I feel like I mention this in every blog post with a vegan recipe, but I just want to be very clear: I’m not a vegan. In fact, I really love raw dairy, grass-fed meat and wild seafood – I just haven’t blogged about them as much as I blog about vegan meals. Why? Simple answer: as an Orthodox Christian, I try to fast from animal products a few times per year, most notably during Lent (i.e. now). I find vegan eating to be quite challenging, because I love natural fats. They keep me satiated, help me stay in shape, and allow me to absorb fat-soluble vitamins in the salads I love to eat everyday. So in order to stay satiated and keep myself from gaining weight during these fasts, I have to get creative with my recipes, and find other sources of natural plant-based fats that can satisfy my cravings. Naturally, when I victoriously produce a satisfying vegan recipe, I am quite eager to blog about it!
Some plant-based fats I enjoy during Lent include:
Coconut – I love all things coconut, and include it in my diet even when I’m not fasting. I use virgin coconut oil to lightly saute veggies and in smoothies, and in vegan baking. I also use unsweeted, unsulfured shredded coconut in smoothies and baking, and coconut manna (dried whole, unsweetened coconut) in smoothies and all kinds of recipes, including this one for curried cauliflower soup. I do avoid store-bought coconut milk though, because a) it has added synthetic vitamins and is watered down b) the creamier ones are sold in cans, and I have a bias towards any kind of plastic lining, even “BPA-free”. I did make coconut milk at home, and I’m planning to blog about it, but it’s kind of a laborious process, so I’d stick with the coconut manna (dried coconut) dissolved in filtered water to make coconut “milk” – similar end result anyway. I also use coconut flour from time to time to make easy grain-free pancakes and crusts – yum! Anyway, all this to say: I really don’t think I can do a vegan fast without coconut!
How to make a vegan soup super creamy and filling …
If you’re making a vegan soup, but you still want it to have a creamy taste and consistency, you can’t use awesome homemade chicken broth/stock or bone broth, because … well, then it’s not vegan anymore. You also can’t use any dairy products like cream or milk to achieve the creamy effect you so crave. Another thickener used in soups is gluten (in the form of various flours), but if you’re avoiding gluten or grains for health reasons, you won’t be able to use those either. But don’t despair! There’s a great solution, my friends, and it’s called coconut! With coconut oil, manna (dried coconut), and homemade coconut milk, you can achieve the creamiest soup you’ve ever had, and it would still be vegan!
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Fresh lemon juice, to taste (add to individual plates when serving)
(1) Chop and saute onion and garlic: Chop 1 yellow or red onion and saute it on medium heat in a large pot with 2 tablespoons of virgin coconut oil. When the onion becomes translucent, add 2-3 cloves of minced garlic and saute for a few more minutes.
(2) Chop cauliflower and add to pot: Once the onions have very lightly browned and become fragrant, add the chopped cauliflower and saute for another few minutes.
(3) Heat water: In a teapot or other pot, add 6-7 cups of filtered water and heat. Pour into pot with cauliflower, onions and garlic, and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes or so until cauliflower has cooked.
(4) Blend and add seasoning: Using an immersion blender (it’s easier than transferring to blender), blend the cauliflower, onions, garlic and water into a creamy puree. Add 3-4 tablespoons coconut manna (dried coconut), and blend again to melt and incorporate the flavors. Spice it up by adding the turmeric, garam masala, allspice, cumin, coriander, and crushed cardamom pods. Add salt and pepper to taste, blend to mix in spices, and serve while hot, with a few drops of fresh lemon juice if you wish.
There’s absolutely nothing more refreshing to drink than fresh raw milk. Hands down.
I’ve been buying raw (unpasteurized) milk straight from a local dairy farmer for almost a year now. I’ve had this draft on my blog that I’ve been meaning to complete and publish for … close to a year. It’s about time for me to share the good news! To be honest, it took some time for me to warm up to the idea of drinking whole milk, unpasteurized. Wouldn’t I gain weight? (Hah, I was glad to learn that the opposite is true!) Was it dangerous? To put it lightly, I wasn’t immediately comfortable with the idea of drinking milk straight from a farm animal, without any “disinfection”. I initially made the decision out of necessity. Now, almost a year into it, I can honestly say that raw dairy – including full-fat milk, yogurt, cheese, cream, butter – is my favorite food group, and that I’ve only experienced health and weight loss from drinking the stuff; never any kind of health issue or disease. What? You need more details to believe me? Well, read on, dear friends …
First Things First: An Introduction to Raw Milk
What is raw milk?
Raw milk is milk straight from the cow, goat or sheep – whole, unfiltered, unheated, unrefined, with full fat. It is unpasteurized and unhomogenized.
Not all raw milk is equal. Most people who are proponents of it, when they discuss raw milk, are referring to milk from pasture-raised cows that are at least mostly grass-fed, and that are free of antibiotics and growth hormones. However, when anti-raw-milk people discuss it, they usually refer to studies that do not take the source of the milk into account, and might include milk from feedlot (conventionally-raised) cows. It also does not necessarily take into account practices, whether raw milk is from cows that are tested, how frequently they are tested, etc. All is lumped into one “raw” category typically.
“The milk is pumped under high pressure which smashes the milk molecules so hard. Homogenization splits and exposes the molecules.” The hard science goes like this: A raw milk molecule is surrounded by a membrane, which protects it from oxygen. Homogenization decreases the average diameter of each fat globule and significantly increases the surface area. Because there’s now not enough membrane to cover all of this new surface area, the molecules are easily exposed to oxygen, and the fats become oxidized (Wartman).
The beautiful Guernsey cow, Aris, at Sunny Knoll Ecofarm in Virginia.
Our Raw Milk Testimony
As I mentioned before, we initially sought out raw milk out of necessity. You see, my husband caught a terrible stomach bug when he was in Hawaii for a conference in 2009, which landed him in the hospital a week before our wedding. Yeah, to say that I was pretty freaked out is an understatement! Thank God, he somehow became well enough to get married to me a week later. Unfortunately, the severity of the bug and the cocktail of antibiotics he was given left his stomach really sensitive, and he became completely unable to digest store-bought dairy products. We dabbled with lactose-free dairy for a bit, but it was too processed for my liking, and it tasted nothing like the real whole milk we have been used to drinking all our lives. And cheese … almost no lactose-free cheese existed in stores and those that were available did not taste good. The lactase pills my husband took from time to time to aid in digesting even foods with a little bit of dairy didn’t really do their job … We exhausted all conventional options before exploring others.
There had to be another solution to my husband’s dairy intolerance. He wanted to enjoy milk as before, and I wanted to drink it without feeling guilty! After days of online research, I came across this FAQ about raw dairy, which gave me a glimmer of hope:
Chances are good that you may [be able to digest raw milk], even if you’re of African or Asian descent, assuming you can find a reliable source near your home. Unheated milk contains its full complement of enzymes and lactase-producing bacteria needed by our bodies to break down and assimilate the milk sugar lactose. These helpful bacteria are killed in the pasteurization and homogenization process. Fermented milk products, such as yogurt and kefir, naturally lower in lactose due to the actions of various Lactobacillus and other lactic acid-producing bacteria, may be better tolerated by some.
Prior to reading this, I had no idea that unheated (unpasteurized) milk has lactase already in it! That’s why so many people are “lactose-intolerant”. They’ve been drinking denatured milk, with a whole lot of lactose and no enzyme to effectively digest it! After reading many anecdotal experiences online of people whose digestive systems, allergies, and other serious conditions have been alleviated or even healed by drinking raw milk, I was … skeptical. It can’t be this simple, I thought. These stories have to be so few and far between, and there must be a good reason why pasteurization came about! Weren’t people dying left and right before this noble process? (Actually, the story of pasteurization is more complicated than it seems.)
I did what anyone considering raw dairy would do: I consulted with a physician. Not so smart, it seems, because apparently physicians have almost no nutritional training, and most have no idea that there are people who actually still consume raw milk. The basic response from the doc amounted to “You’re nuts. Your husband should just quit the dairy and keep taking the lactase pills whenever necessary.” I was not thrilled with his answer, and so I discarded it.
As all good things start, two friends – each from a different background – started raving about raw milk. One of them is a mom with four young children, and she gives them raw milk frequently from a local farmer. The other friend is a young working professional who started reading about the importance of healthy saturated fats, and discovered that the milk that is sold in stores is nutritionally inferior to the raw stuff. When I started reading about the importance of healthy fats, I decided to look into raw milk more closely. But because raw milk has been so demonized in media and conventional medicine, I was really suspicious at first. I read a lot of information about the risks associated with raw milk as well as the supposed benefits, and I decided to give it a shot.
Pathogen testing: The cows should be routinely tested for pathogens.
Unprocessed in any way: I wanted my milk full-fat and unhomogenized … which I didn’t have to even worry about, because all raw milk is naturally unprocessed in that way!
Small local farm: The dairy had to be from a small local farm that I can visit any time I’d like, and whose practices I can verify.
Glass packaging: I wanted the dairy packaged in glass. Why ruin perfect raw milk by having it packaged in plastic with all the BPA and other chemicals leaching into it?
In May 2011, after we found a source for raw milk that met every one of these criteria, we placed an order through email, and went to the designated pick-up location to pick up the dairy in the city. The creamy raw milk, pastured soy-free eggs, and other delicious raw dairy products were exchanged with cash from the back of a van at a street intersection (yeah, the interaction is as funny as it sounds).
We went home, and took out two glasses for the both of us. Hands a little shaky, I twisted the tin caps off the glass jars, and carefully poured half a glass first. I brought it up to my mouth, and sniffed a bit before gulping down a generous sip. Seriously — and I swear I’m not exaggerating — it was the tastiest sip of cool creamy milk I had ever tasted. I had fallen in love, and I was never going back to that ultra-pasteurized grocery store junk that pretended it was real milk ever again.
Here’s my first cup of raw milk with a raw vegan ABC cookie (recipe on my blog!)
You want to know the craziest part? The raw milk (and other raw dairy) was not only fully tolerated by my lactose-intolerant husband; but it actually improved his overall digestion over time. The probiotics in the milk helped his gut flora repopulate over time, making his digestion more resilient. (FYI, it was found that healthy gut flora improves immunity.)
Dealing with the Doubters & Haters
Yes, I know what you may be thinking: “It’s rash. There are risks associated with raw milk.” To that, I have two answers:
Isn’t there a risk with everything in this life? Crossing the street, driving a car, eating at many restaurants (each sourcing its food from random places), flying a plane, confessing your love to a good friend – I can go on – but you get the point. At the same time, risks can be controlled in different ways: for example, I would never in a million years drink unpasteurized milk from conventionally raised cows. The criteria I mentioned above for selecting my source of raw milk certainly mitigates the risks substantially. What I am not trying to do in this post is try to defend the decision to drink raw milk; but I am simply sharing my experience as well as some resources you may find interesting or helpful. I am by no means implying that everyone should drink raw milk – or even drink dairy at all if it does not make sense to you – but I want to share some of the information I have come across recently, because knowledge is power … or something like that.
Someone somewhere decided that raw milk isn’t safe to consume, but raw fish (sushi), raw meat (steak tartar), and raw eggs (eggnog) are perfectly fine … despite the lack of scientific evidence that raw milk is “inherently dangerous” and somehow more dangerous than other raw foods which are sold in stores, and also despite the fact that some of the sources of these other raw foods might be highly questionable and people have gotten sick from them! Whack. I won’t go into details here, but just consider that the largest foodborne salmonella outbreak related to milk was in 1985. In that case, the pasteurized low fat (2%) milk came from a large dairy farm and yet, it killed 9 people and infected 5,295 people.
In Chicago, I bought raw milk directly from a farmer, which is legal. When I moved to Virginia, I had to join a cow-share (also known as a herd share). So, instead of “buying milk”‘; I technically own a part of a Guernsey cow, and the milk it provides is mine to deal with. Yes, it’s not the most convenient way to get the milk, but I’m thankful it’s there, because otherwise, it would be technically completely illegal to even drink the milk. Whack again, I know.
Raw Milk is Better than Gold
So, why do I think raw milk is so great? Oh let me count the ways … these are just off the top of my head:
While organic milk is better than conventional milk because it at least guarantees that the animal received no antibiotics or growth hormones, buying organic milk does not guarantee that the animal is pasture-raised (free roaming) or grass-fed (it could be grain fed, and that’s not traditional cow/goat/sheep food because they are naturally grazing animals). If you buy milk from a local farm, you can visit the farm yourself to see the way the animals are raised, where they’re milked and how the milk is handled.
The lovely Guernsey cows, RuthAnn & her calf Buttercup, at Sunny Knoll Ecofarm in Virginia.
And let me tell you, it’s very reassuring to know where your food comes from (as was customary in the days prior to the industrial revolution), and to visit the farm yourself if you want to see the cows grazing on lush grass, as I did last year when deciding on a local farm to own my cow share and get my dairy.
“Several of milk’s natural components including beneficial bacteria, food enzymes, natural vitamins and immunoglobulins are heat-sensitive. These health-promoting components of natural, raw milk are destroyed by heating and therefore not present in pasteurized or UHT milk. Indeed, many foods – milk included – provide best nutrition when consumed in a raw or minimally cooked state. While heating milk doesn’t change the mineral composition to any great degree, it does, however, change its bioavailability rendering all that lovely calcium less absorbable”.
(3) Protection from asthma and other health disorders – There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence to show that many have been healed by consuming raw milk. Improvements in autism, asthma, metabolic syndrome, mood disorders, irritable bowl syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease … I can go on. To read some testimonials, click here. But for all you doubters out there, a large European study known as the GABRIELA study has shown that children who drink raw milk are 40% less likely to develop allergies and asthma than children who drink pasteurized milk. In my husband’s case, raw milk was not only more digestible; the probiotics (good bacteria) therein actually helped repair his digestion. And frankly, that’s good enough evidence for me.
(4) Supporting local agriculture as opposed to oppressive feedlots - Buying milk that has been shipped from miles away compromises the milk’s freshness and supports big agribusiness which often has less than stellar practices within the dairy industry. Besides the antibiotics, hormones, and damaging effects of homogenization and pasteurization mentioned earlier, the milk in a carton in your local grocery stores is not from one or two … or three cows. It’s a mix of hundreds of cows from different dairies, so it’s practically impossible to trace back to one farm or source. You can’t verify the quality even if you wanted to. Additionally, the cost of the milk is divided among many: the grocery store, the supplier, the dairy farm and the farmer. If you buy locally-produced milk, you can know your farmer and your cow, and the money you pay for your milk goes to support an honest worker in your local economy. Local farming is – beyond a doubt – more sustainable for the environment, your health, and your local economy. Wins all around.
Who can say no to raw cream and pastured eggs?
Feedback on the Harvard Raw Milk Debate
On February 16, 2012, the Harvard Food Law Society hosted a debate on the legal, nutritional, and safety aspects of raw milk. I scheduled the debate on my calendar ahead of time, and listened with intent as each of the panelists shared her or his point of view. I took copious notes, as I didn’t know whether the debate would be recorded (it was). It’s an hour and half long – feel free to listen to as much of it as you’d like. My comments are below the video.
As expected, safety of raw milk was questioned over and over again during the debate, even though the two debating against raw milk could not provide any evidence to show that raw milk is especially unsafe as to warrant banning. In an upcoming post in the near future, I’ll write up highlights from the debate and give a brief explanation of why I think the pro raw milk side was more convincing based on what was presented. In the meantime, feel free to watch it and I’d be curious to find out what you conclude from it! Please share in the comments.
How to Advocate for Raw Milk
Even if you’re not passionate about raw milk, or if you’re not even convinced it’s a food that you would like to consume, you should still advocate for food freedom. How would you like it if your favorite local foods – certain vegetables, nuts, sushi, etc – were not only heavily regulated, but also banned in your area? Wouldn’t you be outraged? I urge you to sign this petition to ask your U.S. Representative to co-sponsor HR 1830, a bill introduced by Rep. Ron Paul to allow the interstate shipment of raw milk and raw milk products for human consumption. Click here to sign the petition. Join the raw milk revolution.
If you’re interested in obtaining raw milk for you or your family, your best bet is to navigate this page “Where Can I Find Raw Milk?” on the Real Milk website, which lists local farmers by state. It’s definitely not an exhaustive list though, because some farmers who have gotten in legal trouble are wary of posting their information so publicly. Another good resource is the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nonprofit with the sole goal of educating people about real food, traditional food preparation, and supporting local farmers. You can find a local chapter leader of the foundation in many parts of the world. Don’t be shy to send a short email to ask about raw milk in your hometown (feel free to link this post and say that I sent you). To my knowledge, these are the best two resources. You can also always ask people you trust who drink raw milk about the sources they use to buy it.
Having read this expose, I’m curious to hear your thoughts: how do you feel about raw dairy? Have you tried it? Would you try it?
I, like most people in the world, have a thing for chocolate. Actually, to be specific (according to a Yahoo answers page, no less), exactly 5,876,851,128 people like chocolate. Yeah, don’t ask. Anyway, so I’m pretty much obsessed with the taste of chocolate; I crave it at least once a week. And I happily satisfy the craving, with no regrets! It turns out that dark chocolate has numerous benefits, both according to conventional dietary advice and to dietary rebels in the primal food communities. Either way, it’s good news for me!
Ain't that the truth!
A couple of months ago, I was in the mood for a flavorful chocolate pudding. You know … the melt-in-your-mouth kind, with a dark chocolate bittersweet flavor? And since I don’t believe in buying pre-packaged anything, I decided on attempting a homemade version. Since I was making it myself, it’d be great if it were also raw … and why not try to make it vegan while I’m at it? That way, I can enjoy it throughout the year, and even when I’m fasting from animal products (as is customarily done in the Christian Orthodox tradition).
It took me little time to realize that this raw and vegan chocolate pudding adventure was going to be no easy feat. I had no idea where to begin! Should I use some kind of soaked nut, like cashews, as a base? Possibly. But soaking required time (overnight), and I wanted chocolate NOW. Hah, so that won’t work. I examined my fridge contents and all I had on hand were avocados. They were soft to the touch, so they were ripe! I would use avocados, and I wouldn’t tell my family members, because, well, they would think I’m crazy. In my house, avocados were the mainly used in salads and guacamole (a personal favorite). To them, avocados could never be thought of as dessert. But if only they knew how I’d revolutionize their world when they’d find out that the main ingredient in my chocolate pudding was … avocados!
I swear I didn’t plan this, but avocados are also super healthy. Rich in monounsaturated fats — yup, 85% percent of it is fat — avocados have anti-inflammatory properties that are out of this world (WH Foods). Naturally-occurring phytosterols, polyhydroxylated fatty alcohols (PFAs), and oleic acid are the three main fat components in avocados … and if that doesn’t mean much to you, you can trust in the fact that these fats and antioxidants have been shown to reduce inflammation in the body, which is at the root of many diseases. In fact, this study here shows that the PFAs in avocados can provide non-sunscreen protection against UV-induced damage in skin cells! (P.s. I don’t believe in chemical sunscreens, especially with these God-given natural alternatives available in nature. Oh, and I love the sun.)
Anyway, so armed with this little bit of knowledge about the health benefits of avocados, I was ready to start experimenting in the kitchen. Often perceived as a vegetable, I wanted to give this fruit — the avocado — back its dignity. I was determined to turn it into the best chocolate pudding anyone has ever tried.
The other ingredients I used in this mix were all ingredients I had in my pantry or in the fridge. The Ecuadorian Truly Raw Cacao Powder I had on hand was organic, fair trade and unsweetened (Pacari is a great brand for chocolate, by the way). I also had Pacari Cacao Nibs in the pantry, so I’d add a handful of those for a little added crunch. What about the sweetener? Natural is best is my motto, so I’d use either raw honey or 100% pure maple syrup (choose Grade ‘B’ for ‘better’; seriously, it’s better because it’s extracted later in the season and has more health benefits than Grade A). I can also add some medjool dates in there for good measure, and subtract some of the other sweeteners (whether honey or maple syrup). For the liquid part, I used homemade almond milk the first time (to make a vegan version), and raw cow’s milk the second time, with similar results. A little bit of coconut oil to make things nice and smooth, chia seeds for added health benefits, a tiny bit of fair trade vanilla extract, and … blend!
I gathered all my ingredients, and brought out my food processor (nothing fancy, just a Cuisinart one), and started peeling my avocados. By the way, the easiest way to take out the avocado flesh is to scoop it out! Since many of the vitamins are concentrated in the part of the avocado in contact with the skin, you should definitely scrape it off with a spoon so it doesn’t go to waste. Just slice the avocado horizontally, scoop out the flesh, squeeze the round seed from the other half and scoop out the flesh from there, and you’re done. Easy peasy.
The whole process took … you guessed it: 10 minutes! The end result? An unbelievably creamy, satisfying chocolaty dessert. I thoroughly enjoyed every bite. And my family? They loved it! Even my brother who hates avocados (weird, I know) liked the dessert and finished the whole thing.
After the first successful attempt to make this pudding, I made it again and again. So far, I have probably made it close to a dozen times, each time innovating a little and adding a bit more cacao and a little less milk. One time, I tried adding bananas in there — bad idea; the whole thing tasted like bananas and overshadowed the tasty cacao flavor!
The best discovery with this pudding is that it was so versatile. If I had the avocados and cacao powder on hand, the rest was basically interchangeable. No vanilla, no problem. I can skip that! Coconut oil running low? I can use some coconut manna (dried coconut) instead, or forget about that ingredient entirely. No almond milk in the fridge? Coconut milk works great. Want it to be a bit more creamy? Add some raw, grass-fed heavy cream in there.
Generally speaking, I’m a huge fan of adaptable, versatile, and quick recipes. In just a few minutes, I had a creamy chocolate pudding ready … made from scratch. I know all the ingredients in there, which makes me feel even more secure about its health benefits!
I urge you to try this easy and delicious recipe next time you’re in the mood for something chocolaty and sweet. I’m not even going to call it a decadent treat, because it’s good for you! It’s just a treat.
Creamy 10-Minute Chocolate Pudding Made with Avocados (Raw & Vegan)
(1) Slice avocado: Cut avocado horizontally and scoop out flesh with a spoon.
(2) Blend all well: Add all ingredients to a food processor and blend.
(3) Taste test: Add more liquid if too thick, and adjust sweetness and chocolatiness (hah- don’t think that’s a word) as necessary.
(4) Refrigerate and serve: The pudding tastes better cold, so stick it in the fridge for a couple of hours (or in the freezer for 20 minutes) to cool a bit. Add some cacao nibs, coconut shavings, and walnuts (if you wish) for extra crunch. And savor every chocolaty bite!
How tempting does that healthy dessert look? Be honest!