Part I: Michael Farrell, Walnut and Birch Tree Syrups
Michael Farrell joined the Department of Natural Resources in 2004. His educational background includes a BS from Hamilton College in economics/environmental studies and an MPS in forest and natural resource management from SUNY-College of Environmental Science and Forestry. He currently serves as Director of the Uihlein Forest- Cornell`s Sugar Maple Research & Extension Field Station in Lake Placid, NY.
Part II: Lisa McComsey and Amy Cramer, The Vegan Cheat Sheet
Amy Cramer: Following a five-year stint as a marketing executive at People magazine (1989–1994), co-author Amy Cramer founded a fitness-based direct-marketing company, Highpoint Communications, which she sold in 1998. When she and her husband converted to veganism in 2007 to combat Ken’s chronically high cholesterol, Amy retreated to her favorite room in the house—the kitchen—to drum up some tasty recipes.
Already an accomplished gourmet chef whose lasagna and meatballs could make Mario Batali weep with joy, she took on the new challenge with gusto and imagination: There would be no cardboard-tasting food in this household. Soon, no one missed her famous paella or steak au poivre, as she conjured up dozens of new recipes that even her meat-eating friends savored—and began requesting.
It was just a matter of time before her next entrepreneurial venture was born—the Cleveland-based Dinners Done Now. As owner and head chef, Amy prepared weekly vegan meals for more than 300 clients, among them the Esselstyn family (Rip Esselstyn is author of the vegan bestseller, The Engine 2 Diet; his father, Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D., penned Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease and wrote the forward to The Vegan Cheat Sheet).
After moving to Boulder, Colorado, in July 2011, she founded Vegan Eats, which produces a line of grab-and‑go vegan meals for supermarket chains—and will soon be available for consumer purchase online.
Amy has taught private vegan classes throughout Ohio, and in New York City and Westchester County, New York, and has been a guest lecturer at Bronx Community College. She also offers one‑on‑one vegan coaching to those who need more guidance and handholding. Whole Foods Market frequently invites her as a guest instructor. A rising vegan culinary celebrity, Amy is frequently cited in food and health blogs and has been touted in the local press. She lives with her husband and three children—Cai, Liv, and Cam—in Boulder.
Lisa McComsey: An award-winning copywriter, co-author Lisa McComsey graduated from Bucknell University with an art history degree and has worked on staff and as a freelance copywriter for a variety of publications, including Vogue, People, Life, Real Simple, Vanity Fair, Bon Appétit, GQ, House & Garden, Brides, Condé Nast Traveler, InStyle, the New York Times, and Every Day with Rachael Ray. She currently serves as copy director for Allure magazine. Lisa co‑owned a marketing company for seven years before venturing off on her own as a freelance writer and marketing consultant in early 2010.
A two-time recipient of the Time Inc. President’s Award for Outstanding Achievement, Lisa is also an award-winning Toastmasters speaker. She cultivated a love for rice and beans while living in Costa Rica and Baja, Mexico, during a three-year volunteer teaching stint—giving her a taste of what was to come when she decided to go vegan in 2009.
An avid bicyclist and runner, Lisa has completed twenty-five marathons (five of them plant powered), several century rides, and a handful of triathlons. After growing up at the Jersey Shore and vowing “never to go back” once graduated from high school, Lisa returned to her roots and happily resides a few miles from the ocean.
TRANSCRIPTION PART I:
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody, I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. How are you today on this March 18, 2014? It’s going to be a sweet half hour. The first part of the program, very, very sweet. I mentioned last week, the week before, maybe the week before that, that I was invited to give a talk to about two hundred cattle producers about animal agriculture’s contribution to climate change, so I’ve been very focused lately about what’s going on with our environment and it’s scary. But when I hear about things that are good for the environment I get very excited, and that’s why I brought my next guest on to the program. I’m going to bring him on right now and he’s here with me in the studio. Michael Farrell serves as the director of Cornell University’s Uihlein Forest, a maple syrup research and extension field station in Lake Placid, New York. There, he taps approximately 5,000 maples, 600 birch trees, and a couple dozen black walnut and butternut trees every year. He has authored dozens of articles on maple syrup production and forest management and often presents to maple producer and landowner organizations. Michael earned his bachelor’s degree in economics from Hamilton College, his master’s in forestry from SUNY-ESF, and his PhD in natural resources from Cornell University. Thanks for joining me today, Michael.
Michael Farrell: Thanks for having me on. Glad to be here.
Caryn: You also authored a book—which I just got, thank you very much and I look forward to reading—The Sugermaker’s Companion: An Integrated Approach to Producing Syrup from Maple, Birch, and Walnut Trees. Let’s talk about syrup. And sap. And sugar. I’m very excited because in my climate change research I learned lots of horrible things about trees. We have deforested about half of the planet’s trees. That doesn’t bode well for the carbon cycle balance, sucking the CO2 out of the environment and putting oxygen into the environment. We need trees, and we need more of them. I get excited when I hear about people that can actually make some money off of trees while they’re doing something good for the environment. We all love syrup. We all love sweet things. Let’s first talk about syrup or sap and where it comes from, how the tree makes it and just… I’m turning it over to you.
Michael: Sure. That is one of the great things about maple syrup production or tapping birch or walnut trees as well. You can tap these trees year after year, they continue to grow, sequester that carbon, produce the oxygen—all the benefits of trees—and rather than having to cut them down in order to get value out of them you keep them living and tap them every spring. That sap, that flows through these trees in the springtime, is what we collect for that short period of time—basically now, March and April is the prime time for the sap collection. With maple syrup production, we just collect the sap and basically boil it down ‘til we get syrup.
Caryn: Okay. Sap. What is it? What is it doing inside the tree?
Michael: Kind of an analogy that I… It’s not the perfect analogy, but something that people can relate to is just like we have blood, trees have sap. That sap carries the sugars—the food for the tree—and minerals and nutrients and all this good stuff in the sap, all the stuff that the tree needs for its own growth and health and survival, that’s what’s in the sap. We are fortunate enough to be able to have these trees with this sap and to be able to collect a small amount of it. But we’re only taking a small percentage of the sap out of the tree. Just like when we go to give blood, we’re only giving maybe a pint of blood. We don’t take more than we think the estimate is about five percent of the sap out of a tree.
Caryn: That sap. Does it exist all year long? Is it in the tree all year long?
Michael: The trees do have a type of sap in them all year, but the xylem sap that flows in the spring is only during that time that we can collect it.
Caryn: The xylem sap—is it more liquidy? Watery?
Michael: It’s all watery. Sap is almost all water. This is what’s available that we can easily collect. It’s that time of the year that it’s running in the trees because of the weather conditions as well. It’s the freezing and thawing of that sap in maple trees during basically February, March, and April when you have the right weather conditions that causes the sap to come out of any type of wound in the tree, such as a tap hole.
Caryn: You brought up something important: freezing and thawing. This year it’s been pretty cold, but last year was a pretty warm winter, if I remember. We were all being told that maple syrup was going to be hard to find and it wasn’t going to be abundant, it was going to be expensive. It’s already expensive, but it was going to be worse. What happens there?
Michael: It was actually two years ago we had the very warm winter.
Caryn: Okay, it was two years ago.
Michael: Luckily, prices didn’t spike because there was a reserve of syrup from the years before that can back-supply seventy-five percent of the syrup in the world. They keep syrup from year to year. They’ll have a reserve—a strategic reserve, they call it—so that if you have a bad year, based on the weather, you can still supply the markets with syrup that you have collected in previous years ‘cause syrup doesn’t go bad. As long as you process it and preserve it correctly in the right method, it can last forever.
Caryn: So we can always have pancakes.
Michael: That’s the plan. Or all the other things you can do with syrup, so it’s not just for pancakes, right?
Caryn: Right. Now, what was interesting what I learned today is that it’s just not maple that makes syrup.
Michael: Right, yeah, exactly. The birch and the walnut trees also have the sap running through them in the springtime. The walnut sap runs at the same time as maple. It’s based on that freezing and thawing, to get the sap to flow in the walnuts. The birch is after maple and walnuts are done. When the season is wrapped up, say in mid-April for maple and walnut, then you can tap your birch trees and they also have a delicious and nutritious sap that you can collect.
Caryn: So do you know why we’re so focused on maple and we’ve kind of forgotten about maple and birch?
Michael: Walnut and birch.
Caryn: Oh I’m sorry, walnut and birch.
Michael: No, that’s okay. We never really knew much about walnut. People haven’t really ever developed that as a product. It’s always been maybe a small niche thing that some people were doing, but it’s never taken off the way maple has. I think one of the main reasons behind that is the fact that you don’t get as much sap. With maples, you get a lot of sap and the sap is sweet. It’s two percent sugar on average. The walnut sap is also maybe about two percent sugar, but you don’t get as much. If you’re going to choose just one tree to tap, why not the maple because you can get more sap with the same amount of work to try to collect it. Maybe that’s why maple took off and not walnut, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do walnut. If you have a lot of walnuts, then…
Caryn: Tap them.
Michael: They also make them. You got to try some of that walnut syrup?
Caryn: Yeah, it was delicious.
Michael: Yeah, great stuff. Or you can combine them together. If you have maples and walnuts, make a maple-walnut syrup.
Caryn: Another thing I was fascinated about was—what you told us today—how many trees there are out there that are not even being tapped. It’s the tip of the iceberg, what we’re—the tip of the melting iceberg, of course, what we’re tapping to get syrup from.
Michael: In the U.S. alone, we have about two billion potentially tappable maple trees. Sugar maple and red maple, those are the top two species. Sugar maple’s the best for sugaring, that’s why it’s got its name sugar maple, ‘cause you get the most sap and the sweetest sap. But with red maple—you can also tap those, they’re actually more abundant in our country than sugar maple—they might not produce quite as much sap and the sugar content might be a little lower, but they’re perfectly good for sugaring. We have two billion of these trees. We’re using far less than one percent of them right now. We have this incredible opportunity to tap more of them to produce more maple syrup and all the other great things you can make from maple and consume more of that. Our per capita consumption of pure maple in the U.S. is about three ounces per person per year.
Caryn: Oh. That’s nothing.
Michael: Exactly. Most of that comes from Canada.
Caryn: You know why it’s only three ounces? Because most people are having Aunt Jemima and Log Cabin® Syrup which is full of high fructose corn syrup and tastes like crap.
Michael: But that’s because it’s so much cheaper. When we know that we’re consuming too much of that, we don’t need as much high fructose corn syrup in the diet as we’re getting. I don’t think anybody’s going to argue otherwise. Even though pure maple is more expensive, I think that’s a good thing because we have so much high fructose corn syrup in our diet ‘cause it’s so cheap. When food is cheap, it’s put in a lot of things and it’s added to so many different foods. If we use pure maple like we used to, you don’t have as much sugar, and it’s a healthier sugar, and it’s a local one, and less environmental impact. There’s lots of good reasons why we should be producing and consuming pure maple.
Caryn: That definitely fits into my agenda because I would like people to get back to being a little more sophisticated about what they’re eating, care about where their food comes from, and have a cleaner palette where they can really discern different flavors and tell the difference between high fructose corn syrup “maple syrup” and real maple syrup. Some people can’t even tell.
Michael: Exactly. I’m sure your listeners probably have a more refined palette.
Caryn: Of course they do!
Michael: Yes. But the average American doesn’t.
Caryn: Yeah, it’s sad.
Michael: The average American’s just looking for maybe the cheapest topping for their pancakes.
Caryn: Right. And more. Big volume and expensive. It’s sad because it’s affecting our health, it’s affecting the environment. I talk about treats, and I haven’t talked about treats in a while I don’t think, so it’s a good time to talk about treats. Treats should be a treat, what does that mean? Not all the time, so it’s special. Then when you have it, it’s just sheer bliss instead of always consuming all this sweet stuff that’s so bad for us. You don’t have that contrast.
Michael: I think maple sap is that spring treat. We had that historically in our culture. You think about people for hundreds of years ago were just trying to get through the winter. They were not having sugary soda beverages all the time. It was bare bones survival through the winter, and it was fairly bland food and they were just making it through. At the end of winter, let’s say you’re sick of eating the same bland food you’ve had all winter. It’s finally nice and warm out. The sap is running in the maple trees. You’re drinking that maple sap.
Caryn: And it’s delicious. I loved it.
Michael: And it’s delicious and it’s sweet and it’s a spring treat.
Caryn: I had the birch sap today.
Michael: You had the birch syrup today.
Caryn: The birch syrup. You mean the one that was like water?
Michael: Well, the maple sap, the one that we drank like water, that was maple sap.
Caryn: Okay. And the vertical water was maple sap?
Michael: That’s maple sap. Yes.
Caryn: Okay. It was all good.
Michael: Both are maple trees, but you can also drink the birch sap and the birch sap will run later. There’s not nearly as much sugar in it. It’s not as much of a treat, for instance.
Caryn: No, but most people don’t drink water. They don’t drink enough water, and they should, okay. This drinking sap—which I never thought about doing, I’m very excited about drinking sap folks—it’s mostly water, it’s got some choice minerals in it. It’s not really where you want to go to for your minerals. You want to get your minerals from your dark leafy green vegetables and some other foods, but they’re still nice to have them there, can’t hurt. It’s just a nice subtle flavor—because when I drink water I always like to squeeze something into it, just give it a little kick—and this is just naturally flavored, just the lightest subtle hint of sweetness. Was a beautiful drink.
Michael: Yeah. I’m glad that there’s lots of companies now getting into bottling it and making it available for lots of people. One time we were doing a taste test and I heard somebody say, “Well I don’t even like water, but I love maple water.” So if we can get more people to drink water, which this basically is, then we’re all going to be better off.
Caryn: It’s a win-win. Now what about other trees? Do almond trees make sap?
Michael: I’ve never tapped an almond tree, so I don’t know, but it’s potential.
Caryn: I’m just wondering how the water supply connects to the sap in the tree, because on the West Coast they’re having this serious drought. How does that affect sap?
Michael: Soil moisture is a limiting factor in the amount of sap you get out of the tree. We know that from maple research here in the northeast. If you’re having a significant drought in California on the West Coast, wherever, that’s going to affect the health of the trees and is going to limit the amount of sap in the trees and therefore the health of the tree.
Caryn: Are these trees irrigated or they’re just naturally in good water places?
Michael: Our forest that we collect… Maple sap comes from wild forests, which are not irrigated, it’s just whatever Mother Nature provides. All the almond trees in the West though, of course are irrigated.
Caryn: Okay, now the sap in the tree. In the springtime it’s really flowing, and then what happens? Does it dry out, it goes into the leaves, it goes back into the roots, where does it go?
Michael: It’s constantly present in the tree throughout the year, but not in a form that we can easily get into. For maple sap, it’s only that limited time in late winter, early spring that it’s present in the xylem and we can drill into the tree and easily get it.
Caryn: Okay, we talked about this earlier, and I want to talk about it now with everybody listening. I had heard some things about, since I’m a vegan, how some things in the process of making maple syrup may or may not be vegan. I remember hearing that some people use butter and some people use some sort of pork fat, and I never really understood what it was used for. And you can tell us.
Michael: Yes. When you’re boiling the sap, it foams up a lot. Your pans on your evaporator where you’re boiling it are only so tall. You could get so much foam that it starts to boil over, and it comes out of your pans, out of your evaporator pans. So you put in a little bit of defoamer in order to keep the foam down, to keep your boiling sap within the pans. Traditionally, people who aren’t vegan would put some type of pork fat or bacon or suspend something above the evaporator so that if the boiling sap got up to a certain level it would hit that piece of bacon or pork fat and the fat molecules in that would get into the foam and it knocks the foam down.
Caryn: It would melt and drip into the foam, I guess.
Michael: Exactly. That is hardly ever used anymore.
Caryn: That’s good.
Michael: Yeah. Some people are still doing it. There are lots of backyard sugar-makers who aren’t vegans and do it that kind of way or might put some butter or cream in. Any type of fat molecule will knock the foam down. Most people are using a commercially available defoamer that’s just a chemically synthesized product that acts like a fat molecule. You use a tiny bit of it. It doesn’t even show up in the syrup and it works very well. That’s what people pretty much use today, that’s the standard. Unless you’re an organically certified maple syrup producer. Pretty much the only noticeable difference in producing organic maple syrup versus conventional maple syrup is the type of defoamer you can use. The organic producers have to use an organic safflower oil or canola oil or sunflower or some type of vegetable oil to keep the foam down.
Caryn: Now who knew that? I didn’t know that. That’s really interesting information. Now that leads into the next question, which is organic maple syrup versus conventional, and I’m getting the feeling that most conventional growers don’t use herbicides and pesticides or very little? What’s the story there?
Michael: Exactly. Most maple syrup comes from wild forests never treated with any type of pesticide or herbicide or fertilizer. It’s just the woods. There’s nothing more organic than just our natural wild forest. This is just the pure sap flowing through those trees. Never anywhere even close to pesticides or herbicides or fertilizers.
Caryn: So if we wanted to spend $16 or $17 on a 32-oz. jug of maple syrup, conventional, instead of $18 or $19 on organic, it would be okay.
Michael: I think that would be fine, yeah.
Caryn: They’re all expensive!
Michael: The main difference is that it’s pure maple and not the artificial. The biggest difference is pure maple syrup versus the Aunt Jemima and all the artificial, the difference between conventionally produ… I wouldn’t even say conventionally produced, I would say not certified and certified. There’s just a lot of maple producers who, for whatever reason, they don’t want to go through the paperwork in getting certified and the cost of doing that. But it doesn’t mean their syrup isn’t really organic.
Caryn: What about Grade A and Grade B?
Michael: So there are different grades of the syrup based on the color and the flavor of the syrup. The color and the flavor of the syrup will change a lot during the course of the season. You might start out making the light syrup, the more delicate, mild flavor, and by the end of the season you’re making darker syrups with a stronger flavor. That’s the Grade B. There’s three grades of Grade A—the light amber, medium amber, and dark amber—and then one grade of Grade B.
Caryn: I always like the more intense flavors. But somehow I feel like because it’s called Grade B or Grade C, it’s not as good quality.
Michael: That’s why we’re actually changing the international grading system. Glad you asked about that. It’s already started in Vermont this year; in New York, it’s going to start next year.
Caryn: That was a bad marketing concept.
Michael: I think the maple producers might not have been as forward-looking when they developed that, because at the time when this was all developed, maple producers pride themselves on making the lightest syrup. That’s what maple producers tend to like, is the lightest. It used to be very difficult to make the light syrup. You had to be a really good sugar maker and do everything right to make a light syrup. Now with technological advances and sap collection and processing, almost anybody can make light syrup. There’s a lot more light syrup being made. When we do consumer taste tests, we realize that people like the dark stuff. So why were we calling something Grade B just because it’s the darker syrup? There’s a lot of people who know that Grade B is more flavorful and that’s what they look out for, but nobody goes to the store looking for Grade B eggs. So why would you look for Grade B maple syrup if you don’t really know? Everything’s going to be Grade A from now on.
Caryn: We got to taste some today, and I’m looking forward to that future technology where we’re able to taste and smell over the air, some kind of virtual scratch-and-sniff or something, but we don’t have that right now. So you’re just going to have to listen to the descriptions. I got to try some today, and I was in the minority. I liked what no one else liked the best. That was the birch syrup. I wrote here, it had like a molasses flavor and color and consistency, but it was a little fruity, it was a little tart. I just like the lingering aftertaste flavor. I kinda went nuts over it.
Michael: Sure. It’s great stuff. Most people aren’t used to birch syrup. It’s way different than maple syrup, as you noticed, and has definitely those unique qualities. I often hear people describe it as “fruity molasses.” Actually, when we’re boiling the sap, when we’re making the syrup, people come into our sugar house, think we’re making raspberry jam because it smells just like raspberries. We’re in our sugar house, that fruity kind of aroma and flavor to it. It’s great as an ingredient for cooking. I think there’s great opportunities for people to experiment with different recipes with birch syrup. It always should be used as a cooking ingredient; it’s not a pancake topping.
Caryn: I have to confess that I rarely use maple syrup on my pancakes. I don’t use a lot of sugar in things. I tend to just take blueberries or strawberries and make a compote out of them, that’s what I put on my pancakes. But that’s me.
Michael: I should say, I don’t even eat pancakes hardly at all either.
Caryn: But I do like— Oh no, we eat a lot of pancakes. Vegan pancakes, gluten-free. There’s wonderful pancake recipes on my Responsible Eating and Living website so if you’re getting a hankering for pancakes right now, we’ve got so many great pancake recipes and you might even try them. I’ve got Chestnut Flour Pancakes and Cornmeal Flour Pancakes and Buckwheat Flour Pancakes…
Michael: I will have to try that.
Caryn: They’re all excellent. I bet they’d be even better with some of these syrups. But the walnut syrup? I love walnuts, and there was just like a hint of that walnutty flavor in the syrup. Fabulous
Michael: Yeah. Definitely.
Caryn: Okay, we just have a few minutes left. I wondered, what other trees can be tapped for this syrup? I was thinking tropical trees.
Michael: The only one in the tropics that I know of, and of course I focus here on the Northeast, but I have heard of people tapping palm trees. They climb up to the top of the palm trees and cut off the inflorescence and a sap comes out which is very high in sugar. I think it’s about 10-12% sugar. Because it’s in the tropics, it’ll ferment rapidly. So they either turn it into a wine or they feed it directly to pigs.
Michael: I’m sure you not too into that.
Caryn: I’m not sure where that all fits in sustainable palm scenario, which is a big hot-button these days.
Michael: I’m not sure either. Our method is a lot more sustainable. We’re just drilling a small hole in the trunk of a tree and the tree continues to grow year after year.
Caryn: What I love… Coconut water’s becoming very popular here in the states and I really like to promote things that are locally sourced and locally grown. So the fact that we can have birch water or maple water, which is somewhat similar to coconut water, and we grow it right here on the East Coast…
Michael: Sure. We’ve done taste tests, and people prefer the maple water over coconut water, very much so. It’s got a much more pleasant taste to it. It doesn’t have quite as many minerals in it, but there are a lot of minerals in both of them. And there’s lower sugar in the maple water. Coconut water has usually two to three times the amount of calories from sugar as maple water.
Caryn: I don’t know how often this is happening, and it’s probably not something you’re as excited about as I am, but you were talking about how there have been some dairy trucks that have been repurposed to transport maple water?
Michael: Not repurposed, but just during that time of the year.
Caryn: They borrow them.
Michael: Yeah. They’re usually hauling milk 350 days out of the year, and for two weeks they might be hauling maple sap.
Caryn: Right, ‘cause I’m always looking for alternative careers for all of those dairy farmers.
Michael: Oh, okay. Right.
Caryn: Because I would like milk to go away.
Michael: You should know that in the sugaring industry, we’ve borrowed a lot of our technology from the dairy farm. We use a lot of their old stainless steel tanks. Their old milk tanks are great for collecting maple sap.
Caryn: I have no problem with that, repurposing all that stuff for better purposes in my opinion. Okay, so we have five minutes left and I’m just checking my notes for some things that I thought were interesting that I don’t want to forget. Here in the United States, somehow we became very limited with what we were eating. Big Ag has been responsible for that because they like to make things efficient and keep things easier and easier to make, so we’re getting less and less variety of foods. That’s a shame because there’s just so many wonderful foods out there that we should all be experiencing and some of them are local in our own neighborhood that we don’t get to experience anymore. But you were talking about how birch is consumed; birch water is consumed in many places around the world.
Michael: Sure. It’s a traditional drink throughout many places in Europe and Scandinavia and Russia, Japan, Korea, China. There are a lot of birch trees in those parts of the world, in the temperate and boreal forests. They don’t have as many maples as we do. There might be some, but their forests are much more dominated by birch, so they collect the birch sap and drink it as a spring tonic. Very little of it gets made into syrup. I actually just met a young lady from the Ukraine this past weekend who told me she drank birch sap her entire life and never knew that anybody processed it into syrup. She came here to the U.S. and she’d never seen birch syrup, but she drank birch sap every year. She said everybody does that over there.
Caryn: I thought I wrote it down and I can’t find it, but there’s a fast starting today, a week long fast with maple water
Caryn: Now, I know a lot of my listeners are into all kinds of funky fasts…
Michael: Sure. This is the time of the year. A lot of people know about The Master Cleanse Diet, where you’re basically taking maple syrup, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, making a tea out of that. You’re almost trying to recreate a maple water, maple sap fast. If you’re into that kind of stuff, rather than doing it The Master Cleanse, you might just want to just drink the sap. I know a guy in Michigan who found out about this. He started drinking sap, he says he feels great. I’m sure he does, I mean, this is one of the times of the year I feel the best is when I’m drinking the sap out of the trees. There’s many days—I’m not a big faster, but sometimes I’m just working so much during the day I don’t have time to eat and I’m just drinking sap all day, and I feel great. It keeps the energy up and I highly recommend it.
Caryn: Yeah. I love the idea. Okay, we’re out of time! Thank you so much for joining me, Michael!
Michael: Thanks for having me on.
Caryn: I really enjoyed tasting all these things. I’m going to look forward to some of these products, finding them more frequently out and about.
Michael: Definitely. We’ll be doing as much as we can.
Caryn: Okay. You’re listening to It’s All About Food. I’m Caryn Hartglass. Go visit responsibleeatingandliving.com while we’re on the break if you have a minute and check out my pancake recipes! We’ll be right back.
Transcribed May 15, 2014 by JC.
TRANSCRIPTION PART II:
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody we’re back! I’m Caryn Hartglass and this is It’s All About Food. I’m very excited about this right now. I went to a little university in a town that time forgot called Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. That was Bucknell University and it was a long time ago. The school really hasn’t changed much. They’ve added a few buildings here and there. A few months ago I got my Alumni News and I learned about Lisa McComsey who came out with a book called The Vegan Cheat Sheet. I went, “What? What? Wha..? Another vegan went to Bucknell?” So I had to bring her on the program. She’s here with me in the studio along with her co-author, Amy Cramer.
Let me just give you a little introduction. I’m going to read from the book just briefly. Amy Cramer is a vegan chef, coach, instructor and entrepreneur. Actually, I’m just going to have you go to the website and read more about them because I just want to talk to them. Lisa McComsey is a writer, marketing consultant and public speaker. They both co-authored The Vegan Cheat Sheet.
Welcome to It’s All About Food Lisa McComsey and Amy Cramer!
Lisa McComsey and Amy Cramer: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: Great! When I was at Bucknell, we had a vegetarian meal plan. We had this guy, Hank Ross. Was he there when you were there?
Lisa McComsey: Yes he was.
Caryn Hartglass: He instituted the vegetarian meal plan. I was sad to learn many years later that they didn’t have one anymore. Yes, it’s over but I guess they just offer a wide variety of foods and you can just pick and choose. It was a long time ago and it’s always exciting to find people who have taken similar journeys (as you have). And I found Lisa McComsey so hi Lisa McComsey (I just met her too). [laughs]
Lisa McComsey: [Laughs] We’ve passed each other on the lawn at Bucknell at some point.
Caryn Hartglass: I guess so! I graduated in ’80.
Lisa McComsey: I was ’81.
Caryn Hartglass: ’81 look at that! Oh my goodness. Well, destiny wanted us to get together at some point. I remember (this wasn’t vegan) one of the first dishes I ever made in my freshman dorm room, Roberts, that was my freshman dorm room. We decided we wanted to cook and make vegetarian lasagna. We collected as many saltine crackers as we could from the cafeteria for our breading [all laughing]. It was pretty good but I think we’re all better cooks now.
Ok. Lisa McComsey, briefly tell me your story about how you came to love plants and then Amy Cramer, you can tell me yours.
Lisa McComsey: I was not a vegetarian back in Bucknell days. I was very much an omnivore although I believe it was during my college years I decided to give up meat, red meat. I felt red meat was not a healthy choice but for the next several decades I enjoyed poultry and fish.
Caryn Hartglass: The feathered vegetable and the scaly vegetable…
Lisa McComsey: Yes…and lots and lots of dairy. I loved all those foods. I had ice cream sundaes, pizza, and yogurt and all kinds of great things all the time. I was very much into exercise and I think I felt I could eat whatever I wanted without really gaining weight. My motivation for going vegan was two fold, one was my family was about to embark on a get fit competition. We all put money into a pot, made weight loss and fitness goals. The person who succeeded (met his or her goals at the end) won this big pot of money. I was very motivated by the pot of money and at the same time, I talked to Amy Cramer with whom I’ve been friends with for many years. We were colleagues at People magazine many, many years ago. She and her husband had gone vegan and this coincides perfectly with my family fit competition. I thought, I’ll try going vegan for one month, thinking I would hate it. I could only survive on carrots sticks and tofu for about 4 weeks. After that it was back to the usual fare. Once I got over the overwhelm factor, of what am I going to eat and how am I going to make these things – once I got used to it, I absolutely fell in love with it. I felt like a whole new world opened up to me. New foods, new flavors. I discovered new recipes. I just became impassioned with this way of eating. That was 5 years ago.
Caryn Hartglass: So many of us have that experience and the trick is, how do we get people to make that leap. There are all kinds of incentives – the 30-day, the 21-day, the 60-day, the whatever, just try it and you start to feel good!
Lisa McComsey: My motivation was for health reasons; I read The China Study and Prevent, Reverse Heart Disease. Those two books single handedly convinced me that I needed to eliminate animal products from my diet.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay Amy Cramer. How about you?
Amy Cramer: My story began when my husband was on cholesterol meds. He was on them as long as I can remember. I had met him in college and probably by the time he was in his 20’s, he had hereditarily high cholesterol. Whenever we would go out to a restaurant, he would order the salads with maybe grilled chicken, no dressing. I would order the hamburger. He really ate like someone that was really trying to watch his health and watch his weight however he still had hereditarily high cholesterol. Finally the doctors just had to put him on meds at a very, very young age and said he would always be on Statin. He hated it. He had been on it for probably since he was 30 and now he’s 50, so he had been on that for 15 years. He was tired of being on meds and thought there must be a better way. We were lucky enough to be living in Cleveland at the time (I thought it was lucky) and we met, actually my sister grew up and knew the Esselstyn family, the same as Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn who wrote Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. He knew of Dr. Esselstyn’s theory that you can actually go off cholesterol meds and reduce your cholesterol naturally at such an extent and do so without medications. And obviously, prevent and reverse any heart disease. The preventing part was the part my husband was focused on. So he just went full force into Dr. Esselstyn’s program. 100% plant based and then began with no added oils whatsoever which is actually the way you remain. Within weeks, he started going down (with his doctor’s supervision) on his cholesterol meds and now he has been off his cholesterol meds for 14 years and never looked back.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow!
Amy Cramer: I did it to really support him and then I found I loved it. Then I took my passion for cooking and made it into my business. Which is cooking oil-free, vegan food for the consumers.
Caryn Hartglass: Well Statin can be really dangerous. They may lower your cholesterol but they can do a lot of other damage so it’s good he got off them. This thing about something being hereditary – we’re learning more and more about genes expressing themselves (or not) and they don’t have to express themselves if you don’t give them the opportunity.
Amy Cramer: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes. So many people just give up because they say it’s hereditary, “It’s in my family. There’s nothing I can do about it.” And that’s not true!
Amy Cramer: It’s with cancers as well. As you know and Dr. Campbell’s book that was basically talking about how people grow up exposed to whatever, things, toxins and predispositions as they were but eating these animal proteins can trigger things that never would have been triggered if you didn’t consume the animal proteins – if you have a plant-based diet. That was my motivation after. You know, I did it for my husband but really that author resonated tremendously with me. It’s just been always a lifetime fear.
Caryn Hartglass: Right and you’re both into fitness and you’re both feeling pretty awesome right?
Amy Cramer: Absolutely.
Lisa McComsey: Yes, yes we are.
Amy Cramer: Energy levels are not – it’s quite the opposite, as far as the energy level, I think people are concerned that they don’t get enough. I think that that’s ridiculous; that’s a fallacy. But also the change in energy level, the feeling that you get after eating a meal, especially the one I would get (Lisa McComsey would get as well) after we consumed daily – that exhaustion, that tired, just wanting to lay down after the meal. It goes away when you don’t consume. At least for us. When you don’t consume those animal based products. Specifically, for me, it was dairy.
Caryn Hartglass: I love to hear these stories and fortunately I think we’re making a dent.
You mentioned cancer. I am an ovarian cancer survivor. Somehow I got it and I have some theories about how it happened to me but the point is, it’s been 7 and a half years and I’m alive and thriving where unfortunately most women don’t get through it. One of the things I was happy to discover…Unfortunately I was just with a close relative that had just been diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer and I was with her in the hospital and talking to her future surgeon. She was talking to the nurse about what food she might get and she said she was a vegan and wants vegan food. The nurse didn’t even flinch! It was like, “Yes, no problem.” And I thought, “Whoa! 7 years ago that didn’t happen.” I’m sure it’s not happening everywhere but it’s getting better. People know this word. I think it’s just going to snowball now and go really fast. I’m hoping.
Lisa McComsey: I just find when I do talks; there are so many misconceptions about what the vegan diet is. I get up there and see eyes glaze over. “Oh here’s somebody talking about going vegan.” By the end of the talk, I’ve sold 10 or 20 books. People cannot believe the things they can eat. It’s not a deprivation diet. It’s full of flavors and textures. You can eat pancakes and pizza and muffins.
Caryn Hartglass: Pancakes!
Lisa McComsey: And I heard the pancake thing. And I want to find your pancake recipes and we have pancake recipes in our book as well. It’s a rich, rich diet.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, it’s a rich diet and we all end up looking fabulous relative to our peers who aren’t looking as fabulous. It could be a vanity diet too.
Amy Cramer: Absolutely.
Caryn Hartglass: I got into it because I didn’t want to kill animals but there’s a piece of it where I want to look as good as I can.
Amy Cramer: Absolutely.[Laughing]
Lisa McComsey: You do look fabulous.
Amy Cramer: Absolutely and I can’t even…
Caryn Hartglass: You can’t even see me…
Let’s just breeze through some of the recipes in here. This is a nice book, The Vegan Cheat Sheet. It’s got some basic information about going vegan and the foods you’ll eat and not eat, the vitamins and nutritional components of different foods and then some recipes. I’m looking at spinach calzones.
Amy Cramer: Easiest thing ever.
Caryn Hartglass: We don’t see calzones very often anywhere around and so I’m always excited when I see calzone recipes or Stromboli recipes because they’re
Amy Cramer: I guess, growing up in New York, I love calzones and I was really looking for a way to feed the family. I know my kids; I think if they control what’s inside the calzones, they are a lot more likely to eat it. If I decide what’s going in then they’ll bark at it but if they say, “Mom put in some peppers.” or “Don’t put in any peppers.” or “Just put some spinach inside mine.” or “put some broccoli.” And it’s just as easy to make 4 custom calzones and throw whatever I want in then it would be to make them all the same. I mark each one on top with a little piece of broccoli or a little piece of tomato when I bake them. Everyone gets his or her individual. I find that to be a quick, easy – even a dinner to go when everyone’s in a rush.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, it’s a winner. I’m surprised that I don’t see more of these but it’s comforting. It’s that comfort kind of food packaged in nice bread all tucked in cozy and gooey. Very good. Very good.
Most of the recipes in here are simple. There’s the mujadara. Now I’m a big fan of lentils and usually when you get that in a restaurant, it’s like oil and mujadara.
Amy Cramer: I have to be honest, Lisa McComsey and I have discovered…I think you’d be hard pressed to taste the recipes in the book and really realize that there isn’t any oil. People feel that you need oil to start everything in your kitchen. Every time you fry something you need oil. I just gave it up, as simple as not doing it. I would pick a real nice heavy dark pan. Everyone figures whatever their favorite pan at home to use and you start your onions dry and then whenever your onions start to stick a little or start to brown, add a little water. Just a teeny bit of water, just a quarter cup. It deglazes your pan right away. Then it’s cooking in its own natural sugars and juices and you enhance the flavor of the vegetable. I think the elimination of oils (or anything processed for that matter) is a pretty quick and easy one. I don’t think it’s noticeable in the flavor of the food.
Caryn Hartglass: You’ve probably gotten the response, “What no oil?”
Lisa McComsey: I hear that all the time. People fight me on it. I’m not even the chef, Amy Cramer’s the chef but I find defending it because I’ve tried it and it’s so easy. It doesn’t change the flavor. As Amy Cramer said, it really enhances it in some way because of the way it is cooked and caramelized.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m sometimes hesitant to bring up the oil part when I’m just trying to get people interested in the diet and get them off of animal. Then I throw in, “by the way, I don’t use oil in my recipes.” That’s what they focus on and then they really get crazy! What is it in our make up?
Amy Cramer: If you follow a recipe…I think it’s just the old fashioned way with the mother starting a pan, first there was onions and then there was garlic and I start exactly the same way my mother did but I just don’t grab for the oil first. I just grab for my good, heavy pan. It tastes exactly the same. It just doesn’t have that oily flavor. We just end up eating much larger portions to keep the calorie intake. You get to eat a lot more of the same delicious food.
Caryn Hartglass: More, yes. More food.
Lisa McComsey: You mentioned easy, Caryn Hartglass, and I just want to clarify here that I am not a cook, at all, by any stretch of the imagination. I am culinary impaired. Seriously, cooking intimidates me. Amy Cramer’s recipes are so easy and I’m making my way through all of them. They are delicious and if I can make them, anyone can.[laughter]
Caryn Hartglass: I’m really dating myself now but I remember that commercial. “I hate to cook and I wrote the I hate to cook book.” Who was that and what commercial was that for? I don’t know but I remember the book but not the commercial.
This oil thing, (I don’t want to belabor) but I think we agree. I believe in fats and I believe fats are healthy in a diet. I get my mine from whole foods like raw nuts, seeds, and avocado. I know that there’s this kind of undercurrent in the vegan world –oil, no oil, little oil, some oil or fats.
Amy Cramer: I think the caveat is heart disease. If you’re trying to reverse your heart disease the Dr. Esselstyn way (and my husband does need to watch it as well). If you have heart disease and you are trying to reverse it, then you really do need to stay away from any of the added fats according to Dr. Esselstyn, according to my…
Caryn Hartglass: Right. I’m very familiar with his work and it’s great. But Dr. Fuhrman, who’s another great plant-based doctor, will say that’s not necessary. He really believes in raw nuts and seeds. So it’s a choice. There’s a lot that’s similar between them and that’s the important part. Plants, eating lots of whole, minimally processed plants. They’re delicious and wonderful and then if you want to split a few hairs, split a few nuts and figure that out, then that’s up to you.
Amy Cramer: Right. We may eat cashew creams a lot. Lisa McComsey and I both.
Caryn Hartglass: Ah… Can we just ode to cashew cream for a moment? Bow down to cashew cream.
Amy Cramer: I’ll buy a pound or two of raw cashews. They have to be raw. Throw them in a Cuisinart, 1 part water to 1 part cashews, puree it and walk away for 8 minutes or so until it’s smooth as silk. I just put it in little bags and throw it in the freezer. Last night I made a lackluster pasta sauce. I really wanted something delicious and rich. It just was boring and I didn’t have anything good to put in. So I grabbed the cashew cream, defrosted it very, very quickly. My house is just like, “This is the best thing you’ve ever made!” Twice a week cashew creams end up in some meal that I’m doing. Then I feel like my kids are complete with their protein and their fats. Especially having kids that are crazy high school athletes. I throw some marinara with some cashew cream in there with some whole grain pasta, maybe some steamed broccoli on top. That’s it.
Caryn Hartglass: So Amy Cramer, you have kids. Lisa McComsey, you don’t.
Lisa McComsey: I don’t.
Caryn Hartglass: So just Amy Cramer. You’ve got teenage kids. Are they eating the way you and your husband are eating?
Amy Cramer: The decision that I had made is that I will keep the home a certain way and out of the home they have their choice of what to do. So I don’t tell them what to do out of the house. In the home we keep it a certain way. I keep it vegan. Occasionally, my kids will sneak in a little Parmesan here or there but that’s basically about it. The home is 100% vegan and they enjoy. I have to be honest, as they get older, I’d be surprised if they all didn’t become vegan. They’re becoming more and more vegan naturally, on their own. One is a vegetarian and two occasionally (when they go out with their friends) they’ll order something with a little chicken or meat in it but they end up leaving it out (which is pretty hilarious). They think they’re just accustomed to it. I have a strict home and whenever I pack lunch for them (which is quite often) and then every single breakfast and dinner. So the majority of their food, yes, I get to control.
Caryn Hartglass: Great. And Lisa McComsey, your family, your siblings and everyone around you…are they supportive of this diet?
Lisa McComsey: Everyone is supportive. I have no converts however.
Caryn Hartglass: Not yet. [laughs]
Lisa McComsey: My mom keeps saying, “I think I could be vegan except for the cheese.”[laughter]
Lisa McComsey: Well it’s hard.
Caryn Hartglass: I think it’s harder as we get older for lots of reasons. Not just because it’s a behavioral thing. But when we have been doing something for so long and when we say what I’ve been doing hasn’t been right…That’s kind of tough. I think it’s easier when we’re teenagers and we’re rebellious. We want to do something contrary. That’s what I was all about when I was younger. I don’t want to say, I became a vegetarian because I wanted to be contrary but it was part of my nature. I was comfortable being contrary. So when I realized I didn’t want to kill animals, it was easy. I think it’s a lot harder for adults.
Amy Cramer: I think also their body gets confused messages. I know my sister would say that maybe it’s that time in her cycle. “I crave iron, I need iron, and I have to eat meat.” My body would never ask for meat. My body would ask for more grains and spinach if I craved iron. So I just don’t think the bodies are familiar with the messages. If you crave certain things, there’s probably many other ways to get it.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s a really interesting thing to talk about. Craving, and how we misinterpret those feelings and messages. We think we know what we need and we don’t have a clue.
Amy Cramer: Chocolate for love? No, that’s not what you’re talking about. [laughs]
Caryn Hartglass: [laughs] But lots of things go on in the body and we’re learning more and more about it. Sometimes we have addictions and food can be an addiction. There are things that we crave because we are weaning ourselves off of them. It doesn’t mean that our body needs them but we talk ourselves into thinking, “Oh, I’m craving it so I need it.”
Most of us know nothing of nutrition! We know a few words, protein – we have no idea what it is. We have no idea what a carbohydrate or complex carbohydrate is. We have no idea what anything is. We talk about, “I’m tired, and I need protein.” No you need to take a nap! [laughs]
Lisa McComsey: I also think we get messages from the time we’re children about what nutrition is. We take health classes, we have food pyramids, we hear from the milk board that we need dairy, we hear from the egg board, we need eggs…All of that. And I find that a lot where people will say, “Well, milk is good for you. I have to have milk because where else am I going to get my calcium and vitamin D?” So it’s a matter of putting those myths to bed.
Caryn Hartglass: Ok. Wow. We just have a couple minutes. I can’t believe it’s already…it’s that fast. Wow.
Where can people find you and find this book? Do you have a website?
Lisa McComsey: Our website is http://www.vegancheatsheet.com. We’re on Amazon, we’re on Barnes and Noble. We’re in a lot of independent bookstores. We’re in my local health food store.
Caryn Hartglass: Amy Cramer, you have a business and where are you?
Amy Cramer: Right now my business is distributed in a supermarket chain in Chicago and Cleveland called Heinen. In the next 6 months to a year (all goes well) we plan to be around the whole U.S. and it’s called Vegan Eats and http://www.veganeats.com is the website.
Caryn Hartglass: Vegan is the word and it’s going to explode and we’re going to be there. Any last minute…Do you have a favorite recipe we didn’t mention? Or some last magic words?
Lisa McComsey: We wrote the book because we wanted to show how easygoing vegan really is. So for anyone who thinks it’s complicated, hard or deprivational…pick up the book. We make it very easy, step-by-step. The recipes are fabulous. One of my favorite recipes is the curried butternut squash soup. What about you Aim?
Amy Cramer: Oh gosh, I have to say the tomato rosa sauce with cashew cream. I make it probably twice a week. Some tomato sauce pureed with the cashew cream and a shot of vodka when no one’s looking and everyone’s happy. One for the pot, one for me…..
Caryn Hartglass: [Laughs] Well that’s great. Hopefully we can all get together and share a meal sometime.
Lisa McComsey: Yes.
Amy Cramer: That would be great.
Caryn Hartglass: That would be fun, I’m sure. Well thanks for joining me on It’s All About Food. I’m sorry we’re at the end of the program, but here we are. Visit me on responsibleeatingandliving.com and I do want to hear from you. I get real excited when I hear from listeners about their progress and their challenges. I just heard from somebody who had their 3rd veganniversary. I’m so proud of you Jim, for doing that! Have a delicious week.
Transcribed by Krista Andersen 7/20/2014; edited by Claire Newman 7/27/2014