Doing Dessert for a Sweet Solstice
Originally posted for Huffington Post on 12/21/2015
‘Tis the season. I’m happy to share my favorite holiday recipe, my vegan version of the Italian classic confection panforte. Another sweet holiday tradition — Feeding the Hungry Ghost on sale for a limited time.
Howdy and happy winter solstice. Winter officially begins tonight and we continue speeding towards Christmas, Kwanzaa and the finish line of 2015. As usual, I am not ready. In fact, I’m still mulling over something from October.
My husband I were visiting Cayman and naturally went to Bread and Chocolate, the island’s only vegan cafe, owned and run by my excellent friends Agata Kalicki and Reno Ciantar. My husband and I ate our way through the menu — a version of my own African-American sweet potato and peanut stew — perfect for Kwanzaa — and vegan shepherd’s pie — one of the cafe’s most popular items. It may seem an odd choice for a tropical paradise, but comfort food is comfort food wherever you are.
I was sipping the last of my turmeric tea, perfectly blissed out by the vibe, the food, seeing my friends. Then Agata came over with a plate and a frown. “I know you don’t do dessert,” she said, “But I wanted you to try it.” She set down the plate — a freshly-baked vegan brownie drizzled with caramel. Well, I do so do dessert. But the truth is, I don’t have a sweet tooth and get kinda stoned off dessert — not that that’s a bad thing. In fact, biting into the brownie felt very, very good, all the sweeter for being as compassionate as it is delectable. But one taste was enough for me. My husband happily finished the rest.
Agata’s words have stayed with me, long after the chocolate high wore off. Dessert is almost everyone’s idea of comfort food. Being known as someone who doesn’t do dessert brands you as less than human. It also smacks of moral superiority, to which I can lay no claim. And it’s not like I never provide dessert recipes. One of my favorite I did for Christmas a couple years ago My chocolate cake recipe in my book “Feeding the Hungry Ghost” stacks up to any chocolate cake anywhere. But okay, okay, I don’t create too many dessert recipes for Meatless Monday because
1) I’m in awe of the pros — vegan bakers and confectioners like Fran Costigan, Doron Petersan, Allison Rivers Samson, Hannah Kaminsky and Lagusta Yearwood
2) Frankly, I’d rather seduce you a great recipe with greens or beans (hello, here’s my bean e-book).
But it’s Christmas, right? and as a challenge, to work my edge and prove I do indeed do dessert, here’s a dessert recipe to end the year sweetly — panforte, Siena’s traditional holiday addictive confection. Why panforte?
1) It’s vaguely good for you, since it contains dried fruit and nuts.
2) It’s Italian, and after my fall trip to Milan for the World Pasta Congress, I am swoony for all things Italian.
3) It’s got chocolate, which as Sticky Fingers cupcake mistress Doron Petersan told me, screams love in your face.
Wishing you happy holidays, sweet winter solstice and love in your face.