Persimmon Green Smoothie {Creamy to the Max} | Things to Think About When Buying Bananas (and Everything Else)

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Hi, all! Just a short post today, as the start of the second half of the fall semester has brought with it an increased workload.

Have bananas brainwashed you to believe that only they can yield a richly creamy smoothie? Live under the banana hegemony no longer, folks, for a vastly under-appreciated winter fruit has arrived to dismantle the banana’s power hold: the persimmon. Numerous species of persimmon exist– native to China, southeast Europe, the eastern United States, Mexico, the Philippines, and beyond – but the two most commonly found in U.S. grocery stores include the fuyu (flat, doughnut-shaped) and the hachiya (taller, heart-shaped). For optimal taste and texture, I like to eat my persimmons when they’ve achieved the feel of a ripe avocado; at this stage, persimmons will also produce the silkiest smoothie, one that can easily rival any banana-based concoction. (For more on persimmons, be sure to listen to the upcoming episode of the Our Hen House podcast this Saturday, November 8, on which I’ll give a review of four of my favorite winter produce items for which to keep an eye out!)

Good thing, too, that banana alternatives exist, considering the harsh implications of contemporary industrial banana production on child workers, global trade, women farmers, and the environment (not to mention the racist and colonialist stereotypes long employed to market bananas in the U.S.). For a wealth of information on such implications, I’d like to highlight and direct you all toward the latest addition to the Food Empowerment Project‘s “Food Choices” resource page:Peeling Back the Truth on Bananas.”

Of course, in encouraging folks to purchase responsibly sourced bananas, I in no way mean to shame anyone for their food choices (especially those in difficult financial situations who recognize bananas as a cheap source of ample nutrients and may not be able to find or afford the types of bananas recommended by the FEP), nor to suggest that we can ever hope to eat in a completely ethically sound manner (we are all enmeshed in complicated power relations, after all). I do, however, hope that considering one’s food choices will serve as either a catalyst or complement to first thinking about then acting to transform the multiple structures of oppression that we all help to perpetuate in one way or another, simply by virtue of our socialization in a white supremacist, heteropatriarchal, capitalist society.

If bananas from Equal Exchange, Earth University, or Grow Bananas (those recommended by the FEP) are accessible to you, by all means use them in this smoothie for a double dose of creaminess. If not, substitute additional persimmons and reduce the amount of non-dairy milk to 1/2 cup.

Persimmon Green Smoothie

Serves 1.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup diced ripe persimmon (hachiya and fuyu are both fine)
1/2 cup frozen banana slices
1/2 cup frozen strawberries
2 large leaves kale, chopped
1 cup non-dairy milk
Ground cinnamon to garnish (optional)

Combine all ingredients – in the order specified – in a high-speed blender. Puree until very smooth, stirring the mixture as necessary. Sprinkle with cinnamon, if desired.

Recipe submitted to Virtual Vegan Linky Potluck.

In solidarity, Ali.

TastyMakes Raw Organic Snacks Review & GIVEAWAY!

Sorry, this giveaway has closed!

Get ready, dear readers, for a summer of exciting giveaways on Farmers Market Vegan! I have quite a few of these super fun product raffles up my sleeve for the next three months, so I do hope that you’ll keep a close eye on the ol’ blog amidst all of your warm-weather frolicking.

The first of these giveaways comes from the generous folks over at Tastymakes—a fabulous new snack company that specializes in raw, sprouted, organic, and ethically sourced savory crackers, sweet “barbites,” and crunchy granola clusters. Compelled to share the benefits of a raw, vegan diet with others after healing from a bike injury through alkaline eating, Tastymakes co-founder Melissa Lacitignola has joined with her husband and a professional raw foods chef to make her dream a reality. As if that story weren’t inspiring enough, TastyMakes also donates 5% of all its profits to anti-hunger organizations. Can you say “socially responsible company”?

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Not only do the folks at Tastymakes offer top-quality raw snacks, they also run a snack box subscription program through which customers can receive various amounts of crackers, barbites, and granolas each month. Arriving like clockwork every month with free shipping, these TastyBoxes ensure a pantry consistently stocked with energizing, nourishing snacks.

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Melissa and her team were kind enough to send me a couple product samples: one bag each of their Salt & Vinegar Crackers, Garden Herb Crackers, and Vanilla Nut BarBites. All of the snacks boasted a short list of hugely wholesome ingredients as well as an enormous punch of flavor.

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The Salt & Vinegar Crackers (the ingredients in which include apple cider vinegar, sprouted golden flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, and sea salt) sported a supremely crunchy texture that dissolved pleasingly on the tongue as a hit of flavor spread through the entire mouth. These crackers will make you guffaw in disdain of those outdated salt & vinegar potato chips, whose muted flavor could never hope to stand up to that of these intensely savory crackers.

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The Garden Herb Crackers (the ingredients of which include sprouted golden flaxseed, sunflower seed, pumpkin seed, rosemary, thyme, sea salt, onions, and garlic) held a firmer texture than did the Salt & Vinegar Crackers, providing more heft for optimal dippability. Indeed, I enjoyed these fresh-tasting crackers spread with a pea puree and fresh almond milk ricotta from Kite Hill—not bad for a rough-and-tumble dinner, if I do say so myself.

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The Vanilla Nut Bar Bites (the ingredients of which include dates, walnuts, cashews, sprouted Spanish almonds, vanilla extract, flaxseed meal, and sea salt) offered a super intense vanilla flavor, coupled with a texture perfectly balanced between chewy and crunchy. I also found that these bites provided ample versatility, able to function not only as an ideal energy-packed snack, but as a premade crust for raw desserts! Check out the recipe below to see what I’m talkin’ ’bout.

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Mini Lemon-Ginger Cheesecake Cups—Raw, Soy Free, Low Sodium

Makes 8 mini cups.

Ingredients:

16 TastyMakes Vanilla Nut Bar Bites
1 cup raw cashews, soaked at least 2 hours and drained
1/2 cup coconut oil (use this lemon-ginger flavored coconut oil for more of a kick!)
1/3 cup coconut or agave nectar (or maple syrup, if you’re not concerned about the cakes being fully raw)
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2-inch piece of fresh ginger

Cut a sheet of plastic wrap about double the size of your 8-piece mini muffin tin. Spread the sheet over the tin and press the plastic wrap into each of the 8 cups to line them.

Take two Vanilla Nut Bar Bites and mush them together into one larger bite. Press the new bite into the bottom of one of the 8 cups. Repeat with the remaining 14 Vanilla Nut Bar Bites.

In the bowl of a food processor or the carafe of a high-speed blender, combine the soaked and drained cashews, coconut oil, coconut nectar or maple syrup, lemon juice, and ginger. Puree until very smooth. Fill each of the Nut Bar Bite-lined mini muffin cups to the brim with the cashew puree. Stick the entire mini muffin tray into the freezer and allow the cheesecake cups to set for about an hour. Remove each of the cups from the freezer about 5-10 minutes before you’d like to enjoy them.

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If that tantalizing recipe isn’t enough to get you ecstatic about this giveaway, I don’t know what will. Those of you that are ecstatic, though, have the chance to win your very own TastyBox! Simply click the links at the top or bottom of this post to enter the giveaway. Good luck!

This giveaway will end at 11:59 pm on Sunday, June 15, and I will ann0unce the two winners on the following day.

Sorry, this giveaway has closed!

I was not paid to run this giveaway, though I was provided with free product samples. All opinions are completely my own.

Until next time, Ali.

Broccoli Crunch Snack Bites (with Flavor Variations!)

You know how once a zucchini plant establishes itself in your garden you’ll find yourself with a constant supply of zucchini such that the little green squash works its way into your every meal? In the 21-person vegan cooperative where I live, we have no zucchini plants or any sort of garden, and yet last week we experienced the same phenomenon of single-veggie overload with that rascally cruciferous known as broccoli. Midway through last week, multiple shelves in our refrigerator suddenly overflowed with green florets, as if our grocery shoppers sensed an impending broccoli drought in New York state and thought it best to prepare by purchasing the nearby market’s entire stock of the veggie.

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Hypothesizing that my housemates would not consume this wealth of broccoli before it began to yellow and wilt, I sought to prepare a snackable goodie that would use up a substantial amount of broccoli and that my housemates would gobble up in no time. Enter the broccoli crunch snack bite. One of my co-workers at Compassion Over Killing last summer first introduced me to the idea of coating broccoli in a blended mixture of nuts, spices, and liquid—similar to those used to coat raw kale chips—before dehydrating it into a bunch of crunchy, flavor-rich, super fun nibbles. Drawing upon this preparation method, I employed the leftovers of an almond sour cream that I had prepared for dinner the previous evening to coat the broccoli and popped the florets into our house dehydrator. Hours later (no one ever said that dehydrating was a speedy process), three enormous heads of broccoli had reduced down to a couple trays of savory snack bites, and a couple hours even later, all of them had disappeared into the bellies of my housemates. Mission accomplished.

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Below you’ll find the base recipe for the crunchy broccoli goodness, followed by a number of flavor variations as well as directions for baking the bites in the oven if you don’t own a dehydrator.

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Broccoli Crunch Snack Bites—Can be Raw, Soy Free, Oil Free, Low Sodium.

Makes 5-6 cups.

Ingredients:

3/4 cup almonds, soaked 8 hours or overnight
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tsp maple syrup or agave (use agave for raw variation)
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cups water
3 large heads of broccoli, separated into florets

Blend the ingredients almonds through water in a high-speed blender until smooth. Place the broccoli florets in a large bowl, and pour the dressing over the broccoli. Toss well to coat. Spread the coated broccoli on as many dehydrator trays as you need to fit all of the broccoli, and dehydrate at 110°F for 12-24 hours, or until dry and crunchy.

Oven Variation:Preheat the oven to 400° and bake for about 30-40 minutes, or until crunchy.

Chili Cheese Variation:Add 2 tbsp nutritional yeast, 1 clove garlic, and 2 tsp chili powder to the blended ingredients.

Spicy Maple-Chipotle Variation:Increase the amount of maple syrup to 2 tbsp and add 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, and 1/2 tsp chipotle power to the blended ingredients.

Coconut-Peanut Butter Variation: Increase the amount of maple syrup or agave to 2 tbsp and add 1 tbsp peanut butter, 1/4 cup unsweetened dried coconut, and 1 tsp vanilla extract to the blended ingredients.

Bright Miso Variation: Add 1 tbsp light miso, 1 tbsp lemon juice, 1 tsp onion powder, 1 small clove garlic, and 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard to the blended ingredients.

Smoky “Bacon” Variation: Increase the amount of maple syrup or agave to 1 1/2 tbsp and add 1 tbsp tamari, 1 tsp smoked paprika, and 1/2 tsp liquid smoke to the blended ingredients.

Cool Ranch Variation: Add 1 tbsp nutritional yeast, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 1/2 tsp onion powder, 1/2 tsp dried dill, 2 tbsp fresh chives, and 1 tbsp fresh parsley to the blended ingredients.

Recipe submitted to Waste Not Want Not Wednesdays, Recipe Wednesday, and Healthy Vegan Fridays.

Until next time, Ali.

Actively Hoping and The Everyday Salad

A couple evenings ago, I invited an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in a long while over to my house for dinner. Given that a large portion of both of our college studies concern the social and environmental states of our world, we found much to discuss. Well into our dinner conversation regarding social and political change, my friend presented the notion of introducing “ethics overseers” onto the decision-making teams of corporations and political institutions, so as to prevent such entities from taking harmful actions in the name of material gain. Acknowledging that such overseers would undoubtedly harbor very different sets of ethics, my friend believed that their presence would at least introduce some moral guidance to normally questionable institutions. I found (still find) this idea interesting, but worry that it might serve as a band-aid solution to an underlying culture that conditions its members to prioritize the accumulation of wealth over the advancement of a just, equitable, and environmentally sustainable society. In the long term, I would much rather see the grassroots cultivation of a widespread lifestyle of social responsibility and symbiosis with the earth, rather than a bunch of philosophers raising their eyebrows and shaking their heads at the suit-and-tie folks across the mahogany table.

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I completely understand that the former development will not come to fruition for a long time, probably not in my lifetime. But I don’t want to allow the distance of such a necessary occurrence to hinder the work that I do everyday in the hopes of one day achieving it. My friend called this mindset “idealistic.” I call it imperative for maintaining my sanity. If I didn’t let the hope of a better future guide my present actions, I would have long ago devolved into a puddle of depression. I would probably not be vegan. I would probably not be writing this blog post right now. I probably would have thought, “What’s the point? The world’s never going to change.” Through both my individual actions and those taken collectively with others who believe in an improved tomorrow, I maintain hope, I find the strength to continue, I envision the world in which I yearn for future generations to live. In opposition to such active hope (a term from Joanna Macy’s book of the same name that I’ve found hugely inspiring) lies stagnancy. If one does not believe in the possibility for change, the likelihood that they will think or behave in a progressive manner significantly decreases. But surely nothing will change if everyone thought, “What’s the use?”. Change comes from united groups of driven individuals who actively hope for positive social, political, environmental, any reform.

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Professor of political science and sociology Frances Fox Piven writes in her book Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America of the effectiveness of grassroots social movements in initiating significant reforms to the American political and cultural system. First highlighting the brokenness of American democracy with its inequality-ridden and corrupt electoral system, Piven insists that “there have nevertheless been periods of egalitarian reform in American political history,” and that such periods occur when “ordinary people exercise power [...] mainly at those extraordinary moments when they rise up in anger and hope, defy the rules that ordinarily govern their daily lives, and, by doing so, disrupt the workings of the institutions in which they are enmeshed” (16, 1). Piven evinces her claims with the abolition movement’s success in bringing the issue of slavery to the forefront of political discussion, and later in instigating the enactment of national civil rights legislation; as well as with the labor movement’s success in prompting the expansion of social welfare programs in the 1930s and 1960s. Further, Piven asserts that “disruptive movements are responsible for the truly brilliant moments of reform in American history [because] [...] when the movements decline, there are few new reforms, and those won at the peak of movement power are often rolled back” (111). Consider, for example, the fact that the welfare programs launched in the 1930s languished until a new period of protest in the 1960s forced their reenactment, or the fact that as the abolition movement waned in the mid-1870s, institutionalized white supremacy reemerged with a vengeance.

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As Piven displays, we cannot remain inactive toward the urgent issues facing our society and our world, for substantial change has historically always and only come from below. While one could never describe actively hoping for change as easy or comfortable, it has proven on multiple occasions effective in the long run. Not only do sustained efforts toward a better future eventually transform hope into widespread reality, they also profoundly impact the lives of the individuals participating in such efforts. As Joanna Macy affirms, “[a] powerful mental shift takes place when we stop telling ourselves why something can’t happen,” such that we “step[...] into a state of aliveness that makes our lives profoundly satisfying” (171, 4). I personally experienced such transformations when I stopped telling myself that my worth as a person depended upon my bodily appearance and ability to closely monitor my eating habits, and discovered in veganism a passion so deeply in and outside of myself that it directed and largely continues to direct the trajectory of my life (read more about my personal story of eating disorder recovery here on Our Hen House). As I mentioned above, I would not have recovered from such a dismal state had veganism not inspired in me the hope onto which I latched.

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So I encourage you to actively hope. I encourage you to employ your own personal skills in working toward the change you’d like to see realized. I encourage you to remind yourself that change takes time, and that though you may not see immediate results, as long as you and others continue on the path of intentional and conscious being, change will happen.

In the meantime, we all need a boatful of nutrients to sustain all that active hoping and active doing in which we engage every day! Along with my morning green smoothie, the salad below appears in my meal repertoire on a daily basis, whether tossed in a bowl in the comfort of my own kitchen or shaken up in a Tupperware while I’m on-the-go. Packed with leafy greens, raw veggies, seaweed, plant-based proteins, and healthy fats, this salad serves as a powerhouse of nourishment—both physically and now, for me, mentally, as my daily salad ritual provides a grounding moment midday. Enjoy.

The Everyday Salad—Low Sodium.

Serves 1.

Ingredients:

2 large handfuls of mixed salad greens
1 handful of alfalfa sprouts
A couple sprigs of fresh herbs, chopped (dill is my favorite here)
Sprinkling of dulse seaweed flakes (about 1-2 tbsp)
About 1 cup of raw veggies, chopped (carrots, bell peppers, celery, cherry tomatoes, etc.)
1/2 cup whole grain (quinoa, brown rice, millet, etc.)
1/2 cup beans (chickpeas, black beans, navy beans, cannellini beans, etc.)
1/4 cup nuts or seeds (almonds, sunflower seeds, pepitas, walnuts, etc.) OR 1/2 an avocado, diced
4-7 tbsp Liquid Gold Dressing (I like mine dressed pretty heavily)
1 generous scoop of sauerkraut or other fermented veggies

In a large bowl, layer the salad greens through nuts/avocado. Drizzle the dressing on top, then toss well to combine. Place the sauerkraut on top. Serve.

Recipe submitted to Wellness Weekend and Recipe Wednesdays.

Until next time, Ali.

Works Cited

Macy, Joanna and Chris Johnstone. Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2012. Print.

Piven, Frances Fox. Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006. Print.

Creamy Apple (or Pear) Spice Green Smoothie

Every Thursday, Ferry House picks up a half-bushel of local apples and pears from the always-friendly folks at Wilklow Orchards from Vassar’s on-campus farmers market. Our 21 house members easily devour this generous box-full of autumnal fruit within five to six days, employing the crisp, jewel-toned apples and juicy, champagne-fleshed pears as on-the-go snacks or, in my case, in my ubiquitous morning green smoothies.

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While frozen berries had played an integral role in my smoothies since the summer, lately I’ve found myself gravitating toward smoothies that incorporate the grounding fruits of the cooling weather, both because they produce a less chilled smoothie than do frozen berries (a quite positive aspect considering that I prefer not to shiver when eating my breakfast), and because they serve as optimal bases for warming spices like cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Employing Ferry’s apples and pears in my smoothie rotation also greatly reduces the personal money I spend each week on specialty foods such as flax oil and kombucha, since frozen berries tend to cost a pretty penny.

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The recipe below yields a gorgeously creamy, attractively hued smoothie with a flavor nicely balanced between sweet and spicy, mostly thanks to the bite of fresh ginger. Served in a glass or as a Green Smoothie-Granola Breakfast Bowl, this smoothie will assuredly prompt your tastebuds to sing the praises of the fall season. Ooh, a smoothie-themed musical? Hello, Broadway…

Creamy Apple (or Pear) Spice Green Smoothie—Can be Raw, Soy Free, and Nut Free; Oil Free, Low Sodium, Low Fat

Makes one 16-oz smoothie.

Ingredients:

1 large banana, frozen and sliced
1 medium-small apple or ripe pear, diced
1-inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
1 scoop of vegan protein powder (optional; I love Ultimate Meal and Garden of Life)
1 large handful of kale
1 cup non-dairy milk (Edensoy for Ali, forever and always)

Place all ingredients in a blender in the order listed above. Blend until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. To make this smoothie into my infamous Green Smoothie-Granola Breakfast Bowl, serve the smoothie in a bowl topped with 1/2 cup granola and a tablespoon of nut butter.

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Recipe submitted to Wellness Weekend and Healthy Vegan Fridays.

Until next time, Ali.

Vegan MoFo #27: A Day with Carol Adams & Catering Her Vegan Reception

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Well, folks—the time has come to conclude the festival of Ferry dinners, Vassar Animal Rights Coalition shenanigans, and vegan-related musings that constituted Vegan MoFo 2013 here on Farmers Market Vegan. After one month and 27 posts, I’m thrilled to have set a personal Vegan MoFo record, failing to post on only three days out of the whole of September. While most of my posts proved quite short (though not lacking tantalizing photos and much culinary creativity), I feel that this final post of Vegan MoFo will adequately conclude the month with an exciting, action-packed summary of Carol Adams’ visit to the Vassar campus to present her acclaimed Sexual Politics of Meat Slide Show.

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Taking place yesterday evening, the event attracted 80 students, faculty, and members of the Poughkeepsie community (thus garnering a larger turnout than any VARC event in the past four years), and analyzed images in popular culture that animalize women and sexualize animals. During the Q&A session after the lecture, the audience asked curious, genuine, and non-antagonistic questions, such as “Is it hard to go vegan?” The smiling audience then migrated to an adjoining classroom to chat with Carol, have her sign their newly bought copies of The Sexual Politics of Meat, and nosh on a smorgasbord of vegan hors d’oeuvres, all prepared by yours truly with the help of a couple wondrous VARC members. A handful of event attendees approached me during the reception to offer their high praises of the food and the lecture, and to inform me that they were planning on transitioning to veg*nism. On the reception menu

–Homemade seitan (based on Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s recipe) marinated in a chimichurri sauce, skewered, and broiled.
–Mini sundried tomato, spinach, and mushroom tofu quiches (inspired by this recipe from Oh She Glows).
Crostini with cashew cheese, pesto, and tomatoes.
–Peanut butter-coconut cream tarts in a raw date-nut crust.

Preparing the lecture food.

Preparing the lecture food.

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Attendees of the lecture gobbled up nearly all of the 500-some bites that we prepared, and my Ferry housemates happily devoured the rest.

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VARC’s Carol Adams experience did not begin with her lecture, however. The same morning, a handful of VARC’s most devoted members plus my fabulous Gender and Nature professor met Carol in front of Main building to drive up to New Paltz and visit Lagusta’s Luscious, the vegan/fair trade/ethically sourced/power feminist/activist oriented chocolate haven of my life (Lagusta makes the only chocolate that I feel 100% confident about eating in terms of ethical considerations). Lagusta contributed a beautiful piece to the Defiant Daughters anthology inspired by The Sexual Politics of Meat, and has a long-cultivated relationship with Carol. As such, Lagusta volunteered to lead VARC and Carol on a tour of her small (yet hugely inspiring) shop in celebration of Carol’s visit to Vassar.

Lagusta's also sells Treeline cashew cheese!

Lagusta’s also sells Treeline cashew cheese!

Tiny, rich hot chocolates courtesy of Lagusta.

Tiny, rich hot chocolates courtesy of Lagusta.

A vintage, yet still functioning, (vegan) milkshake machine.

A vintage, yet still functioning, (vegan) milkshake machine.

Lagusta's makeshift tempeh incubator.

Lagusta’s makeshift tempeh incubator.

Gifting our group with chocolate vulvas and rich, whipped cream-topped hot chocolates, Lagusta welcomed VARC and Carol into her eclectic shop, chatting about how she cultivated a responsible, non-hierarchical business model that subtly promotes the importance of veganism, feminism, and social justice to an ever growing demographic. After touring the shop—which boasted a 25-pound bucket of coconut oil, caramel simmering on an induction stovetop, a homemade tempeh incubator, and a pastry dough sheeter used for creating vegan croissants—I and the rest of VARC eagerly purchased a hefty amount of the darn best chocolate in existence.

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I myself partook in four truffles—a cantaloupe pâté de fruit, a plum anise pâté de fruit, a thyme lemon sea salt caramel, and a strawberry cream bon bon—as well as a “grown up tootsie roll” spiked with whiskey and chiles, and a vegan, authentically French, pillowy soft, absolutely magical macaron in apple-cinnamon flavor. Though I’ve visited Lagusta’s shop once before, I had never fully appreciated her business model or integrity-ridden success story—I can only hope that my own vegan entrepreneurial endeavors will provide me with just as much fulfillment.

Chatting with Lagusta and Kate.

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After congregating for a group photo and bidding goodbye to Lagusta, VARC and Carol took a short walk to Karma Road, New Paltz’s vegan café. Over a kale salad massaged with avocado and sprinkled with cashews and raisins with a side of homemade hummus, I enjoyed a thought-provoking conversation about the history of ecofeminism and how its tenets still hugely resonate in today’s society.

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I’m honored and humbled to have the support of two monumentally influential figures (Carol and Lagusta) in my own vegan/activist evolution. Yesterday proved truly unforgettable and will undoubtedly shape my advocacy for years to come.

VARC Exec Board with Carol Adams.

Until next time, Ali.

Vegan MoFo #15: Raw Blueberry-Lavender Birthday Cupcakes

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Raw cupcakes with blueberry-cashew frosting and filled with blueberry jam.

Raw cupcakes with blueberry-cashew frosting and filled with blueberry jam.

I don’t believe that we as human entities can ever “have” time. Time constitutes the atmosphere surrounding us, the realm in which we live. Just as one cannot manipulate the air, the sunlight, or the temperature (individually and without profound consequences, at least), one cannot employ time to serve one’s own purposes. Rather than viewing life as a medium in which I either “have” or do not “have” time to engage in tasks and activities, I prefer to think of life as a series of continual actions and contemplations that affect each other interconnectedly. An action does not end while another begins, for all of our past actions contribute to our current states of being. We cannot govern the time in which we participate in these actions, for we cannot foresee the entirety of our lives in which all of these actions continuously interact and build upon one another. Time provides the culture in the petri dish of life and we grow within it, rather than functioning as the scientists manipulating it. Time happens. We happen. Yes, we must abide by deadlines and due dates in the goal-driven society that we have constructed, but we do not “have” the time in which to do so—time merely allows us the space and possibility of doing so.

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I say all of this in the context of having not created birthday treats on my actual birthday. Many would claim that I simply didn’t “have” the time on my birthday to bake a batch of goodies, but I posit that time constituted a pretty major presence on that particular day, and on every other day. The beauty of time’s omnipresence, however, showcases itself in the fact that I made some darn fabulous raw cupcakes yesterday. Time continued past my birthday. I continued past my birthday. Cupcakes continued past my birthday (though not for long thanks to my hungry housemates).

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Transitioning from the realm of philosophy to the realm of kitchen antics, I’d like to share with you, dear readers the Raw Blueberry-Lavender Cupcakes that I made to celebrate my 19 years on this planet. Inspired by this recipe from Fragrant Vanilla Cake, I crafted the cupcakes with the following recipe modifications:

1.) Substituted 1/2 cup of shredded coconut, soaked overnight and drained, for the young coconut meat in the cake base.
2.) Substituted another cup of soaked cashews for the coconut meat in the frosting.
3.) Used coconut oil where the recipe called for coconut butter and maple syrup where the recipe called for coconut nectar.
4.) Included the lavender in the frosting rather than in the cake base.

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As my Ferry housemates assured me throughout the day, the cupcakes turned out phenomenally, and offered me a legitimate excuse to break out the House’s dehydrator for which I had longed all summer. Mounds of dehydrated kale chips will soon fill the living room if no one restrains me.

Until next time, Ali.

Blackberry-Lavender Cream Chocolate Cups

As I’ve previously mentioned on the ol’ blog, my parents adopted a whole-foods, plant-based diet last December and haven’t stopped raving about how physically fantastic they feel or the delicious food they enjoy since. (Side Note: While my mom is completely vegan as far as I can tell, I don’t refer to my father as such since he occasionally eats meat at restaurants when not accompanied by me). Soon after I returned home for my last two weeks of summer break, we entered a discussion about the health detriments of sugar and how it has become a toxic, addictive substance in the modern world. My father, though he now tremendously enjoys the Stevia that replaces the sugar in his morning coffee, still admits to missing a particular processed, sugary (and quite un-vegan) product: Reese’s peanut butter cups.

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The aficionado of healthy cooking that I consider myself, I decided to provide my father with a belated, homemade birthday gift of healthy, refined sugar-free, completely vegan chocolate-peanut butter cups. Adapting this recipe from Sift, Stir, and Savor, I experienced fabulous results—my father enjoyed nearly all of the cups in a mere two days—and found the process of making them surprisingly simple, not to mention fun.

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Thus, when confronted with the urge to whip up a batch of goodies for a beloved neighbor with whom I had not connected in a long while, I returned to the stuffed chocolate cup model, opting to create a version with a fruity, creamy center of farmers market blackberries and cashews, flavored with one of my all-time favorite herbs: lavender.

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However, I should explain that these blackberry-lavender cream chocolate cups—as well as the peanut butter cups I made for my father—contain no actual cocoa. Rather, the “chocolate” in these cups comes from carob powder, produced from the pod of a tree that grows along the Mediterranean Sea. Though many choose carob over chocolate in order to avoid caffeine, I personally switched to using carob powder for all my chocolatey culinary ventures after I learned of the child slavery behind most of the chocolate sold today.

To quote (…myself) from an article that I wrote for my campus newspaper this past Valentine’s Day: “The chocolate bars and cocoa powder that we frequently encounter originate from the cacao bean—a large, pod-like seed that grows on the Theobroma cacao tree, which grows primarily in the tropical climates of West Africa and Latin America. Supplying 75 percent of the world’s cocoa market, two West African countries—Ghana and the Ivory Coast—have met the demands of a growing chocolate industry by resorting to the use of child labor to maintain competitive prices in a market of cheap cocoa. Often sold by their own relatives to traffickers or farm owners, the intensely impoverished children of West Africa face life-threatening work environments and educational deprivation upon entering the cocoa harvesting industry. Working from dawn until dusk, children climb to the tops of the cocoa trees, hack at the beans with a machete—which often results in slashes to the child’s appendages—and drag human-sized sacks of the pods through the forest. In addition, children as young as 12 years old spray the cacao trees with hazardous agricultural chemicals without donning protective equipment. Subsisting on corn paste and bananas, child laborers frequently lack access to portable water and may live in such conditions for months or even years, exposed to regular beatings and locked in their rooms at night to prevent them from escaping.

Image courtesy of the Food Empowerment Project.

“Recently, a handful of commendable organizations and journalists have worked to reveal the widespread use of child labor and slavery on West African cocoa farms, leading to an increase in secrecy on the part of the chocolate industry. Many major companies that offer chocolate products—including Clif Bar, Trader Joe’s and Vosges—refuse to disclose from which regions they source their cocoa, while in 2010 authorities of the Ivory Coast government detained three journalists who published a newspaper article regarding government corruption related to the cocoa industry.

“Luckily, we can still enjoy truffles and other chocolatey goodies by employing a bit of mindfulness when choosing which cocoa products to purchase. While buying any chocolate sourced from West Africa essentially guarantees the unintended support of child labor, choosing cocoa grown in Latin America—where a majority of organic cocoa originates—results in less of a chance of backing a corrupt industry.

“However, even many organic and Certified Fair Trade chocolate products have been documented to employ exploitative labor, and for this reason, the only current reliable list of truly ethical chocolate companies comes from a non-profit organization called the Food Empowerment Project (FEP). Committed FEP volunteers contact virtually every company that implements chocolate in their products to inquire as to from where they source their cocoa, and if they provide a satisfactory answer, FEP features them on their ‘chocolate we feel comfortable recommending’ list. Including such companies as Whole Foods, Divine, Endangered Species, Equal Exchange, Nature’s Path, and Taza, the list also highly recommends against purchasing chocolate from Hershey, Kirkland and Scharffen Berger.”

Reliable chocolate companies.

Reliable chocolate companies.

While I completely trust the FEP’s list of reliable chocolate companies and truly admire their work, I find that abstaining from chocolate altogether—in favor of easy-to-find carobproves easier than sifting through every chocolate product to verify its origins (kind of like how choosing veganism proves easier than choosing animal products raised under arbitrary guidelines of “humane-ness”). For me, switching entirely to carob sacrifices none of the full-flavored decadence of chocolate, especially when that decadence coats an equally succulent filling of cashews, blackberries, and lavender. Now, onto that recipe, hmm?

Blackberry-Lavender Cream Chocolate CupsRaw, Soy Free, Low Sodium.

Makes about 9 cups.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup cashews, soaked at least 1 hour (overnight is best)
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup blackberries, fresh or frozen
1 tbsp coconut oil, melted
2 tsp maple syrup or agave
1 tsp dried culinary lavender

1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup carob powder
1-2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract

Place a chocolate mold, mini muffin tin, or other small cup-shaped vessel into the freezer.

In a high-speed blender, combine the first six ingredients (soaked cashews through lavender) and puree until smooth. Refrigerate for 30 minutes while you prepare the carob coating.

In a small bowl, combine, the last four ingredients (coconut oil through vanilla extract). Remove the chocolate mold from the freezer and, using a pastry brush, coat the bottom and sides of each cup with the carob mixture. Place the mold back into the freezer and allow to harden for about 2-5 minutes. Repeat the coating and freezing procedure two more times.

blackberry lavender chocolate cups (2)

Remove the blackberry-cashew mixture from the refrigerator and the carob cups from the freezer. Spoon about a tablespoon of the cashew mixture into each carob cup, then coat the top of each cup with half of the remaining carob mixture. Place the cups in the freezer for another 2-5 minutes, then coat the tops of each cup again with the rest of the carob mixture. Place in the freezer once more to completely harden, then store in the refrigerator until ready to eat.

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Recipe submitted to Wellness Weekend, Healthy Vegan Friday, Raw Foods Thursdays, Allergy-Free Wednesday, and Waste Not Want Not Wednesday.

Until next time, Ali.

DC Restaurant & Yoga Exploration: Yoga District & District Tea Lodge

For those of us lucky enough to have the funds, geographical access, and physical ability necessary to engage in a frequent studio yoga practice, moving to a different location can prove difficult, since doing so means bidding good-bye to a well-loved studio community and seeking out a new one in which to hopefully foster the same sort of connections and support group. Granted, cultivating a fulfilling yoga practice certainly does not require a studio membership or even a mat, necessarily—indeed, during the school year I happily practice yoga alone in my room, either guiding myself through the asanas or following along with a free podcast provided by Jivamukti teacher Jessica Sage Stickler, since I can’t easily access a studio near campus without a car.

That’s yours truly in the bright blue tank top with the short brown hair at my hometown studio.

While I find that a solo practice does minimize distractions and eliminate any tendency of judgment or one-upmanship toward other yogis, it lacks a sense of community, of “We’re-in-this-together-even though-this-advanced-arm-balance”-ness, of powerful energy only generated by a room full of individuals united in a physical manifestation of peace. Not only can yoga studios provide a supportive group of oft like-minded people, they also play an integral role in developing the base of a safe and joyful yoga practice for newcomers, as well as in offering the advanced yogic knowledge (physical, mental, and spiritual) necessary for longtime yogis to continue to find excitement in their practice.

Returning to the notion of finding a new yoga studio after moving to a different area, I’ve shifted between three studios in the past year thanks to moves from my hometown of Madison, WI to Vassar College in New York, and from Vassar to my summer home of Washington D.C. Madison offers the heated, fast-paced intensity of Inner Fire, at which my love of yoga first blossomed; New York offers the deep spirituality, advanced physicality, and vegan philosophy of Jivamukti (though I don’t visit the studio as often as I’d like since it requires a two-hour train ride from Vassar to get there); and DC offers the unpretentiousness, activist-oriented programming of Yoga District.

Boasting six brightly sunlit, immensely welcoming studio spaces around DC, Yoga District features a variety of classes from beginner to advanced, vinyasa to kundalini, and yogalates to AcroYoga. The studio strives to render the innumerable benefits of yoga financially accessible to as many individuals as possible with its yoga work/study program, sliding scale fees, and donation-based classes, providing a refreshing reminder of yoga’s humble roots—an aspect of the practice so often forgotten in an age of $20 drop-in classes and expensive yoga gear advertised as necessary for a “proper” practice ($40 for a mat towel? No thanks).

Yoga District’s vision of spreading the yogic message of peace, health, and overall wellbeing to those who may not otherwise find the practice manifests itself no better than in the studio’s Yoga Activist program. A nonprofit that partners yoga teachers with social service organizations, Yoga Activist runs on the notion that “every being deserves the  holistic benefits of yoga as a practical tool of empowerment, self-soothing, self-healing, and coping.” Yoga Activist currently partners with organizations that support cancer survivors and patients, domestic violence survivors, eating disorder patients and survivors, homeless communities, communities affected by HIV/AIDS, prisons, seniors, trauma survivors, veterans, and youth—and they’re ever willing to partner with more.

Image courtesy of Yoga Activist.

I would consider the Yoga Activist program social justice outreach at its finest, since it provides an effective method by which largely disenfranchised groups can cultivate a sense of autonomy in a society that’s toxic cultural norms previously overpowered them—this program functions as the antithesis of a Band-Aid solution. Indeed, a 1980 social study by Michael Dillbeck found that “during periods when large-scale Transcendental Meditation groups numbering more than 1% of the population were holding regular meditation sessions, researchers did find a statistically significant reduction in the rate of fatalities resulting from automobile accidents, suicides, and homicides in the United States.” The phenomenon discovered from this study, known as the Maharishi Effect, helps to prove the societal value of spreading yoga and meditation practices well beyond the affluent group to which the modern, Westernized realm of yoga primarily caters. Thankfully, programs like Yoga Activist accomplish just that.

Image courtesy of Yoga Activist.

Not only does Yoga District engage in hugely beneficial community outreach, it also succeeds where so many yoga studios fall short of fully embracing the integral yogic tenet of ahimsa (nonviolence)—it advocates veganism. Unlike Jivamukti in NYC, Yoga District does not directly incorporate discussion of a vegan lifestyle into the inspirational prose offered by its teachers, but the studio outspokenly supports a vegan lifestyle in other manners. For example, at the beginning of the summer, Yoga District students had to pay a $100 membership fee in order to participate in the studio’s unlimited monthly yoga program (to my understanding, Yoga District does not require membership anymore). However, in the spirit of offering maximally accessible yoga, the studio waived the membership fee for students, non-profit workers, and vegans. The fact that Yoga District legitimizes a vegan lifestyle in such a manner further highlights the studio’s commitment to truly fostering a just, equitable society for all.

Additionally, the I Street location of Yoga District features an all-vegan, high-raw café known as District Tea Lodge on the studio’s lower level. The wood-paneled, warmly lit dining space features a long communal table; a bar with kombucha on tap, behind which the cafe’s friendly chefs prepare fresh, seasonal, organic, and hugely nourishing fare; and a case displaying a daily selection of raw desserts. While the café certainly lives up to its namesake, boasting a wide selection of handcrafted tea blends, District Tea Lodge also knows a thing or two about handcrafting wholesome vegan noms. A creamy, optionally green smoothie; a fruity chia pudding; a “big daily bowl” with whole grains, plant-based protein, greens, veggies, and dressing; and raw cookies and puddings always grace the District Tea Lodge menu, though the specifics of these dishes varies according to produce seasonality and availability.

Tea Lodge communal table.

Tea Lodge communal table.

My experience at District Tea Lodge happened to fall on the same weekend during which my parents visited me in DC, so I had the pleasure of enjoying the humble café with my dear mother. The “big daily bowl” that day featured quinoa, steamed tempeh, lightly cooked kale, sliced cucumber, and julienned beets and kohlrabi in a choice of dressing (my mother and I both chose the creamy tahini dressing, but they also offer Asian amino and apple cider vinegar & oil). While I’ve long adored the blissful simplicity of the vegan bowl, this one erred on the side of ersatz rather than pleasantly uncomplicated. The bowl certainly showcased the fresh crispness and bold flavor of each individual veggie, but with its unseasoned tempeh, a fairly scant drizzling of tahini dressing, and an oddly disproportionate amount of quinoa to veggies (one can only eat so much plain quinoa without becoming bored, after all), I found myself quite underwhelmed with the dish.

Big Daily Bowl

Big Daily Bowl

Other offerings that day included a raw almond hummus with sliced cucumbers, a raw tomato-basil bisque, and a kohlrabi slaw in a creamy sunflower seed-basil dressing—my mother and I opted to split the latter. The kohlrabi slaw proved much more dynamic and enjoyable than the bowl, highlighting the earthy brightness of the kohlrabi and beet batons, yet harboring enough dressing to provide interest and textural contrast.

Almond hummus with cucumbers.

Almond hummus with cucumbers.

Kohlrabi slaw.

Kohlrabi slaw.

Though perhaps the newly opened District Tea Lodge’s savory offerings require a bit of improvement, its selection of nourishing, wholesome raw sweets has already reached top quality. Equally as simple as the cafe’s savory fare yet much more satisfying and gastronomically captivating, District Tea Lodge’s daily dessert variety includes artfully prepared raw cookies, brownies, tarts, mousses, and chia puddings in dynamic yet familiar flavors. On the night of our visit, the café featured a mango pudding tart, a chocolate avocado mousse, a pecan brownie, and almond cookies with either cashew-chocolate or raspberry frosting. My mother and I partook in the first two options, reveling in the creamy, healthful decadence of our strawberry-topped dessert selections. While I harbor absolutely no qualms with the impeccable pudding-y portions of our desserts, the very small criticism that I must make regards the somewhat dry, crumbly texture of the mango tart’s crust—an issue easily remedied by a more thorough blending of nuts and dates in the food processor.

Raw dessert case.

Raw dessert case.

Mango tart.

Mango tart.

district tea lodge (1)

Chocolate mousse.

Relatively in keeping with Yoga District’s mission of affordability, District Tea Lodge’s fare proves quite inexpensive ($8 for a generously sized daily bowl, $3-5 for a side such as the almond hummus, and $4 for a dessert), especially when compared to most all other high-raw restaurants I’ve visited, as well as to other DC-area restaurants of the cafe’s caliber—the daily bowl closely parallels the cost of a Chipotle entrée, for goodness’ sake! District Tea Lodge’s teas, however, cost a much prettier penny: $5 for a single mug of tea. I do understand the expense, though, seeing as the café ethically sources the teas, herbs, and spices featured in its blends.

Needless to say, I’ve developed a close kinship with the Yoga District community, both with its yoga classes and teachers as well as its support of a vegan lifestyle. I’ll fondly remember my immensely positive experiences with the studio after returning to Vassar this upcoming weekend, and intend to return for a drop-in class if I ever find myself in the DC area again.

Until next time, Ali.

Guest Post on Green Thickies: How to Green Smoothie On-the-Go

Another day, another guest post. Though I only recently had the honor of featuring my banana soft-serve know-how on Becky’s “Not Your Ordinary Recipes” blog, Katherine of Green Thickies has shared my undying—even while traveling—devotion to green smoothies on her lovely site. My guest post for Green Thickies provides tips for enjoying green smoothies while on-the-go, ensuring you optimally healthy breakfasts even while out of the comforts of your own kitchen, as well as a winning, superfood-packed recipe for an Apricot-Goji Smoothie with Maca. Head on over to Green Thickies to check out the post and recipe!

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I’d also like to mention that the lovely Kylie and Laura of TeenVGN have featured my Pomegranate-Infused Brown Rice Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash, Cauliflower, Hazelnuts, and Arugula as their June Recipe of the Month! You can see the recipe on the TeenVGN site here.

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Until next time, Ali.