Honey-Do List

I think we can all agree that the end of year 2020 cannot come soon enough, for all its trials and tribulations. However, I’ll settle for striking a line through the year 5780 for now. Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year arrives at sunset tonight. Offering an opportunity for a fresh start, rebirth and renewal, the significance of this holiday feels especially salient this time around.

Apples and honey are practically synonymous with the occasion, expressing edible wishes for a sweet new year. There’s usually a loaf of challah on the table, a lustrous golden crust shining beside tall pillar candles, perfumed with that same nectarous sweetener, too. In celebrations past, maple syrup was the default replacement, and plain bread the only alternative. Now we have truly ambrosial bee-free honey, either store-bought or homemade, and egg substitutes galore.

Rather than simply veganizing the classic round loaf, I felt that we could all use an extra measure of sweetness to rebound from such a miserably bitter 12-month cycle. Honey cake is a common addition to the festive table, but probably not like this one.

Kasutera, the Japanese interpretation of Portuguese castella sponge cake, is the perfect non-traditional dessert for Rosh Hashanah. Light and fluffy, yet still dense and rich, it glows with a golden interior crumb singing with floral aroma. The top and bottom are deeply caramelized from the high sugar content, but the interior remains as bright as a sunny day. Having the opportunity to enjoy such delicacy, tenderness, and indulgence strikes me as an ideal catalyst for a truly sweet new year on the horizon.

Chag sameach! Sweetest wishes for the year 5781!

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Respect Your Elders

Stay healthy. Take care. Be well.⁣

These common refrains are easier said than done right now, and naturally, everyone’s looking for that magic bullet to protect themselves against illness. As with life, it’s about how the little things add up, rather than one big thing that will make all the difference. Elderberries offer an easy first step towards a stronger immune system, critical even when not facing a global pandemic. Studies have shown promising results in protection against bacterial and viral infections, reducing the symptoms and duration of a cold, easing symptoms of allergies, and that’s to say nothing of their impressive antioxidant and vitamin A load.⁣

Both the flowers and berries have a long tradition of culinary and folk medicinal uses going back thousands of years. In fact, Hippocrates (often called the father of medicine) referred to the elderberry as a “medicine chest,” thanks to the seemingly endless benefits and applications. The stem, bark, leaves, flowers, berries, and root extracts of the plant have all been instrumental in historical recipes, dating all the way back to Ancient Egypt.



There’s is a catch, of course. Raw, fresh, or dried, elderberries are not exactly a treat to eat. They’re rather tart at best, bitter and astringent at worst; not something you’d want to snack on out of hand, like blueberries. Of course, they have more than twice the natural antioxidant capacity of their blue brethren, but need a bit of help in the flavor department. Sambucol Black Elderberry Gummies take care of that shortcoming by concentrating that nutritional potency into soft, bite-sized chews, sweetened only with pure cane sugar. Pectin, rather than gelatin, gives them their plant-based bounce, to the delight of children and adults alike. Make no mistake, these aren’t candy, but potent supplements wrapped up in a highly appealing package.

Enticing right out of the bottle, gleaming like faceted purple gems, it’s not a struggle to get your daily dose. However, they also offer ample opportunities for some healthy experimentation.

Thumbprint cookies, typically crowned with a dollop of humble fruit preserves get a superfood upgrade thanks to Sambucol. Softening into a jammy nugget within the gentle slope of a hearty oat and almond butter base, you might forget that such tasty treats are actually powerful immunity boosters.

Comfort food and health food don’t need to be mutually exclusive when armed with naturally delicious nourishment. Consider these simple morsels your secret weapon against the midday slump, and well beyond.

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Ice Cream ‘Wich Craft

As July draws to a close, the holidays are fast approaching. Are you ready for the coming festivities?

I’m not talking about Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali, Las Posadas, or Festivus. As if anyone could forget, there’s an even more momentous event right around the corner. August 2nd is National Ice Cream Sandwich Day!

As an avowed ice cream advocate, this is my kind of day. I don’t feel the need to justify or rationalize my indulgence, but as a source of inspiration, the thematic suggestion is always welcome. Sandwiches, one of the earliest frozen novelties, remain one of the simplest. While scoops have gone wild with flavor innovations and popsicles crystallize in every color of the rainbow, most ice cream sandwiches are still plain Jane vanilla.

In the United States, the term typically conjures up visions of a bland slab of beige ice cream, wedged between two thin chocolate wafers that blur the line between cookie and cake. I’m not looking to push the envelope here, but what if we expanded our understanding of the assembly to be a bit more accommodating? Just as there’s more than one way to churn ice cream, there’s more than one sort of wafer in the world.

The wafer I’m most fond of, for example, is the type that’s light as air, crisp like a cracker, and stacked up in slender rectangles with sweet cream filling. This biscuit is essentially synonymous with Voortman Bakery, masters of the edible art form since 1951. Only theirs will stand up to the summer’s heat, and freezer’s chill, without wilting under pressure. In fact, I tend to store them in the freezer when the temperatures climb, not to prolong freshness, but to provide an invigorating, refreshingly cool contrast to a sweltering hot day.

Connecting the dots between these treats and the holiday at hand, it wasn’t a big leap to re-imagine the average sandwich as something remarkable. That is, remarkably delicious AND remarkably easy to make.

Right up front, I must confess: Even by the most generous interpretation of the term, the center of these sandwiches is not ice cream. Set to a frosty, creamy consistency and festooned with colorful sprinkles, you could easily fool the average eater, without anyone feeling betrayed. Based on ingredients and technique alone, it’s more like frozen frosting, but that also means there’s no churning, no cooking, and almost no work required to whip up these treats. In a world where cauliflower can be called rice and zucchinis are noodles, can’t we stretch the definition a bit here?

Sparkling with zesty citrus through and through, thin ribbons of fresh orange peel undulate within a tangy cream cheese base, flecked with real vanilla bean for a rounded, floral sweetness. Flanked by tender orange creme wafers, there’s nothing to interrupt the full-bodied fruity flavor. If you’ve ever craved a good old orange creamsicle, these handheld treats are even better than a dream-come-true.

Such a highly successful experiment really got my wheels turning. Since Voortman makes wafers in just about every flavor you can imagine, the sky (or your freezer space) is the limit. Next time, I might start with strawberry wafers with vanilla ice cream and roll the edges in mini chocolate chips for a modernized neapolitan. There are also banana wafers that are crying out for caramel cream and a quick dip in chopped nuts for a bold new take on the classic banana split. What about trying chocolate hazelnut wafers with chocolate filling and toasted hazelnuts, for all the Nutella-lovers out there?

Trust me, I’m just getting started. There’s never a bad time for frozen treats, but this might just be the best time to join the party.

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Christmas in July

Christmas in July is a lot like a half-birthday party. Most people ignore the midway marker, saving their energy for the main event later on down the road, but those who do observe go all out. More than a thinly veiled excuse to eat cake and throw a party on an otherwise mundane day, it’s an opportunity to spread holiday cheer when spirits may be flagging. Of course, cake is a necessary component.

Sometimes I wonder if the concept was originally popularized by writers and photographers hell bent on meeting magazine deadlines. Traditional publications are notorious for their extensive lead times, which means that July is high time to get those winter columns locked in. While visions of sugar plums dance in their heads, children splash through sprinklers beneath the summer sun. Feasts are prepared for readers to devour many months later, but right now, what’s one to do with the actual food? Really, the only responsible thing to do is turn it into a full-fledged holiday, lest all that festive effort go to waste.

While it’s still a temporary tease to patient VegNews subscribers, rest assured that this year’s yule log will be epic whenever you can roll it up. Fluffy peanut butter mousse wrapped up in a spiral of salted pretzel sponge cake sets this one apart from the predictable pumpkin spice or gingerbread affairs. A thin coating of whipped coconut cream provides the edible adhesion for thin planks of chocolate bark, making for an impressive finish that anyone can achieve. Flurries of soft confectioner’s sugar stand in for snow, melting away on the tongue, not in the mid-July heat.

Merry Christmas, one and all, now or later! If you’re a good, Santa might just swing by with this sweet treat in six month’s time.

Greetings from Plumland

Named for the dense woodlands of tall and mighty oak trees in the 19th century, come summertime, I sometimes wonder if Oakland should be called Plumland instead. Most of those original oaks are long gone, cut down to make space for the growing city, as pavement invaded the landscape like a thicket of unrelenting weeds. Now it seems like the dominant flora comes in the form of plum trees.

Sprouting along sidewalks and leaning over backyard fences, as if peeking out to say hello to passersby, they go largely unnoticed through much of the year. Just another leafy plant, unremarkable from the next, you might never notice their silent invasion… Until summer hits.

Like the flip of a switch, buds blossom and transform into fruit overnight. Suddenly, fruit begins pelting the streets below with splatters of tiny plum grenades, painting them with a sticky patchwork of yellows, reds, and purples. Even for those with a voracious appetite for the juicy stone fruits, it can feel like a plum-pocolypse, or plum-demic this year, I suppose.

Friends from all corners of the city have been foisting their excess upon me at every turn. Make no mistake, I’m not complaining about such kindness; it’s a truly wonderful problem to have too many locally grown, organic, impeccably fresh plums. I just sometimes kick myself for accepting another five pounds or so, while I still have at least as much threatening to over-ripen in the fridge.

After making a few rounds of plum jam, peppered plum sorbet, a luscious brown sugar plum crisp, Plum Good Crumb Cake, and indulged in untold plain plum snacks, I turned to my reliable Facebook family for help. Suggestions poured in as fast as the fruit, but what really stood out was a suggestion from Craig Vanis, Chef and founder of Austin’s one and only Bistro Vonish. Drawing inspiration from his Czech heritage, he offered plum dumplings (Svestkove Knedliky) without missing a beat. Never having experienced sweet dumplings before, the mere concept was a revelation to me. I had to try it.

Butchering his recipe right off the bat, I wasted no time mangling every last ingredient until it would be completely unrecognizable to any of the chef’s predecessors. My sincerest apologies, Craig. It’s the inspiration that counts, right?

Traditionally made with a potato-based dough, purple sweet potato takes the place of a plain starchy spud for a bit more flavor and of course, a vibrant new hue. Wrapped tenderly around whole plums, it’s soft like pillowy sheets of gnocchi, melting into the juicy, sweet flesh. The pitted plums seemed so empty, so hollow and sad, I couldn’t leave them bare. Refilling the centers with whole, toasted almonds, that crunchy surprise inside added textural contrast to create a more satisfying treat.

For serving, some prefer the dumplings simply tossed with melted butter, while others might add toasted breadcrumbs, poppy seeds, cottage cheese, or my suggestion, cinnamon sugar. Since there’s no sugar in the dough, that sweet finish is just the right touch, especially if your plums have a gently tart twang.

Welcome to Plumland, where everyday is fruitful and the residents are very sweet.

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Get the Full Scoop

It’s easy to poke fun at the absurd “national holidays” that litter the calendar, if you’re really desperate to celebrate something on an otherwise unremarkable day, but this one is legit. Decreed by President Reagan back in 1984, the third Sunday in July has since been known as National Ice Cream Day.

In case you’ve lost all sense of time, [you’re not alone] that day is today! Vanilla is still the most popular flavor worldwide, but if your tastes are a bit more adventurous, I’ve got a real treat for you.

Super Vegan Scoops! is now available for pre-order on Amazon.com! My second ice cream cookbook following on the success of Vegan a la Mode, this vibrant ode to plant-based frozen desserts offers one-of-a-kind flavors and frosty grand finales like the world has never seen before.

Novelties, cakes, sandwiches, sundaes, and even baked goods made with melted ice cream- Yes! The secrets are laid out in brilliant full-color detail at your fingertips, and soon, in your own kitchen.

Coming May 2021, I promise it will be worth the wait. Pre-order now to get in on the first shipment!