Vegan MoFo #15: Raw Blueberry-Lavender Birthday Cupcakes

vegan mofo 2013

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.

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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.

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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.

 

Guest Post on Not Your Ordinary Recipes: Banana Soft Serve Ice Cream & Variations

Today, dear readers, I’d like to direct you toward the blog Not Your Ordinary Recipes, where I have a guest post published that features banana soft-serve ice cream. If you’ve never experienced the life-changing method of crafting delectably creamy frozen treats solely from the humble fruit, I’d urge you to head over to Becky’s blog and learn how to do so. Indeed, reveling in the joys of soft-serve-esque, dairy-free ice cream requires no more than a couple frozen bananas, a food processor, and about four minutes of your time.

My post also offers suggestions for transforming the basic banana soft-serve recipe into decadent ice cream creations using additional ingredients such as fresh fruit, peanut butter, cocoa powder, herbs, and spices. Who knew that homemaking mouthwatering ice cream flavors like Butter Pecan, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Lavender Lemon, and Roasted Strawberry Cardamom required only a handful of ordinary ingredients and absolutely no ice cream-maker?

Head over to Not Your Ordinary Recipes to begin the journey toward opening your own banana soft-serve ice cream truck!

Until next time, Ali.

Curried Carrot-Coconut Salad

Every Sunday and Wednesday nights mark the biweekly grocery shopping excursions embarked upon to replenish the Ferry House refrigerator with its usual bounty of fresh produce. However, because a house full of 21 hungry veg*n college students shares this bounty, it disappears into happy tummies. Fast. So fast that by the time the upcoming grocery shopping trip rolls around, one will most likely find a quite empty Ferry refrigerator. Case in point:

This temporary dearth of veggies proves most disheartening to the Ferry House members responsible for cooking dinner on Sunday and Wednesday night, seeing as grocery shopping happens after or during dinnertime. This Sunday, my spunky fellow Ferry-er Tamsin and I faced the refrigerator displayed above while charged with creating a satisfying meal for our 20 other house members. Containing nothing other than tomatoes, carrots, green bell peppers, garlic, lemons, and the previous night’s leftovers, the refrigerator essentially defined our dinner menu: a salsa of roasted tomatoes, peppers, and garlic; leftover adzuki-amaranth patties refurbished into a “pilaf” with lemon juice; and a shredded carrot salad.

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Amazingly, Tamsin and I managed to create three rather phenomenally flavored dishes, but the carrot salad in particular stood out as the highlight of dinner. Tangy, succulent, and refreshing with the coconut’s tropical hint, the curry’s mellow spiciness, and the maple syrup’s deep sweetness, this salad earned multiple compliments from my dear Ferries. Though not available to Tamsin and I in the house’s brief food shortage, raisins and scallions would make lovely additions to this salad.

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Curried Carrot-Coconut Salad—Raw, Soy Free, Nut Free, Low Sodium, Low Fat

Serves 8-10.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 lbs carrots (about 8 large carrots), shredded
2/3 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
3 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1-1 1/2 tsp curry powder
Black pepper and salt to taste

Combine the shredded carrots and coconut in a large bowl. Mix well until combined.

Whisk together the maple syrup, oil, vinegar, and curry powder. Pour over the carrot mixture and toss until well-coated. Serve and enjoy!

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Recipe submitted to Healthy Vegan Fridays and Wellness Weekend.

Comment Provoking Questions: What are some of your favorite improvised dishes?

Until next time, Ali.

Quickie Post: Lavender-Cardamom Nut Butter

This past Friday, to finish off the last of my stock of sprouted almonds and sunflower seeds, I opted to puree up another batch of homemade nut butter. However, I didn’t have enough sprouted nuts to facilitate blending in my regularly-sized foot processor, so I made up the difference with a bit of flaxseed meal. I had also, on a whim, picked up a bit of dried lavender buds during my most recent jaunt to the top-notch natural food store and vegan deli of Mother Earth’s Storehouse, and they caught my eye just as I prepared to create my nut butter concoction. Deciding to go all-out in my flavored nut butter-ing, I added the sweet spice of cardamom and a bit of vanilla extract to compliment the lavender. The thick nut butter that ensued imparted one of the most addictive aromas my nose has ever had the pleasure of smelling, and added an unbelievable dimension to my creamy banana-hemp oatmeal the next morning.

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Obviously, you can create this nut butter with any blend of nuts you prefer, sprouted or not. If you use non-sprouted nuts, though, I’d recommend toasting them first to tenderize them and lighten the labor of your food processor.

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Lavender-Cardamom Nut Butter—Raw, Oil Free, Soy Free, Low Sodium.

Makes about 1 cup.

1/2 cup almonds, sprouted or toasted
1/2 cup sunflower seeds, sprouted or toasted
1/2 cup flaxseed meal
1 tsp dried lavender buds
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine the almonds, sunflower seeds, and flaxseed meal in the bowl of a food processor. Blend for up to 20 minutes, scraping down the sides as needed, until the nuts adopt a creamy, liquidinous texture (don’t fret, it will happen sooner or later!). Add the lavender, cardamom, and vanilla, and process until fully incorporated. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

Recipe submitted to Waste Not Want Not Wednesdays, Allergy Free Wednesdays, Raw Food Thursdays, Foodtastic Fridays, Healthy Vegan Fridays, and Wellness Weekend.

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Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have another essay to write refuting Michael Pollan’s assertion that supporting “humane meat” will combat industrial agriculture more effectively than adopting a vegan diet.

Until next time, Ali.