Vegan-friendly holiday dessert tips

The holidays can be overwhelming, especially if you have dietary restrictions. For all my vegan or dairy/egg allergy friends/followers, there's a good chance that you will feel deprived of the many delicious desserts offered to you, filled with ingredients that you can't (or should not) eat. While your reasons may be for ethical, religious, moral or health, the holidays are for everyone, regardless of your dietary needs. Everyone deserves to yum!

In my recent issue of Food and Nutrition (Nov/Dec 2017) on pg. 23, there was a great article titled "Mastering Vegan Baking."

I wanted to share a few ingredient swaps from the article, to help you make eight traditional desserts, vegan friendly.

  1. Whipped cream - Combine full-fat chilled coconut cream, powdered sugar and vanilla extract.
  2. Tiramisu - Extra-firm tofu blended with raw cashews, sugar and lemon juice.
  3. Flan - Extra-firm silken tofu paired with high-fat non-dairy milk (ex. coconut milk). Combine with agar flakes (a thickener made from red seaweed), sugar and vanilla extract.
  4. Creme brulee - Silken tofu, full-fat coconut milk, sugar, vanilla extract and cornstarch. Sugar is key for the caramelized top. Ground turmeric can create a golden color in vegan creme brulee or flan.
  5. Panna cotta - Full-fat coconut milk, vanilla extract, sugar and a thickener such as agar powder and tapoica flour.
  6. Gelato or ice cream - High-fat non-dairy milk, such as coconut, combined with sugar and cornstarch.
  7. Pie crust - Chilled vegan butter, shortening substitute or coconut oil combined with all-purpose flour, salt and ice water.
  8. Tres leches - Plain unsweetened soy milk plus apple cider vinegar to create buttermilk. To make the soaking liquid, which creates the moist cake, combine vegan sweetened condensed milk and full-fat coconut milk. 

Other vegan-friendly food swap tips:
  • Eggs
    Powdered eggs (made with potato and tapoica starches)
    -Flax "egg" - 1 tbsp finely ground flaxseed + 3 tbsp water
    -Mashed banana (1/2 banana = ~1 egg)
    -Baking soda + vinegar (1 tsp baking soda + 1 tbsp white vinegar = 1 egg)
    -Aquafaba - the liquid from canned chickpeas and other legumes
  • Milk and Dairy-Plant-based full-fat or lower-fat replacement
    -For buttermilk - 1 cup soy milk + 1 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar
    -For traditional sweetened condensed milk - coconut milk + white sugar + vanilla extract
  • Butter
    Vegan spread (palm oil or vegetable oil)
    -Coconut oil or avocado
  • Honey
    Maple syrup
    -Agave nectar
    -Apple honey
  • Chocolate
    Cocoa powder
    -Frosting - bitter cocoa powder + vegan sweetener + powdered sugar + vegan-friendly butter, coconut oil or cashew cream. Add non-dairy milk and vanilla extract.


The underestimated celery plant

History has taught us that plants were commonly used for medicinal reasons, either to cure or reduce symptoms from an illness. Still today, there's no denying that food can be our medicine.

Back in the 1600's, in ancient Egypt, Rome and China, celery was medicinally used to treat health issues, like arthritis and indigestion. Rich in water and a good source of Vitamin K, Celery provides antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, thanks to it's many phytochemicals (ex. phenolic acids, flavones and flavonols). Although commonly recognized as a "diet" food, with every crunch, you are also providing your body with a great dose of nutrients, like vitamin C, potassium, folate and vitamin B6.

I love celery as each stalk provides a nice crunch. And despite containing only around 35 mg of sodium, somehow the slight bitterness tricks the taste buds to make you believe that you are eating something salty. Whether you enjoy your celery as "ants on a log" or chopped/diced in salads or in stews, celery can be steamed, blanched, braised or sauteed. 

In addition to the stalk, the leaves and seeds can be also used in cooking.

And you can also eat the root of celery!

While the look may not be appetizing, celery root (also called celeriac) has the taste of celery and parsley, combined into one.

I remember when Karel and I were engaged in 2007 and he wanted to prepare me a traditional Czech Christmas dinner. Although he did have to make some vegetarian modifications for me, as the typical meal that he was use to included fish soup, potato salad and fried carp or schnitzel, I could not get over the delicious taste of the potato salad. Karel had to go to several different grocery stores in the Jacksonville, FL area (where we were living at the time) because he had no luck finding the star ingredient, next to the potatoes - celery root!  Finally, he was able to find a celery root for his recipe.

I was inspired to write this blog post after reading an article on Celery in the latest Nov/Dec 2017 issue of Food and Nutrition magazine (from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics).

While I was excited to share some nutritional information about celery root, this article reminded me how important it is to see food for much more than calories, fat, protein or carbs. By shifting your view on food, you can eat with less/no guilt or anxiety and feel good about what you are putting into your body. Food shouldn't be tied to rules and it certainly should not be used a control mechanism.
For myself, food often connects me to Karel's upbringing and culture, since he did not grow up in the United States of America but instead, grew up in a communist country in Czech Republic (formally Czechoslovakia). 

Food plays an important role in our lives. With better eating comes better health and with that comes an enhanced quality of life. 


Don't be afraid to ask for help

When Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition LLC became an official business, I was given a lot of advice about starting a new business - some advice was helpful, a little was discouraging and a lot of it was overwhelming. But the best piece of advice that I was given was "don't try to do everything. Ask for help."

Many people do not like to ask for help as it can be seen as a sign of weakness, there could be fear of rejection or feelings of not being good enough. Some people just don't like to ask for help due to pride or ego. But this piece of advice encouraged me to focus on what I was good at (ex. coaching and nutrition) and to let others help me in the areas that I knew nothing about (ex. accounting). Still today, I don't mind asking for help as I like to collaborate with professionals who specialize in areas that I am not an expert in and I can learn from others. There's nothing foolish or inadequate about not knowing it all.

Asking for help, whether it's business/work related or life focused can boost productivity and can help you accomplish more tasks with greater ease. And this doesn't just apply to work. Sometimes I like to ask for a little help from the grocery store when I am time-crunched and I need to invest in pre-chopped veggies, a box of granola, a can of soup or ready-to-eat grains. I call these my semi-homemade meals as I know a little help from the store as it's not realistic for me to eat only real food every day of my life. 

I feel no shame in asking for help when I need a little assistance. I also like to ask for help when I feel overwhelmed with our back-end work at Trimarni. I don't find value in sacrificing sleep or time spent exercising for my mind/body/soul, when I know there is someone else who would love to help out so that I can focus on what I specialize in -which is coaching and nutrition.

Although asking for work or life related help may help you accomplish more tasks in a shorter amount of time (or may help with productivity), asking for help when it's related to your health can be very hard.

It's typical for people to avoid asking for help when before they need it and then when they really, really need it, the help is often found on the internet or forum due to embarrassment or frustration. Most people want to fix problems without the assistance of another person. And when a person is desperate for help because a problem occurred, there's often the tendency to think "I wish I would have gotten help weeks/months ago." Asking for and receiving health in a timely manner can positively impact your health and well-being. Prevention is cheaper than medicine.

If you are struggling with something in your life or with your health or you feel overwhelmed with everything on your to-do list, I encourage you to ask for help. Don't try to do it all. If you are a coach, create a team of other professionals so that you can better help your athletes with nutrition, mental skills, therapy/rehab and strength training. If you are a business owner, focus on your specialty and let others do what you are not good at. If you have an issue with your health, reach out to a professional for help. Asking for help shows strength, not weakness. You are not a burden for asking for help. When you need something done, ask for help so that you can get on with living your life.

Above all, asking for help shows that you respect the expertise of someone else (because you don't know it all) and it gives another person the opportunity to provide their assistance, knowledge or help so that everyone feels accomplished/satisfied.