You won’t find any butter in Noemi Aylesworth’s refrigerator. You may see a carton of soy milk on the shelf, but definitely not the kind that comes from an animal species. No cheese, either.
“If someone asks for salt when they’re eating at our house, I have to go into the bathroom to get it. We only use salt to gargle with. We never use it in the kitchen,” said Aylesworth during a recent conversation we had.
Noemi Aylesworth owns The Cabin Coffeehouse and Cafe in downtown Bemijdi, Minn. Two years ago, after reading “The China Study,” by the father-son research team, T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. and Thomas M. Campbell II, she made the decision to switch from her vegetarian lifestyle to a strictly plant-based diet, and made a commitment to a style of eating that promotes better health.
The book that made such an impact on Aylesworth focuses on the knowledge gained from the China Study, a 20-year partnership of Cornell University, Oxford University and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine that showed high consumption of animal-based foods is associated with more chronic disease, while those who ate primarily a plant-based diet were the healthiest.
Aylesworth admits her current eating habits have changed drastically over the years. “My parents owned a cafe when I was growing up,” she said as we sat at a table in the large back room of The Cabin, surrounded by people quietly sipping their favorite lattes as they focused on their computer screens, children playing with toys and women gathered together for a late lunch. “I grew up eating French fries, pop and candy,” she said. “Becoming vegan has been a lifestyle choice. Eating a plant-based diet is best for my health. I haven’t been sick at all since I’ve chosen to eat whole foods.”
Not only can you steer clear of the sniffles when you eat a diet rich in plant-based foods, you will be surprised at the wonderful new flavors you discover. “You can actually taste the food when it doesn’t have butter all over it. Potatoes are amazing just by themselves. You can taste the potato when it’s not covered with sour cream and butter,” said Aylesworth.
Noemi Aylesworth’s vegan lifestyle has been appreciated by many of the customers who frequent The Cabin Coffeehouse and Cafe. A glass case near the counter offers several vegan sweet treats, such as chocolate chip cookies, muffins and quick breads.
“The Hungry Vegan sandwich has become a popular choice for all of our customers,” said Aylesworth. “Vegan or not.” The thick sandwich is made with avocado on multi-grain bread with lettuce, roasted red peppers, tomato, onion, cucumber, carrot, pumpkin
seeds, basil and Vegenaise, a grapeseed oil spread that is egg free, dairy
free, has no cholesterol and is a good substitute for mayonnaise.
The petite coffeehouse owner completed an eCornell class on plant-based nutrition. She’s convinced many of the health problems Americans are afflicted with can be controlled, or prevented, by rejecting animal-based and processed foods.
I asked Aylesworth what her biggest challenge has been living a vegan lifestyle for the last two years. “We rarely go out to eat anymore,” said Aylesworth. “It’s not easy finding restaurants that offer vegan choices on the menu. When we travel, we pack up our food and take it with us.”
In the Bemidji area, Aylesworth joins Vegans and Friends, who gather together the second Monday of each month for a meal at a local restaurant that prepares vegan food for the group. Vegans and Friends have discovered this is a good way to bring awareness to restaurants about the ease of preparing plant-based foods that are not only beautiful to look at, but pleasing to the palate.
Aylesworth has become efficient at giving conventional recipes a vegan makeover. Several years ago she began making Breakfast Cookies to offer her customers at The Cabin. She used a recipe I had shared in my column. When she made a commitment to eat only plant-based, whole foods, she gave the Breakfast Cookies a makeover.
Vegan-style Breakfast Cookies are still chewy and delicious, despite the fact the butter got scratched out of the recipe to make room for organic canola oil and applesauce. Two eggs in the cookie dough are unacceptable for vegans. That’s where Egg Replacer comes in. A powdered mixture made of potato starch and tapioca flour, it mimics what eggs do in a baking recipe. Organic sugar replaces the original granulated and brown sugars. Whole wheat pastry flour, made from soft wheat with no bits of bran in it, moves all-purpose and regular whole wheat flour out of the recipe.
Noemi Aylesworth is happy to contribute to the health and wellness of her customers as she introduces them to the bright, colorful, flavorful world of unprocessed, plant-based whole foods — even if it’s one Breakfast Cookie or one Hungry Vegan Sandwich at a time.
In the recipe below, you will find Aylesworth’s recipe for Vegan Breakfast Cookies. In parentheses, you will find the ingredients for the original, unveganized Breakfast Cookies. It’s your choice!
- ½ cup (1 cup) chopped dried apricots
- ¾ cup (¾ cup) cup dried cranberries
- ½ cup (½ cup) orange juice
- 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (½ cup whole wheat flour and ½ cup all-purpose flour)
- 1 teaspoon (1 teaspoon) baking soda
- 1 teaspoon (1 teaspoon) salt
- 1 teaspoon (1 teaspoon) cinnamon
- ½ cup organic canola oil and ½ cup applesauce (1 cup butter, room temperature)
- 1½ cups organic sugar (1 cup brown sugar and ½ cup white sugar)
- 1 tablespoon Egg Replacer mixed with 1/4 cup warm water (2 large eggs)
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract)
- ½ teaspoon almond extract (½ teaspon almond extract)
- ½ cup ground flax seeds (½ cup ground flax seeds)
- 3 cups old-fashioned oats, uncooked (3 cups oats, uncooked)
- 1 cup wheat germ (1 cup wheat germ)
- ¾ cup sliced almonds, toasted (¾ cup sliced almonds, toasted)
Heat orange juice and pour over dried apricots and cranberries in small bowl. Set aside.
Stir flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon together. Set aside.
In large mixing bowl, cream applesauce, oil and sugar and whipped Egg Replacer, vanilla and almond extract. Add eggs, vanilla and almond extract. Mix well. Add dried apricots and cranberries with juice that they’ve soaked in.
Stir in flour mixture. Mix well. Add ground flax seeds, oats and wheat germ. Stir to mix. Stir in almonds. Wrap the moist dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 3 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Drop dough by heaping tablespoon onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 14 minutes or until they are golden.
Let hot cookies set on baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to waxed paper-lined countertop or wire racks to cool. Makes 4 dozen cookies.
Tip from the cook
- Find Egg Replacer in the natural/health food section of well-stocked supermarkets, health food stores and natural food co-ops.
- If you’re interested in learning more about a vegan diet and would like bright, colorful and flavorful vegan recipes, check out Robin Asbell’s newest book, “The Big Vegan.” You can read more about her book and find her recipe for Sweet Potato Drop Biscuits in my column this week. Click here to get to that column.