Wednesday, November 26, 2014

10 Questions: Foodie Edition with Dreena Burton

I have not had the pleasure of meeting Dreena Burton of Plant-Powered Kitchen in person yet but when I do, I think I am going to wrap myself around one of her legs and not let go until she feeds me hummus. This woman is really, really into hummus and I think it may be the protein-packed secret behind her healthy glow and her productivity. In addition to her popular, frequently updated website that abounds with simple but enticing recipes as well as instructional videos, Dreena also has written some excellent and well-loved cookbooks, which focus on family-friendly, nutritious but still appealing dishes that children and busy parents alike can enjoy. A vegan for 20 years, Dreena also contributes recipes regularly to magazines and websites, such as Yoga Journal and Forks Over Knives. Her fifth cookbook, Plant-Powered Families, comes out this May and I can't wait for it.

I love Dreena's positive approach and her accessible way of helping parents become empowered role models and healthy living advocates for their children. Knowing that healthy eating habits begin in childhood and can be so challenging to change later on, I think that what Dreena is doing is actually quite revolutionary with an enormous potential for creating positive change, one household after the next. With so many challenges to good health - from the deep-fried chicken "fingers" and vegetable-bare children's menus to empty calorie snacks that kids gulp down between activities - it's very reassuring to know that Dreena is helping to create a new food climate - free of judgement and sanctimony - with easy, delicious and nutritious recipes anyone could make and enjoy. Thank you, Dreena, for changing the world.

1. How did you start down this path of creating delicious food? Was a love for food nurtured into you? Did you have any special relatives or mentors who helped to instill this passion?

I’ve always loved food. We didn’t grow up eating a very healthy diet, but I do remember having an appreciation for home-cooked meals. I’ve also always had quite the sweet tooth!  I wasn’t one of those kids that spent hours cooking with her mother. My love for cooking actually began once I became vegetarian, and soon after, vegan. I never enjoyed cooking animal flesh or baking with eggs - from prepping to cleaning it was unappealing. When I started cooking and baking vegan, it felt like food freedom! Which is ironic, because most people perceive plant-based foods as restrictive. For me, it sparked a new passion in food and recipe developing.

2. What was your diet like when you were growing up? Did you have any favorite meals or meal traditions? Do you carry them over today?

I grew up in a very traditional “meat and potatoes” home. Quite a lot of processed meats too, like Vienna Sausages, bologna, Fraser Meatballs, deli meats, and fish sticks. I shudder at the thought now! My mother also cooked many meals from scratch, but fresh vegetables were not plentiful, so the veggies we did eat were canned or boiled. I do remember some of my mother’s signature dishes as favorites in my childhood, and a few I’ve adapted. More so, I think I’ve created new food traditions for our family. Our daughters always ask for Pumpkin Custards during the holidays, and often request Tamari Roasted Chickpeas, hummus, and Mac-Oh Geez!

3. What is the best vegan meal you've ever had? Give us all the details!

One of the best meals I had was in Portland, Oregon at Natural Selection. It was during my trip to Vida Vegan Conference, and the meal was just beautiful composed. They really understood flavors and textures and every course and bite was scrumptious. I hope to visit more vegan restaurants now that our girls are growing and I can hopefully indulge in more travel!

4. If you could prepare one meal or dessert for anyone living or dead, who would it be for and what would you create?

Wow, that’s a big question! Perhaps my father. He passed away just after my 11th birthday, and I feel like I learned a little “alternative living” from him. He loved food, truly loved it! With six children in our family, he’d didn’t always get seconds for dinner and would satiate his remaining hunger with crackers and jam! So, I’d probably make my Umami Burgers with home fries for him, there’s no hunger after that meal! Dessert is a must, too. He loved a good cookie bar, so I’d probably lean towards my Hello Vegan Bars!

What do you think are common mistakes in vegan cooking and how do you avoid them?
Perhaps thinking we now have to like a new food or cuisine because it’s popular in vegan cookery. For instance, foods such as seaweed, tofu, beets, eggplant, buckwheat, or specific beans like edamame or black-eyed peas. I like to say that our palates blossom when we become vegan. We become more in tune with all the nuances of flavors in foods. Sometimes this leads us to like foods we once didn’t like. Other times, it heighten a particular dislike, or we simply try a new ingredient as our choices broaden. It’s okay not to love every plant food!

What ingredients are you especially excited about at the moment?

Ooooh, fun question! I love the Coconut Aminos line of seasonings - their teriyaki sauce, coconut vinegar, and more. Really tasty and quick to add to quinoa, salad bowls, steamed kale, etc. I also love coconut butter because it’s magical in desserts, winter squash because it is just nature’s comfort food in the fall, sweet potatoes because they are incredibly versatile from savory to sweet recipes, and macadamia nut butter - it’s very underutilized and a dessert lover’s dream.

7. You are restricted to one ethnic cuisine for the rest of your life. What would you like it to be?

Hmmm, either Lebanese (because #hummusisafoodgroup) or Mexican for its avocado love!

8. Who or what has been most influential to you on your vegan path? Individuals, groups, books, films, etc. included.

I began my journey after reading Diet For A New America. My path began for health reasons, but soon I learned about the atrocities of animal agriculture through Erik Marcus' work. By far the most influential book for me was The China Study. I read it many years back, when it was first released, and it grounded all my beliefs about eating plant-based. I began sending copies of TCS to friends and families, recommending it everywhere and anywhere.  Now there are so many game-changing books and movies, from Forks Over Knives to Vegucated to Whole.

9. What issue is nearest and dearest to your heart that you would like people to know more about?

Making healthy eating a priority for children and families. Our generation of parents invests so much time in sports and activities for kids, and yet many children are eating the most non-nutritive foods - even in families that can afford very good food. Diet is learned, we need to teach children early about real food.

10. Last, please finish this sentence. "To me, veganism is…"

...simply life.

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