Zel Allen, Vegan For The Holidays
With a focus on healthy eating, compassion for animals, and environmental consciousness, her vegan journey led Zel Allen to partner with her husband, Reuben, to publish Vegetarians in Paradise. Their online publication is read by more than 125,000 visitors monthly www.vegparadise.com. In addition to her articles, the e-zine spotlights her humorous illustrations and her innovative recipes. Zel’s interest in the powerful health aspects of nuts resulted in her one-of-a-kind cookbook, The Nut Gourmet, which features 150 innovative, totally nutty recipes.
Presently, Zel spreads the message of a healthy vegan lifestyle by teaching vegetarian cooking classes at libraries, churches, and at Glendale Community College in Southern California. She lives in Granada Hills with her husband and her cat Fuzzy, once a homeless kitten. You can also see their website at VegParadise.com
Caryn Hartglass: I’m going to bring on my next guest who is Zel Allen with a focus on healthy eating, compassion for animals, and environmental consciousness. Her vegan journey led her to her partner, Reuben, and to publish Vegetarians in Paradise. There online publication is read by more than 125, 000 visitors monthly at VegParadise.com. In addition to her articles, her e-zine spotlights her humorous illustrations and her innovative recipes. Zel’s interest in the powerful health aspects of nuts resulted in her one-of-a-kind cookbook, The Nut Gourmet, and Zel spreads the message of a healthy vegan lifestyle by teaching vegetarian cooking classes at libraries, churches, and at Glendale Community College in Southern California. She lives in Grenada Hills with her husband and her cat, Fuzzy, once a homeless kitten. Visit her website at VegParadise.com. Hi Zel, welcome to It’s All About Food.
Zel Allen: Thank you so much.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, so we just had a heavy half hour talking about the power of plant-based foods and what they can really do for us. The great thing is that plant-based foods are delicious.
Zel Allen: They certainly are, and now we can talk about the joy of the cooking.
Caryn: The joy! As you know, there is a wide range of vegan cooking, and sometimes it is healthy and sometimes not so healthy. I always say you can be vegan and not healthy by living on French fries and Coke, and we don’t want to do that. Holiday time, however, is a time when we can be a little more indulgent and still eat pretty healthfully.
Zel Allen: That’s my favorite phrase, a little indulgent.
Caryn: Right! So you have some great recipes in your new book Vegan For the Holidays. It’s interesting that it is coming out now, August, because it’s primarily for Thanksgiving through New Years. So people can pick up your book in advance, start thinking about it, get ready, get some gifts going, and not worry when the holidays come because you have it all figured out in here.
Zel Allen: Yes, I have done my best. I have a few things that you could actually prepare now and put in the freezer or refrigerator. One of those things is a fabulous pan forte. I don’t know if you are familiar with it, but it is a typical Italian fruit and nut confection. It’s thousands of years old, actually, and it has quite a little history, but it is absolutely irresistibly delicious. Traditionally, the Italian version is made with glace’ fruit, but my version starts with dried fruits and nuts. Then we boil up a little syrup and add it to the fruits and nuts mixing it all together. Then we put it in individual parchment-lined pans and bake them in little rounds. So it is kind of like a round, flat cake. One of my testers made it, as she was wanting to give someone a gift. She sent me an email about it , and the “OMGs” kept re-appearing in that little message, and as a matter of fact, yesterday we gave one as a gift, and they just pulled it apart and began chomping away on it. It’s pretty addictive.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, and I like the idea of using dried fruit instead of all those artificially colored, sugary pieces of things that are supposed to be fruit.
Zel Allen: Agreed. Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: I do like the idea of making things in advance because when the holidays come, things get crazy and hectic.
Zel Allen: They do, they do. So it’s great if you have a little something put away in the freezer.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, it’s brilliant! So I just wanted to point out a few of the recipes that jumped out at me as being a little creative, or a little more unusual, and you seem to have a thing for pistachios, I’ve noticed, which we don’t see enough of.
Zel Allen: Well, it’s true there were a few little Salmonella issues a while back, and I think what happened is that people got a little frightened and stopped purchasing them. So, they weren’t as plentiful, but there are places where they are still quite available. Unfortunately, nuts have gotten a little pricey, like everything else.
Caryn Hartglass: Yes, like everything.
Zel Allen: But, it’s the holidays! So you have to kind of break out of the mold and realize that this is a special time.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, if you plan in advance, which is something I like to do, you can really look for nuts and get them for reasonable prices. Although, sometimes I spend more than I should on nuts because I really like them to be organic, fresh, and high quality. There are a couple of places online where I like to get them, but you can look around and find places that are reasonable.
Zel Allen: Very true. If there is a Trader Joe’s nearby, that’s a place you can get nuts fairly reasonably. Now, is Costco nationwide?
Caryn Hartglass: I know we have them here. Yeah, I think they’re everywhere.
Zel Allen: So any of these big purchasing clubs where you can buy things in bulk, you can do a little bit better. It’s a way to save a little bit of money, which everyone is trying to do these days.
Caryn Hartglass: So you have some nice recipes with pistachios, and another ingredient I don’t see enough of in recipes is chestnuts.
Zel Allen: Oh, yes, one of my favorite ingredients, people don’t know how to use them actually.
Caryn Hartglass: I love chestnuts, and I lived in France for four years where there were plenty of chestnuts around, all different kinds, sweet and savory, but not here in the United States. They really are lovely, so I’m glad to see that you do have a few yummy recipes with chestnuts.
Zel Allen: At one time chestnuts were a big American product because we had American chestnut trees. Are you familiar with the fact that there was a blight? I think it started in the very early 1900s. I think in the late 1800s they were importing chestnut trees from Asia, and along came a blight with one of the trees, and it infected all the trees in the U.S., and by 1950 there was not an American chestnut tree alive.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow, that’s very sad.
Zel Allen: Yes. The tradition died. I know I used to read about people on the streets of New York and Chicago having hot chestnuts available in the wintertime on the street, and that’s gone.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh no, they still sell chestnuts in New York City.
Zel Allen: Oh, they do?
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, they do. It has made a comeback. You can get them when it’s really cold out, and it really is a lovely thing to buy roasted chestnuts.
Zel Allen: Oh, yes, it really is. One of my favorite, easy, easy recipes is the garlicky chestnut butter. It’s wonderful!
Caryn Hartglass: So, where do we get them from now? Do you know?
Zel Allen: Well, the American Chestnut Foundation has been working with a plant pathologist and cross breeding to come up with a blight-free American chestnut tree. So they are starting with small plantations and working through the Forestry Department, and I think one day we will see what once was, from Maine to Georgia I think, along the Appalachian slope they had chestnut trees. They used to say a squirrel could jump from tree to tree from Maine to Georgia and never touch the ground, but that may come back someday.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, I love that image.
Zel Allen: Yes, isn’t it great?
Caryn Hartglass: Oh yes. Now another recipe I wanted to highlight is the Shiitake Tornadoes and cashew cream sauce. Is it tornadoes or tornados (Spanish pronunciation).
Zel Allen: I call them tornadoes because they are black, kind of like the black cloud you see coming towards you, although I’ve never been in one, but from what I’ve read. The Shiitake Tornadoes are little balls coated in black sesame seeds, and they make a beautiful presentation, especially if they are sitting in this cashew cream sauce. It is rich and lavish, and it is perfect for a very lovely, holiday meal.
Caryn Hartglass: So you’ve been doing this for a long time. How long have you been doing this vegan thing?
Zel Allen: We have been vegan for about 22 years, and we kind of come from an interesting perspective. We are not young anymore. I’m 74 and my husband is 81, and people are surprised when they meet us because we don’t act like other people in our age range.
Caryn Hartglass: You’re all energy!
Zel Allen: Yeah. We have the zip and the zest. We do live in a hilly area, so we walk up and down the hills, but we know so many people who can barely walk that are in our age range. Also, we don’t take the pills they take. We don’t need them. So, yes, following this healthy path has been a huge change for us.
Caryn Hartglass: You have had your website, VegParadise.com, for over 10-15 years?
Zel Allen: It’s been 14 years.
Caryn Hartglass: Have you seen a change over the years in terms of the people who are visiting and the numbers?
Zel Allen: The numbers, absolutely. When we first started, we did this basically to find community. When we started our own vegan path, we were doing it on our own. There was one doctor of Oriental Medicine that I had gone to, and she suggested that a vegetarian diet would be very helpful. So we started on that path basically by ourselves, and then after a couple of years we were feeling a little lonely. We needed some company to share a nice vegan meal with.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah!
Zel Allen: So, we went looking on the net, and there was nothing, and our son said, “why don’t you start a vegan website.” So, we started our little Vegetarians in Paradise website, and the first day we had about two visitors, and then five. We got excited when we had 15 visitors. We started out with a Los Angeles focus, pointing out restaurants and farmer’s markets in Los Angeles. Then we realized that people from all over the world were coming.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s amazing. Well, you know, when there is something you really want in the world you have to go and do it yourself because people aren’t going to do it for you. So you’ve created a community. I’m sure it’s just growing and growing, and a lot of people have really benefited from it.
Zel Allen: It’s very rewarding. We get wonderful emails all of the time saying how helpful it has been.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, I bet! So I hope you have tremendous success with your new Vegan For the Holidays, and I really appreciate your making this book and for everything that you are doing because It’s not just good and delicious, but it’s also good for the planet and certainly wonderful for the animals. So thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food, and happy holidays when they roll around.
Zel Allen: You too! Thanks a million.
Caryn Hartglass: Thanks so much. Okay, that was Zel Allen, and definitely pick up a copy of Vegan For The Holidays before the holidays are here.
Transcribed by Ann Dungey, 3/19/2013