Part I: Amber Shea Crawley
Amber Shea Crawley is a linguist, chef, and author specializing in healthful vegan and raw food. Known for her flexible recipes and friendly voice, she was classically trained in the art of gourmet living cuisine at the world-renowned Matthew Kenney Academy, graduating in 2010 as a certified raw and vegan chef. In 2011, she earned her Nutrition Educator certification at the Living Light Culinary Arts Institute. Amber blogs at AlmostVeganChef.com
Caryn Hartglass: Hello I’m Caryn Hartglass and this is “It’s All About Food”. Good afternoon. It’s April 25, 2012 and have we all recovered over Earth Day this past weekend? It was a great weekend for me. It was my birthday and I really appreciate all of the lovely messages that I got from people. If you sent me one, thank you very much. It was really very fun. The thing is though, even though we celebrate Earth Day once a year, it really needs to be every day. This is our home, planet Earth, and we really need to pay attention to everything that is going on and take care of it because this is it, you know, until we figure out how to populate other planets, we need to take care of this home. We talk about that quite a bit on this show, the environment, and treatment of animals, and the health of everyone that is degrading, mostly because we are not really taking care of ourselves, are we? But today, especially for the first part of the show, I want to concentrate on the fun part of food and how it’s really easy, it’s delicious, it’s fresh, and once you come over to the healthy food side, all of the benefits start streaming in. You get all this energy, you start looking hot, and at the same time, you start walking gently on the planet. It’s easy. It’s just a “win win” all around. That’s why I love talking about food, especially delicious, healthy food and that’s what we’re going to be doing right now. I’m going to bring on my first guest, Amber Shea Crawley and she’s got a lovely new book out. I don’t really want to call it a cookbook per say, because it’s mostly raw recipes. She’s a linguist, chef and author specializing in healthy, vegan and raw food and is known for her flexible recipes and friendly voice. She was classically trained in the art of gourmet living cuisine at the world-renowned Matthew Kenney Academy, graduating in 2010 as a certified raw and vegan chef. In 2011, she earned her nutrition educator certificate at the Living Light Culinary Arts Institute and you can find her at her blog at www.AlmostVeganChefs.com. Welcome to “It’s All About Food”, Amber!
Amber Shea Crawley: Hi. How are you?
Caryn Hartglass: Great How are you?
Amber Shea Crawley: I’m doing well. Can you hear me okay?
Caryn Hartglass: I can hear you find and I hope everyone else can. Okay, well thank you for writing this book and I enjoyed reading it and am going to enjoy getting to know it better as I make more of the recipes.
Amber Shea Crawley: That’s great!
Caryn Hartglass: So let’s just learn a little about you. It’s always interesting, I find, I’m going to back up a little. Raw food has had its trendy moments in the last decade with celebrities getting all excited about it and promoting it and it’s really just food like we are supposed to be eating it, before we got totally bent out of shape with all of this high tech processing of food. It’s crazy.
Amber Shea Crawley: It’s true. I think that a lot of people think that raw food is a little complicated and takes a lot of time to prepare but if you do it right, raw food takes less preparation than cooked food. It’s really easy to fix a smoothie or a salad or putting together some nuts and dried food for dessert.
Caryn Hartglass: What was your journey and how did you get interested in preparing raw food?
Amber Shea Crawley: I have been vegan since 2008 and I originally got into veganism for health reasons and so it was just kind of a natural progression for me to eat fewer and fewer of the processed food products and things like that and just keep bringing in more fresh foods. I think things really turned around for me when I first got the change to eat at Matthew Kenney’s restaurant in Oklahoma City and I just fell in love, head over heels in love with raw food and I knew that was how I wanted to do from then on out.
Caryn Hartglass: I remember going to Pure food and wine in New York City when it first opened. It was really exciting. That was his restaurant at the time, it isn’t anymore, but it is a really beautiful place. One of the things that I have found about raw kitchens, I remember taking a tour of one in California, it’s not open any more, but at the time, this was in the 1990’s…If anyone has ever had a chance to go into a restaurant kitchen, even though there are a lot of regulations, to keep them clean, you see all different kinds of stains all over the place and oil coated things and not in a raw kitchen. Raw kitchens are CLEAN!
Amber Shea Crawley: Yeah! I agree. I saw that at Matthew Kenney’s OKC restaurant. I’ve never seen a kitchen like that before. It was completely open to the dining room and it wasn’t hot and steamy. People weren’t rushing around and finding pans and things like that. It was really calm and really enjoyable to be around and regular kitchens aren’t always that way.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah I think that if more people saw what was going on behind the scenes, they might even be more interested in eating this way.
Amber Shea Crawley: That’s very possible. Everything is very clean and it’s easy to see how that can get translated into really clean and fresh food.
Caryn Hartglass: And when it’s clean in the kitchen, it’s going to be clean when you eat it.
Amber Shea Crawley: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: So, I’m just curious. What is it like training at these different places? You trained with Matthew Kennedy and then you went on to the Living Light Institute. I guess you haven’t had training in other culinary institutes, but I’m just kind of curious what it is like to go through a curriculum like that.
Amber Shea Crawley: It was like being on a playground all day, every day. At the Matthew Kenney Academy, that was heaven for me to be around buckets of fresh raw ingredients and produce and it’s what I like to do in my spare time. I just like to mess around in the kitchen and play around and create things and try recipes and I got to do that for several hours a day for several weeks at a time so I felt no pressure. It’s not like you had to take exams or anything like that. It’s just every day going in the kitchen and creating new things and experimenting and kind of learning to find your own voice with food and learn how to deliver your own flavors.
Caryn Hartglass: We see so much crazy stuff on television, I have to put in a disclaimer here because I don’t watch very much television, but I am aware that there are a lot of reality shows and a lot of them are involved with food and you see so much stress in the kitchen and the competition and things getting done on time and, I really don’t like the idea of combining food with stress.
Amber Shea Crawley: Exactly! A lot of times for me, it’s therapeutic. The high octane and high stress environment for things like that just never appealed to me at all.
Caryn Hartglass: Surely if you’re working in a restaurant there is going to be a certain amount of focus but I think that food preparation, especially at home, it can be “zen” like if you know what you’re doing and get in that mode and that’s the way it should be.
Amber Shea Crawley: I agree!
Caryn Hartglass: Let’s jump into this lovely little book here. One of the things that I wanted to talk about is you have a whole section on hummus.
Amber Shea Crawley: Yes I do!
Caryn Hartglass: It’s interesting how popular hummus has become in this country. I’m not sure when it really had a turn in momentum, 10 years, 20 years, I’m not quite sure but there was a time when no one was eating hummus and now it’s everywhere.
Amber Shea Crawley: I don’t think there’s a bar in my town that doesn’t even have hummus on the bar menu. So it’s everywhere.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s usually a very safe thing for people like vegetarians when they are going to some mainstream event and very often you can find hummus and you go “Oh good, something for me to eat.”
Amber Shea Crawley: Yeah that’s true.
Caryn Hartglass: And now there are so many different ways to make hummus. It’s funny. I want to say so many things at the same time it’s very difficult for me and my tongue starts getting all twisted. Hummus…I don’t know if you know this, the origin of hummus or what it means is from Arabic and Hebrew. Hummus means “chick peas.” We’ve gone quite a long way with what we do with hummus. Some of them that we call hummus don’t even contain chick peas any more.
Amber Shea Crawley: Yeah I guess nowadays it can just be any kind of puree.
Caryn Hartglass: Any kind of schmear or vegetable pâté or whatever you want to call it which is pretty amazing. I have been to Israel a number of times. I think it was back in the ‘80s the first time I was there and I went to a restaurant and I was really hungry and hummus wasn’t really that popular in the United States at the time but it was on a menu. I remember not being sure how it was going to be offered. I now know how it’s traditionally offered. It’s just spread on a plate and maybe you get some pita bread. I asked the server how it is served. I wanted to know if it came with any salad or anything and she said “Hummus? Hummus is hummus.” It’s just been like an ongoing kind of thing with me ever since. Hummus is really just hummus but it isn’t any more. Hummus is many, many different things today.
Amber Shea Crawley: That’s true.
Caryn Hartglass: You have a lot of different hummus recipes and you start with three basic ones. You have the traditional hummus. One of the things that is great about this book is that it is flexible, raw recipes. So you’re going to find some things that were cooked in here.
Amber Shea Crawley: That’s true.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s true. We’ll get back to hummus, but why did you do that?
Amber Shea Crawley: Well, I know a lot of times when I hear people explain why they don’t eat raw food or why they haven’t gotten into it, they name things like “Well, I don’t have a dehydrator” or “I don’t have a high speed blender” or “I don’t know where to get all of those fancy ingredients” or “I can’t afford them” and other things like that and I wanted to show people that adding more raw foods and fresh foods to your life doesn’t have to be an all or nothing experience. I give people directions to warm something up on the stove or heat it up in the oven because the point at the end of the day is that you are getting more raw, unprocessed, fresh ingredients into your diet. If you heat those up a little bit and kill some enzymes, that’s okay. It’s still great food.
Caryn Hartglass: The thing is, we’ve somehow lost this knowledge of how to prepare food and any way that can get people back into the kitchen and making food is a good thing.
Amber Shea Crawley: I agree!
Caryn Hartglass: I’m going to get back to the hummus in a minute but I want to talk about some other things. I’ve been a vegan for a long time and I’ve always been on this major health path and I think it was the Living Light Institute. I was invited to speak in Costa Rica in 2004 at a conference they were having. It was a glorious thing because I camped outside. People could stay in little bungalows if they wanted to or you could camp. It was a week-long event and Cherie Soria was there and a number of other people were preparing all of this wonderful food and I had not eaten raw food before and I decided after that conference that I would eat all raw food and I did that for two years. It was a great learning experience because once you eliminate certain things, you need to ramp up on other things. It’s true of any time that you eliminate certain things from your diet.
Amber Shea Crawley: Yeah It challenges your creativity I think.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s great to shift your focus and challenge yourself but I always found it humorous where people were saying “I’m 65% raw” or “I’m 80% raw,” “I’m 72% raw” and I’m thinking, how do you figure those things out?
Amber Shea Crawley: There is a calculation for that.
Caryn Hartglass: It was really kind of nutty, pun intended. So I really appreciate in your book that you really are just introducing people to lots of luscious, creative ways to use primarily raw food and not to really get all wrapped up with if you’re using a few cooked ingredients, it’s just good.
Amber Shea Crawley: Yeah or even if you can, if you have access to all kinds of ingredients or maybe you even have a dehydrator or something like that and you can prepare fully raw food, maybe you don’t have a family that wants raw food. Maybe they want something warm or maybe they want some pasta or some beans added to it and I don’t see any reason why you can’t combine a raw dish with some non-raw ingredients.
Caryn Hartglass: So let’s get back to the hummus. You have these three great recipes. One is the classic chick pea hummus and the secret ingredient if anyone doesn’t know is tahini. Anything with tahini is incredible. So you have the classic one made with chick peas, and then you have this nice zucchini hummus, which instead of the chick peas, you use raw zucchini.
Amber Shea Crawley: Yeah, I don’t remember the first time I had it prepared that way. That was the first time I tried that but I was skeptical because I don’t love raw zucchini on its own, but it works really well as a palette for something like hummus and when you puree it with a stronger more assertive ingredient like tahini, the zucchini kind of lets the tahini do the talking.
Caryn Hartglass: A few people that garden, I always hear when zucchini is in season, they don’t know what to do with it. There is just too much of it and this would be a great recipe.
Amber Shea Crawley: I’ve heard that too.
Caryn Hartglass: And then there is the richer version, which instead of using the chick peas, you are using cashews and macadamia nuts. Now that just sounds too gooey, too amazing.
Amber Shea Crawley: It’s very rich. That’s actually the first way I had raw hummus at Matthew Kenney’s restaurant and I expected it to be incredibly heavy and just too much, but it worked really nicely.
Caryn Hartglass: I appreciate that you are not using a sprouted chick pea in your hummus or any of your recipes.
Amber Shea Crawley: I’m not a fan of that personally.
Caryn Hartglass: I’ve had it, but unless you drown it in a ton of olive oil and some kind of salt, it doesn’t taste very good.
Amber Shea Crawley: Yeah I agree.
Caryn Hartglass: So, good for you! There are all kinds of theme and variations which are really nice: red pepper hummus, mushroom hummus, yummy, yummy, yummy, sun-dried tomato pesto, lots of really good variations here.
Amber Shea Crawley: That’s probably why hummus is my favorite food. You can do anything you want with it. There are no limits.
Caryn Hartglass: And you should! As you know, there are lots of good things in sesame seeds that we make tahini from. Vitamin E I think is in Sesame seeds. I don’t really think about what’s in my food because I know it’s all good but occasionally I like to highlight things because people seem to think that they need to know what’s going on nutritionally. Which is really a silly thing. The idea is that these kinds of diets that are based on fresh, whole foods, you don’t have to know the science. It’s easy. Just eat lots of wonderful, colorful foods and you’re going to win.
Amber Shea Crawley: You really don’t need to count anything. I think the great thing about raw foods specifically really fill you up and tell your body when to stop in a way I haven’t seen with cooked food. For me, I could keep eating a bowl of never ending pasta but I couldn’t eat raw pasta nearly to that degree.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s the magic of fiber and nature did that intentionally, so that we don’t eat too much. Okay, so for me, somebody who is really involved in food, and healthy food, I’m pretty familiar with most of the things that you talk about in your book. There’s one ingredient though that I want to talk a little bit about and that’s Irish moss.
Amber Shea Crawley: Oh yes!
Caryn Hartglass: I actually have a jar of Irish moss that I have in my refrigerator that I probably bought five or six years ago and have not used very much of and I’m embarrassed to say this because I always tell people to move the food out of their refrigerators and don’t keep stuff for a very long time.
Amber Shea Crawley: Luckily that seems to last pretty well. I don’t know if it will last years.
Caryn Hartglass: I know, but I just never really got into it. So tell me what I can do with Irish moss and why I want to use it.
Amber Shea Crawley: Well, first of all, I want to tell people that I always use that, only as an optional ingredient because I know that it is unfamiliar and it can be tough to track down, or depending on where you buy it, they may not want to pay what they are charging so I don’t ever use that as a required part of a recipe, but I have found that it is an amazing addition in many different ways. You can use it for people who are fat sensitive. I don’t really like the idea of limiting dietary fats, but I can understand sometimes why people would want to cut out a little of the fat in like a cashew cheesecake that has some of the nuts and coconut oil in it. So you can replace a portion of any type of blended or pureed nuts in a recipe with Irish moss and it gives the recipe the same amount of body but it makes it just a little lighter and it does the same things for raw breads. I actually learned that from Russell James. He was my instructor at the Matthew Kinney academy and he makes a killer garlic bread that uses Irish moss blended into it and it makes the bread really fluffy. There’s no better word. It’s really light and that’s awesome for raw food because that is hard to achieve.
Caryn Hartglass: Usually the raw breads are really dense.
Amber Shea Crawley: Yeah dense, flat, and almost more like wimpy crackers or something like that.
Caryn Hartglass: I guess it’s like a foam maybe when you mix it with water and then when it gets dehydrated, it keeps that airiness?
Amber Shea Crawley: Yeah when you blend it, it turns into kind of a gel and then when you add that to a recipe whether it’s dessert, or a smoothie or a bread or something like that, especially if you refrigerate it afterward, it thickens even more so it gives more body and more texture to whatever recipe you have.
Caryn Hartglass: So one other ingredient that I don’t use very often, well I don’t ever use it so let’s talk about it and that’s all of the raw cocoa products: raw cocoa powder, cocoa nibs, cocoa butter, does it taste like chocolate?
Amber Shea Crawley: It does. It tastes more chocolaty than chocolate does in a way sometimes. Raw cocoa powder is very strong. It’s great for dark chocolate lovers because it is a very strong chocolate flavor. The cocoa nibs too, if you’re a true chocoholic, then they are great because it is like chewing on crunchy bits of chocolate. To me, it’s what chocolate should taste like. It shouldn’t be over-roasted and combined with milk powders and fillers and stuff like that, so I like it.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m not exactly sure how it’s made, but it’s not roasted.
Amber Shea Crawley: Right. It’s a raw form.
Caryn Hartglass: Hmmm. Okay. I think I might have had it in a dessert here and there, but I’ve never really ventured out and used it.
Amber Shea Crawley: It’s worth looking into.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay! Well, I guess I’m going to have to try that because it’s all about food and I love variety. Why not!?!?
Amber Shea Crawley: Exactly.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, we just have a few minutes. Tell me, what’s your favorite in this book? Do you have a favorite?
Amber Shea Crawley: I have a few favorites, it’s hard to pick, but I would say my favorite recipe in the whole book is probably my most famous recipe, period, and that’s the famous 5 minute blondies in the dessert chapter.
Caryn Hartglass: Is that the one you won the award for?
Amber Shea Crawley: No. The caramel fudge brownies are the one that I won the Hot Raw Chef contest with and that’s in the dessert chapter too and that I would say is a close second in my favorite desserts but I love the brownie, blondie, bar type of desserts they are just so low maintenance and easy. If you make cookies, you have to form the cookies. If you make a cake or a pie, you have to make the crust and the filling, but with bars or brownies, you just make everything and you press it into a pan and you’re done and I love that.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m glad that I’m looking at your book because I used to make a lot of these things and I’ve gotten out of the habit of it but these raw cookies and these raw treats which are just a combination of nuts and dried fruit are the BEST desserts you possibly could have. They are good for you and they are easy and they are just so delicious.
Amber Shea Crawley: Yeah and they are good enough for you that you can eat one for breakfast and not really feel bad about it.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m going on a trip and I’m thinking I should make these and take a few on the plane with me.
Amber Shea Crawley: Yeah. What a good idea.
Caryn Hartglass: They are really good fuel.
Amber Shea Crawley: Definitely.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, Amber, thank you so much for joining me on “It’s All About Food” and I wish you great success.
Amber Shea Crawley: Thank you for having me.
Caryn Hartglass: Let’s just get everyone to eat their vegetables, huh!
Amber Shea Crawley: Agreed
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, thank you so much!
Transcribed by Erin Clark, 4/9/2013