Part I: Hannah Kaminsky
Hannah Kaminsky began playing in the kitchen at a very young age, encouraged by her drive to create accessible and delicious animal-free eats. By her senior year of high school, she was already busy working on her first cookbook, a vegan dessert book titled My Sweet Vegan. Now Hannah is the author two vegan dessert books, an award-winning blog, and a handful of eBooks. Here, Vegan Mainstream dishes with Hannah about blogging, baking and her newest project, a vegan ice-cream book titled Vegan A La Mode.
Hello! I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Happy, happy, happy January 25th, 2012. Time marches on and here in New York City it is a beautiful, clear, very unlike-winter day. It’s like autumn—keeps going on and it’s really delicious. Can’t help but take advantage of it and be outside. But I’m inside right now and I’m talking about my favorite subject: food. And it’s going to be a very, very sweet, yummy show. I hope you’ve eaten because if you haven’t, you might start salivating sometime soon and that can be dangerous. But I hope you have some great things to reach for if you do start wanting to feed your face. Anyway, the beautiful thing about plant-based foods: not only are they nourishing and gentle on the planet and kind to the animals but after decade after decade of different people getting involved with making great things out of plant-based foods we are finally on par, I think, with every other great cuisine that’s out there and that’s really exciting. And I think the thing that vegans do best is make desserts. We’re going to talk a little bit about that, or a lot about that, in the next half hour with Hannah Kaminsky. Now, she began playing in the kitchen at a very young age, encouraged by her drive to create accessible and delicious animal-free eats. By her senior year of high school she was already busy working on her first cookbook, a vegan dessert book titled My Sweet Vegan. Now Hannah is the author of two vegan dessert books, an award-winning blog, and a handful of e-books, Here, Vegan Mainstream Dishes with Hannah about blogging, baking, and her newest project, a vegan ice cream book titled Vegan Á La Mode. Welcome to It’s All About Food Hannah Kaminsky.
(Hannah) Hi, it’s good to be here.
(Caryn) Thank you and how are you today?
(Hannah) I’m great, how are you?
(Caryn) Great. I wanted to wish you a happy belated birthday.
(Hannah) Oh, thank you.
(Caryn) I was reading your very beautiful, delicious, salivating-making blog and I had read the post about your birthday so I wanted to wish you a happy birthday.
(Hannah) I appreciate it. It was a quiet one but nice.
(Caryn) Well, the thing that I appreciate (and) one of the great things when you’re good at making desserts is, at least for me anyway, I tend to make my own cakes and that’s kind of a nice gift to yourself when you can make exactly what you want—for you. Now it says in the brief bio that I read that you got involved at a young age in the kitchen and I can certainly tell that by reading your cookbook and the stories that you tell. Was anyone else in your family interested in cooking?
(Hannah) Well, my mom cooked but nothing beyond the standard everyday meal kind of thing. And she sort of, you know, encouraged me to bake and help out when I was much younger but it was just up to me to make decent meals for myself so I took that opportunity to really hone my skills.
(Caryn) And the vegan thing, when did that start for you?
(Hannah) I became vegan when I first became a freshman in high school because I was exposed to all these new people who are vegetarian and I thought that was so cool. So I went vegetarian for about a month and then finally did research about it and realized “oh my God, it’s so much worse to be vegetarian in many ways” and I just went vegan from there.
(Caryn) That’s definitely an “oh my God” epiphany experience when the veil is lifted, isn’t it?
(Hannah) Yeah, just you can’t look back.
(Caryn) And your parents were OK with that?
(Hannah) Well, they were really hesitant at first as any parent would be concerned about their kids getting proper nutrition.
(Caryn) Where are you going to get your protein?
(Hannah) I know, that was a big one, of course. But they helped me. They brought me to a nutritionist to make sure that I was doing it the right way. And basically the deal was as long as I was healthy, they were fine with it.
(Caryn) Now, things have changed quite a bit and when I read that it was your twenty-third birthday I was just reflecting and thinking that you probably were born a few months after I became vegan.
(Hannah) Ah, that’s a funny coincidence.
(Caryn) And things have changed quite a bit since I made that decision. But, actually, it was back in high school for me too that a friend of mine mentioned being vegetarian and the light went on. But it wasn’t until I was thirty that I actually became a vegan and the journey has been really fun for me. We didn’t have a lot of products available at the time but there was soy milk, there was tofu, and I had this paperback of The Joy of Cooking, which was not a vegetarian cookbook at all, but I was in there all the time just creating new recipes. That was like my platform. But now it’s just so easy because there are so many great cookbooks out there. I was reading your vegan desserts cookbook, your second book, and it’s brilliant.
(Hannah) Thank you.
(Caryn) You are a phenomenal writer, a wonderful photographer, and your recipes are beautiful.
(Hannah) I really appreciate that. I’ve really taken a lot of time to hone the photography skills especially so I’m really excited to be able to share that in this latest book.
(Caryn) Now is that something you’ve done on your own or have you had some help with the photography?
(Hannah) I started learning photography just to get the camera shooting away. I’m now taking classes. It’s my major. The photography is all mine in all my books and my blog and I do freelance photography now too.
(Caryn) Yeah, it’s great. It’s so important and I know that photographing cookbooks is expensive and a lot of publishers don’t want to do that but it makes the biggest difference in how much you’re going to really use the book I think. There’s a picture of every recipe in here.
(Hannah) Yeah, it’s a big deal for me because personally I’m a very visual learner and if I don’t know the way that something is supposed to look, I really can’t imagine making it or eating it.
(Caryn) Right. Well, gorgeous stuff in here. I wanted to pick out what my favorites are.
(Hannah) Oh, I can’t wait to hear. Very curious.
(Caryn) Well, I do a lot of cooking. One of things I liked about this, and I’ve seen―I’m trying to estimate now how many vegan dessert cookbooks I have and I have looked at because there’s a lot now, which is delightful…
(Hannah) Yeah, it’s amazing. When I first started writing recipes, there were like two. Now there are tons.
(Caryn) But yours is very, very creative. Very unique. OK, so my favorite, I think it was mostly from a visual, is the Watermelon Bomb.
(Hannah) Oh yeah, that’s a big favorite over here too.
(Caryn) It’s gosh, it is so adorable, so beautiful. And I’m sure it’s delicious.
(Hannah) It’s one of my favorites.
(Caryn) It just tickled me. I’ve always liked, personally myself, making cakes that look like things—for kids, like cartoons and things. And so I like making art out of food. And then the other one, maybe you could guess, but I love the Pumpkin Cookies.
(Hannah) Oh, of course, the shaped ones.
(Caryn) They look just like little pumpkins. And I love that you use the little pepita seed as the pumpkin stem.
(Hannah) Yeah, it took a lot of work to get a dough that would hold its shape and still taste like pumpkin. A lot of pumpkin flops. They would melt in the oven.
(Caryn) Did you do most of these at home? The preparation for most of your recipes?
(Hannah) Oh yeah, it’s all just my home kitchen. I photograph them on the kitchen table. Nothing fancy.
(Caryn) Yeah, but you’re in college now.
(Hannah) Well, I’m actually taking courses online so I’m still home. That’s the beauty of that.
(Caryn) Oh, that’s the other thing. When I was reading this cookbook and thinking about your age and my age, not that I’m concerned about age, but I was just reflecting and thinking how things have really changed. And I just wonder, how do I want to say this, I was just wondering what my life would have been like if I had had all of what’s available today when I was younger.
(Hannah) Oh, I feel so lucky to be alive in this time. I mean it’s like the Age of the Vegan. And technology makes the whole world more accessible. It’s amazing.
(Caryn) It really is. We can focus on things that are very unpleasant but at the same time there are things that are really amazing going on right now. And so I was like rejoicing at the same time thinking “gosh, there are just so many great things going on and we’re like evolving at an incredible pace.”
(Hannah) Absolutely. Things are getting better. I mean it’s never going to be perfect. There’s a lot going wrong but things are getting better on the whole.
(Caryn) Well, I just want to say that I had these thoughts looking at all of the beautiful dessert pictures in your book.
(Hannah) Well, I’m grateful for that.
(Caryn) It just exuded just such happy, positive, lovely things.
(Hannah) Yeah, and that’s what I want to share. I mean, it’d be easy to dwell on the bad things and the things that we don’t have yet…but have a dessert. Things are OK. You know?
(Caryn) The other thing that I like, what you’ve done in here is, (and) not many people do this, using egg replacer as egg whites in a number of different recipes. I mean that takes a bit of courage and you’ve done it quite well in here.
(Hannah) Yeah, I was really hesitant to share those recipes because I don’t like calling for specific brand-name ingredients. But I know people were just dying to know about the meringue. And I figure it’s better to let everyone know and give them that technology, if you will, and let them do what they will. If they want to buy the ingredients, great. If they don’t, there are more recipes in the book. There are not many that call for that. I think it’s just really neat to have a vegan meringue.
(Caryn) Oh, absolutely. I was, well, I turned vegan in 1988 and then I moved to France in 1992. So I was kind of a newbie vegan and living in a culture that was not very vegan-friendly at the time, although it has changed quite a bit over the decades. And I used to…
(Hannah) I can imagine that would be tough.
(Caryn) Well, yes and no because they really appreciate fresh food and fresh produce so there were lots of great vegetables and fruits around and people knew how to prepare them. And you could find in the health food stores all of the things I needed except a few things. And one of them was Ener-G Egg Replacer and so I used to buy it in the States and bring it with me back to France. And I would kind of enjoy making a lemon meringue pie and looking at the very dumbfounded, quizzical looks of my new French friends who weren’t vegetarian.
(Hannah) That’s great.
(Caryn) Yeah, so it is a great product.
(Hannah) Oh yeah. It’s one of the very few brand-name egg replacers that I will still buy. Because otherwise I don’t go out of my way to replace eggs. I just never learned to bake with them.
(Caryn) Which is a very, very good point. So many people that bake think that they’re so essential and they don’t realize that they’re not.
(Hannah) Yeah, it’s fascinating. It’s just a whole different way of looking at baking.
(Caryn) I’m sure many people have looked at you and said “how do you bake without eggs?”
(Hannah) One of the most common questions.
(Caryn) I have a chemical background and so I have that chemistry understanding and I appreciate that you kind of talked about the alchemy of cooking in your book a little bit. But there are different foods—plant foods—that can replace different properties of the egg. There’s not one ingredient that will do everything that the egg does because it is a pretty amazing food.
(Hannah) Yeah. I’m convinced that there are vegan replacements for absolutely everything out there. And if we haven’t figured it out yet, we will.
(Caryn) Absolutely. Without the toxic chemicals too.
(Caryn) Yeah, and I guess my favorite of all of them is the amazing flax seed.
(Hannah) Yeah, it’s a wonderful, versatile ingredient. I like that that’s what I’m replacing eggs.
(Caryn) Yeah, me too. I try to put it in everything because I know it’s so good for me.
(Hannah) That and chia seeds. Right there with you.
(Caryn) Yeah, you know, I haven’t gotten into chia seeds just because they’re not as readily available and they tend to be expensive.
(Hannah) I order them in bulk so I just throw them into everything once I have them.
(Caryn) Now are they a little different than flax seeds?
(Hannah) Only slightly in that you can eat them whole and they’re more easily digestible that way. And when you soak them in water they become a gel, which makes really fun pudding. It’s one of the more popular things to do with them.
(Caryn) I’m going to have to try that.
(Hannah) Yeah, it’s great. I mean, surprisingly great, because it looks kind of weird but it’s good.
(Caryn) Yeah, I’ve tried some a few times with just the gel itself and it was not very appealing. But I imagine it could really lend a very nice texture to different things.
(Hannah) Yeah, it can be a really great binder
(Caryn) And I imagine it’s just like if you wanted to eat just plain egg whites. That wouldn’t be appealing either.
(Hannah) Yeah, ew. I would not recommend that.
(Caryn) On many levels. OK, so are you working on a new cookbook?
(Hannah) I am. I am just about done with Vegan Á La Mode. There are over 100 vegan ice cream recipes.
(Caryn) And are the bases of the ice creams different or do they tend to be the same?
(Hannah) They’re all different.
(Caryn) All different?
(Hannah) I have some traditional flavors in there so that everyone’s happy. I mean, I’ve got plain old chocolate and vanilla. But there’s also some crazy things like a Bloody Mary Sorbet. And, what else? Matzoh and Adzuki Bean. You know, unusual combinations that you’re not going to find in the stores.
(Caryn) Right, I believe it. Because this book that I’m looking at is pretty, pretty creative. And the bases for the ice creams, are you using coconut milk or a cashew mixture of things?
(Hannah) It’s all different. I use a lot of blends of different milks but there’s plenty of coconut milk. And I leave it pretty open-ended. I suggest non-dairy milk, which can basically include anything that isn’t rice milk. That’s the only thing I’ve had a bad result with.
(Caryn) Right. Now I’m looking on your blog, which is BitterSweet…
(Caryn) OK, I’m looking at bittersweetblog.wordpress.com.
(Hannah) It all goes to the same place.
(Caryn) Very good. Well, you’re not just doing desserts. You’re doing savory foods too.
(Hannah) Yeah, I gotta eat too. I mean, I’m cooking so I might as well blog about that.
(Caryn) Yeah, well, there are some beautiful things here too. Are you going to do a non-dessert vegan cookbook after the ice cream?
(Hannah) I would like to. I would definitely like to. It’s just harder to find the right niche because I don’t want to be “another” vegan cookbook. I want to offer something different and I don’t think I’m quite ready to yet.
(Caryn) Yeah, OK, well, you’ll know when the right time is.
(Hannah) Yeah, I still have plenty of other dessert book plans still so stay tuned. There’s more on the way.
(Caryn) The funny thing is: the people that don’t eat this way, when you tell them you’re vegan, all of a sudden many of them go blank and can’t imagine what you eat. And yet, the variations, the recipes, are infinite.
(Hannah) Yeah. I feel like going vegan really opened up my palette more than anything else. I was such a picky eater. I basically subsisted on ramen noodles and hot dogs as a kid. And going vegan, it forced me to think about what was there left to eat. And there was so much, so much I had never tried or dreamed of trying. So I’m grateful for going vegan. I eat better now than ever.
(Caryn) Yeah, absolutely. You bring up a good point because I know a lot of teenagers get the idea to eat vegetarian because they don’t like what it’s doing to the environment. They don’t like what it’s doing to animals. They’re not really thinking about their health. But kids are picky eaters and they don’t like vegetables. And so I’m happy to hear that you went a route of eating better and expanding your horizons and your palette because of other motivations. And I hope that’s a good incentive for a lot of young people.
(Hannah) Yeah, it just kind of happened by accident for me.
(Caryn) Well, you were definitely meant to do this sort of thing I think.
(Hannah) I think so. I’m really enjoying it and I don’t see any end to the recipe writing and the photographing and all this.
(Caryn) Now, outside of cooking, when you went vegetarian and now, are you feeling strongly about any particular cause behind eating plant-based foods?
(Hannah) What do you mean?
(Caryn) Well, are you driven by factory farming, the environment, health?
(Hannah) Yeah, it’s more about the animals and the mistreatments and factory farms. That is a big deal for me. That was my main motivation.
(Caryn) Are there any traditional foods that you had as a youngster that you miss? Or that you are thinking (about) maybe you can recreate?
(Hannah) I feel like I’ve basically gotten them all, you know? I was big on cheese and ravioli and I know that that’s a big reason why a lot of people say they could never be vegan but we have amazing cheese now, are you kidding?
(Caryn) I know. We like to make a lot of nut cheeses at home. That’s my favorite.
(Hannah) I love cashew cheese. It’s amazing.
(Caryn) It is amazing. You know, I wish… I don’t know, is there anywhere in this country where we grow cashews or they all imported?
(Hannah) I think they’re all imported.
(Caryn) Yeah, it’s such an amazing nut.
(Hannah) It’s a tropical plant.
(Caryn) The fruit itself is really disgusting. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a cashew fruit but the nut is…
(Hannah) In pictures, not in person.
(Caryn) Yeah. And you talk in your book…there was a little story about how when your family would go out to restaurants you didn’t order the desserts very often. And you said it was because they weren’t very good?
(Hannah) Well, compared to what we would make at home. Even the simple things. We’d make chocolate chip cookies or just yellow cake. It would still be so much better than the mass-produced stuff with the neon frosting and, yick, I don’t even know. There was no point to store-bought desserts to me.
(Caryn) So you had a sophisticated palette at a very young age and your whole family did.
(Hannah) In some ways. We were just brought up on real food.
(Caryn) Well, I give your family a lot of credit for that.
(Hannah) Yeah, I can’t say it was always healthy food but real food.
(Caryn) Real food. Yeah, I know what you mean. But even that. Even meats and dairy products when they are minimally processed are better choices than some of the crazy manufactured foods that are out there today.
(Hannah) Yeah, there are some scary, like plastic, radioactive edibles out there. I don’t know what they’re trying to tell us is food.
(Caryn) Aside from cookbooks and photography, do you have any other projects that you’re working on or that you’re thinking about?
(Hannah) Well, in the meantime I work part-time at a restaurant called Health in a Hurry. It’s here in Fairfield, Connecticut. I’ve worked there…it’s been my first job since I was sixteen. Still there.
(Caryn) What restaurant is this?
(Hannah) Health in a Hurry. We’re a tiny little place hidden behind a building complex and, you know, it’s just wonderful. A whole welcoming community and you can try samples of absolutely everything we have on hand. We’ll chat you up for hours if you let us. You know, it’s just so friendly and comforting and it’s really wholesome good food.
(Caryn) It’s a restaurant?
(Hannah) Yeah. Mostly to-go stuff but we also prepare hot soup, muffins, baked goods. I take care of the baked goods most of the time. It’s a great place and I love it. And Sue, the chef and owner, is the sweetest person I’ve ever met. She is my best friend.
(Caryn) We need more of those everywhere.
(Hannah) Yeah. And she’s so helpful. She’ll guide you through everything that we have and if you’re new to being a vegan or if you have new dietary restrictions, she’ll give you plenty of advice. She’s very wise.
(Caryn) Were there any people or cookbook authors that inspired you when you were getting started?
(Hannah) Isa (Chandra), of course, is like the godmother of vegan cuisine so I’ve looked up to her. But other than that I can’t think of any specific names.
(Caryn) OK, well I was just curious.
(Hannah) I’ve found a lot of inspiration in non-vegan cooking just thinking how could I make it vegan.
(Caryn) Yeah, I’ve gone that route mostly myself. Especially, you know, I mentioned before I was living in France and I wasn’t eating any of the food because I was a vegan. But I looked at everything.
(Hannah) Yeah, there’s a lot to be learned from what’s around us.
(Caryn) From looking. More restaurants over there care about presentation. You could be in the simplest dive and the food was always beautifully presented. It was a lot to look at and a lot to learn.
(Hannah) Yeah, we eat with our eyes and that’s why I find the styling and the photography so fascinating.
(Caryn) Well, beautiful. OK, Hannah Kaminsky. I want to thank you for joining me on It’s All About Food and encourage listeners to go to hannahkaminsky.com. That’s “h”s on both sides. Let’s see, two “h”s, two “a”s, and two “n”s in Hannah. I like that.
(Hannah) Yep, a palandrome. Easy to remember.
(Caryn) And check out the BitterSweet Blog. It’s really beautiful. Beautiful pictures and great writing and great stories and great recipes. All the best to you.
(Hannah) Thank you. It was a pleasure to talk with you.
(Caryn) I hope to meet you sometime and maybe you can make me some treat.
(Hannah) I’d love that.
(Caryn) OK, take care.
(Hannah) You too.
(Caryn) I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’ve been listening to It’s All About Food. We’re going to take a short break and be back with Chef Alan Roettinger.
Transcribed by Jennie Steinhagen – 01/13/2013