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Vegan for the Holidays

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Vegetarians in Paradise
Vegetarian Reading

Vegetarian Books

Each issue the VIP birds endeavor to soar to the highest literary peak to peck out the most unique, informative, and accomplished book that contributes to vegetarian enlightenment.

This month we feature two cookbooks at contrasting poles of the vegan spectrum -- cooked and raw. One spotlights the recipes of the founder of a successful vegan restaurant. The other shows how raw foods can contribute to a woman's beauty. Both espouse the benefits of organic ingredients.

The Real Food Daily Cookbook

By Ann Gentry with Anthony Head

Ten Speed Press, 2005

Paperback, $24.95

With two successful vegan restaurants operating since 1993 in the hippest neighborhoods of Los Angeles and Santa Monica, it was inevitable that owner Ann Gentry would eventually write a stunning cookbook featuring the most popular dishes served at the Real Food Daily restaurants.

While Real Food Daily is a vegan restaurant, it does not appeal exclusively to vegetarians and vegans. "I'd comfortably say that over half of our guests are not vegetarian or vegan. Instead, they're simply educated consumers who want high-quality ingredients prepared in creative and innovative ways. They want food that is delicious and satisfying. They want 'real food,'" says Ann. The restaurant maintains its high standards by featuring benchmark cuisine with 85 to 90 percent organic produce.

Ann, a young woman from Memphis, Tennessee, arrived in New York with aspirations of a career in acting. Supporting herself, she began waiting tables and working at a vegetarian restaurant where she met Roger Leggat, a chef who shared much of his culinary knowledge and enthusiasm about the health benefits of fresh, natural foods. She flirted with vegetarianism, yet struggled with health problems. Only after fasting and healing did she realize the close relationship between health and diet.

During her transition to vegetarianism, she learned about the macrobiotic approach to eating and how to prepare her own foods. When her acting career took her to California, she expected to "discover a mecca of natural foods restaurants," but was quite disappointed. Bringing her homemade vegan foods to the set earned her a reputation that led to becoming Danny DeVito's private chef during the making of Throw Mama from the Train.

Following her personal chef experience, she created a home delivery business while still maintaining her career. By the time she established more than 30 delivery customers, she realized she had to make a major career decision and opted to follow her vegan path. The first Real Food Daily opened on Santa Monica Boulevard in 1993 and remains a bustling icon for well-prepared truly healthy food.

Real Food Daily Cookbook While The Real Food Daily Cookbook is not a macrobiotic cookbook, Ann is a devotee of the macrobiotic principles and says, "The Real Food Daily approach is an innovative and life-enhancing blend of world cuisines, and this book is about living in harmony with our environment and reaping the delicious rewards." The menu reflects seasonal local produce.

Graphically appealing, the book contains many full-page color photos with such attractive and professional food styling that a reader just may want to dash into the kitchen and assemble each of the dishes. Additionally, division pages wear a deep, greyed hue of blue that displays an internal index printed in white. Red titles accent the recipes, while secondary recipes appear in pastel orange. Giving the book a weighty, yet high-quality appearance are elegant, clay-coated pages. Smaller photos of the author's history appear in the introductory section.

Along with familiar dishes like Hummus with Pita, Guacamole, Refried Black Beans, and Roasted Spring and Summer Vegetables, the book offers a host of delightful surprises. Unique recipes that built the restaurant's reputation include Cashew Cheddar Cheese and Green Noodle Roll found in the Starter section.

One of the innovative dishes that employs the Cashew Cheddar Cheese is the easily prepared Baked Spelt Macaroni with Cashew Cheddar Cheese, a homey pasta dish tossed with melted cheese, then baked. Topping off the perennial favorite is a homemade blend of whole-wheat breadcrumbs, Italian parsley, olive oil, garlic, and freshly ground black pepper. And when a dish combines just the right ingredients with the perfect balance of flavor and texture, it can be sublime.

Another starter, the Living Paradise with Raw Tomato Sauce, gathers up veggies like daikon radish, arugula, cucumber, yellow squash, red bell pepper, green onions, carrots, and zucchini and layers them on dampened rice paper sheets. Raw Cashew Cheese is piped along the top, then the rice paper is rolled up, enclosing the ingredients. A Raw Tomato Sauce made with both fresh and sun-dried tomatoes becomes a dipping sauce that accompanies this super-healthy creation.

Real Food Daily takes the sandwich to new heights with The Club, a decadent, mouthwatering affair with Chicken-Style Seitan dipped into a batter, then into panko, and fried until crisp and golden. The seitan is then layered into a double-decker extravaganza with tempeh bacon, avocado, tomato, and lettuce on sourdough bread slathered with vegan mayonnaise.

Another tempter is the Creole Tempeh Gumbo, a southern-style dish that reaches into Ann's Tennessee roots. The recipe features chunks of rice syrup and tamari marinated tempeh in a richly seasoned, thick soup with an abundance of veggies. Traditional filé powder seasoning finishes the gumbo that's spooned into bowls of steamed brown rice.

The author gives Pecan Pie, a long-time Southern favorite, the vegan make-over that's baked into an Oat Pastry Crust. Rather than eggs that thicken traditional pecan pies, her recipe cleverly employs arrowroot and ground flaxseeds.

Other delectable desserts featured in the book include Peanut Butter and Jam Cookies, Tofu Cheesecake with Raspberry Puree, and Double-layer Carrot Cake with Tofu Cream Cheese Frosting.

Because cooking mistakes can happen in anyone's kitchen, Ann's philosophy is to "Stay Loose and Stay the Course." She explains that by staying loose you'll find that sometimes accidents can lead to delicious discoveries. By staying the course, she emphasizes following the recipe exactly to achieve the desired results.

An extensive list of kitchen equipment and utensils and a section detailing The Basics of Working with Real Foods explains items like tempeh and how to work with it. This section flows into a complete glossary that helps to inform the newcomer about vegan food preparation.

The Real Food Daily Cookbook is a cookbook collector's dream-attractive graphic layout, quality paper, several full-color photos, gorgeous cover design, and exceptional recipes. It's also a treasure that any reader would be glad to own. Consider it an exceptional volume of original recipes and one that would make a welcome gift to those who love to putter in the kitchen as well as those who take pleasure in serious cooking.

Beautiful on Raw: unCooked Creations

By Tonya Zavasta

BR Publishing, 2006

Paper $20.00

While pills cure ills, they cannot make a woman beautiful. But in her book, Beautiful on Raw, author Tonya Zavasta reveals her true path to beauty and has made beauty through the raw lifestyle her lifetime pursuit.

With a master's degree in mechanical engineering, Tonya was admitted into a doctoral program in mathematics at the University of Memphis at the same time she began her new raw food regimen. But while attending a lecture, she had an epiphany. The professor, an elderly woman in her seventies, appeared to be quite ill, and grotesquely so, yet was able to speak with passion about her subject. Tonya realized at that moment that achieving beauty, rather than studying mathematics, was her own passion and the direction where she felt most drawn. She abandoned her career in higher mathematics to help herself and other women grow more beautiful on a raw food diet.

Beautiful on Raw contains numerous recipes, yet it is more than a cookbook. The author praises the benefits of raw food and feels her words pale when comparing the actual results. Seeking out other women who also experienced a profound transformation when they adopted the raw lifestyle, she shares the uplifting stories of ten who made the transition from cooked to raw foods and encouraged each to share a recipe.

Because Tonya has experienced such a dramatic transformation she directs the book to all women who are plain and imperfect, women whose dream it is to become beautiful. She puts the emphasis on100 raw ingredients by featuring each one with a page of nutritional and benefits that boast the food's nutrients and phytochemical content.

Preceding the recipes, the author provides a concise method for sprouting and offers recommendations for the ideal kitchen equipment to achieve optimal results in working with raw foods. Her own kitchen appliances include a standard blender, high-powered blender, juicer, spiral slicer, mandoline slicer, food processor, and coffee grinder. Not included in her list is a dehydrator used in some of the recipes.

Rather than presenting a cookbook with numerous recipes that are divided into typical segments like juices, appetizers, salads, entrees, soups, cookies, desserts, shakes, and smoothies, Tonya puts the focus on the individual foods rather than the recipes. "I am not a chef, nor do I claim to be one. I never liked to cook, so for me one of the attractions of raw food was the ultimate simplicity," says Tonya explaining that her recipes are for everyday use.

Every other page features one of the 100 foods she most values, while on the facing page Tonya includes a recipe that incorporates that item.

For example, apples are featured in a juice recipe that contains only three ingredients. The facing page discusses the soluble fiber content of apples and how fiber helps to lower cholesterol and stabilize the blood sugar. In just a few simple paragraphs the reader learns apples contain vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, biotin, folic acid, and pantothenic acid and how the minerals in the fruit do wonders for the hair, skin, and fingernails. Quercetin is the antioxidant in apples that keeps the heart and lungs healthy and reduces the risk of lung cancer.

The Juice section also spotlights individual recipes that focus on beet roots and beet greens, zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, parsley, celery, broccoli, and concludes with an Anti-Aging Asparagus Juice containing zucchini, celery, and sweet apples as well.

Rather than creating complex preparations, Tonya makes the raw lifestyle very appealing and completely doable with recipes requiring minimal effort. Rather than turning busy folks off, Tonya's recipes are likely to motivate them because of their ease, visual appeal, and healthful qualities. The Napa Cabbage Cole Slaw couldn't be easier-all eight ingredients are tossed into a large salad bowl and allowed to marinate 15 minutes. Beautiful on Raw Cookbook

Ginger Root takes center stage in the Tropical Dressing that places tropical fruits like pineapple, mango, and papaya into the blender along with ginger, lemon juice, and sea salt. And while making this dressing, the reader discovers that ginger increases circulation and diminishes pain from osteoarthritis. Ginger also has antihistamine properties, stimulates the immune system, and lowers fevers. This knobby herb is also a digestive aid and is used to combat seasickness and improve blood flow.

Pine Nuts give body to the Nut and Seed Cheese and are a key ingredient in the Gratinee of Cauliflower, a delightful appetizer with a tangy quality and hearty nutrition. Tonya tells her readers that pine nuts have long been neglected and should be recognized for their good fats that help to lower cholesterol and blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Of the hearty Entrees, Healthy Buckwheat Burgers is a two-part recipe that results in a burger bun and a burger filling. Still, the process is simple, consisting of four ingredients that first enjoy a spin in the food processor and are then combined with seasonings. The mixture is formed into buns and tucked into the dehydrator to dry. The filling is a combo of marinated mushrooms, sliced onion, and sliced tomato layered between two of the dehydrated burger buns.

Keeping the focus on healthy raw foods may pose a dessert challenge to some, but Tonya provides a recipe for her Clever Carrot Cake complete with Icing, pictured in a beautifully decorated color photo section at the end of the book.

With five raw pie recipes and four raw cake recipes, dessert lovers need not feel neglected. And when the weather invites cooling treats, prepare Peach-Pineapple Sorbet and discover that peaches date back to the 10th century BCE. This refreshing fruit also acts as a natural laxative and can push toxins out of the body improving the complexion and hair.

The brief primer on the Advanced Raw Food Lifestyle appears just before the Index. Uniquely placed at the very end of the book are four attractive pages in full color displaying several of the dishes Tonya prepares.

While the book has many fine attributes, one shortcoming is that the binding does not allow the book to open wide and lie flat. Omitted on all of the recipes are serving sizes, leaving the reader wondering how many people will each recipe serve. These shortcomings, however, are rather small, considering that the book is well researched and offers the hope of beauty to many while they prepare some of the healthiest foods on earth.

Reviewed July 2006

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