk which had a rich and creamy base of full fat coconut milk and was sweetened with coconut sugar which added a hint of caramel flavor, loads of natural peanut butter, and chunks and swirls of chocolate embedded throughout.   

The next course was a Blueberry Streusel ice cream topped with a fresh blueberry sauce, date nut granola, and a dollop of coconut whipped cream.  It was light by comparison, but still super dreamy delicious.  This one would've made Violet Beauregard deliriously happy.

We finished with a demonstration of how to make ice cream.  For this I chose a simple tropical flavor combination of mango and coconut.  I explained the process of incorporating the sugar into the coconut milk, chilling, preparing the ice cream maker, cutting a mango, and starting the churning process.  

After twenty minutes, we had a silky soft serve treat to savor.  Once we cleaned out the container, the real socializing began as we dug our spoons into the remaining ice cream I had prepared.  Seconds?  Thirds?  Who's counting!  

Thank you everyone for making this such a fabulous event. I look forward to hosting more events like this over the summer.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Healing Outside the Box

I was happy to return to the set of "Healing Outside the Box," on North Haven public access TV, to speak about creating a vegan kitchen.  Host Rosemary LaChance spoke with me about the obstacles people often face when making the vegan transition, including the inconvenience of eating with family and friends, time constraints, lack of motivation and support, confusion about where to begin and what foods to eat for maximum nutrition.  I shared tips and strategies for how to eat a healthy, whole foods vegan diet and gave some background on my own experience.  Plus I got to talk about animals, which I always like the best.

If you missed the live broadcast, it will be aired on Frontier cable in various locations throughout southern Connecticut over the next few months. Visit Rosemary's page for more information and to see the schedule.