- I'm Italian.
- I'm Vegan.
- I'm sensitive/allergic to several foods.
- Cucina Libera* is an Italian phrase.
- Cucina = 1. Cooking/Cuisine, as in food/the art of preparing food. 2. Kitchen
- Libera = Free, as in free from [harmful foods]; liberated; unrestricted
- *I suppose it could be translated as Free Cuisine (or Cooking, if you prefer), but there's a little something that gets lost in the translation. Yes, I'm biased, but it sounds so much nicer in Italian.
- I decided to start this blog after some thought and a bit of observation.
A bit of history... I've followed a vegan lifestyle for the past 18 years. For 9 years prior to that, I followed an ovo-lacto vegetarian diet.
I was but a child when I became a vegetarian for ethical reasons (I considered cheese fries to be an acceptable meal alternative to meat). As a very young adult, I turned to veganism for those same ethical reasons.
I thought I was pretty informed by then. I was a member of PETA; I knew about gelatin, carmine, bone char, etc... I knew which companies practiced animal testing and which companies were subsidies of those larger ones. But I was still a "green" little vegan; I had no inkling about how unfermented and excess soy can affect our bodies. I still ate white flour. I drank diet coke like it was going out of style (Oh, I shudder to think of it).
In my brain, if it was vegan, it was automatically healthier and superior to an animal-based diet, period.
Was I eating vegan convenience foods? Heck, yeah. Was I eating processed foods? Uh... yes.
As far as I was concerned, if there wasn't an animal or animal-derived ingredient, it was "safe" to eat.
However, very soon after embarking on my vegan lifestyle, I was diagnosed with multiple food allergies and sensitivities. All of the staples of my diet were suddenly off-limits. I could provide a list of the foods, but suffice to say, it was LONG. Restaurant dining was impossible (although, I have a nice memory of an early attempt at a Chinese restaurant - maybe I'll share that later.) I had to get creative, if I didn't want to subsist on carrots and potatoes... which I actually did for a bit.
Remember, this was nearly 20 years ago. There wasn't widespread (read: mainstream) food allergy awareness. Vegan alternatives were limited and typically wheat and soy based. If I wanted a pre-made "milk" alternative, the most accessible choices were soy or rice; sorry but, ick! Maybe some rice milk1 has improved since then, but I've been permanently scarred.
At the time though, I was glad to at least have had a choice. There were Vegan/Vegan friendly restaurants around too, but their menus were heavy in wheat and soy. Even regular old vegan baked goods were still in the experimental stages (heavy, crumbly, dry...), but vegan, AND wheat-free, gluten-free, soy-free, corn-free... Well, there were actually a few (I won't point any fingers), but they... ahem... left a
The point of all this is... for a long time, I've had to be creative in the kitchen. I've typically concocted my own recipes and treats to suit my dietary choices and restrictions. My savory/meal concoctions were always (99% of the time) a success - not only by my standards, but by those of non-allergic, non-vegan friends and family as well.
My "holy grail" however, was a truly delicious baked treat. I was also totally winging it, armed with any information I could get my hands on for effective substitute flours and ingredients. I remember being pretty pleased2 at an early (fat free!) muffin attempt (Buckwheat Apple Spice, I think). They were heavy and dense, but they were moist. Too moist, in fact; they started to get damp and then kinda moldy inside(!). Gross.
Wait... that was one of the early successes, if you can believe it. Notable3 failures include: Chocolate Donut Holes (they looked so bad; I never ate them, but my mom used them successfully in a prank on my brother) and a Buckwheat Pie Crust (my ex-sister-in-law was particularly affected by this one, I think).
I started to give up on the baking. I eventually began to cycle some of the "off-limits" foods (vegan, of course) back into my diet. I didn't feel awful. I learned what I could tolerate in moderation, and what immediately disagreed with me. I didn't feel great, but it was much easier to eat - especially as vegan restaurants and pre-made, vegan foods were becoming more and more widespread.
As gluten-free and allergy free started to gain more awareness (and foods improved), it renewed my own interest in baking. It also helped inspire me, when my BF decided to cut out gluten. Although, he's not vegan, I now had (a potentially interested) someone on whom to test out recipes, and a motivation to create GF treats that even a non-vegan (I mean, anyone!) would enjoy. Pushing a bit further, I wanted to make the treats soy-free as well... Oh, AND I wanted them not to be so incredibly calorically dense or have tons of added, refined sugars. I've turned out some real successes - approved (and enjoyed) by: the BF, GF vegans, non-GF vegans, non-vegan/non-gf/non-allergic friends and family.
So now the blog part... I was happily experimenting and for my small inner circle, as I noticed vegan, GF bakers popping up around town. It was exciting, but also a bit disappointing. I'd happily grab a cookie or pastry only to find that it was WAY too sweet, too oily/greasy, or too heavy. Most items were also made with pre-manufactured soy products4. Instead of declarations of enthusiasm, I'd hear, "it's a shame that this [insert food item here] is full of/is made with [insert ingredient here]" coming from my mouth.
I thought it might be nice to share alternatives. Seriously, you can make delicious items that are all or some combination of: Vegan/GF/Soy-Free/Sugar-Free/Low-Sugar/Unrefined Sugar/Corn-Free/Nut-Free?etc...
About my recipes:
- I bake by weight, to ensure consistent results. I can't recommend it highly enough. All of my baked goods are based on weight ratios, but I will do my best to provide volume conversions, for accessibility's sake.
- I've always created savory5 dishes by instinct (i.e., imagination, eye and taste). So breaking down and writing out recipes for such dishes is a new experience. Please bear with me.
- Recipes here will always be Vegan and Gluten Free; 99% will be Soy Free. I only use unrefined sugars6. Some recipes may contain nuts7 or corn, but I will do my best to provide allergy friendly substitutions.
- NOTE ABOUT SUGARS: As I mentioned above, I avoid refined sugars. I will also use fruit, dates or stevia as sweeteners. Although fruit/dates/etc... are not sugar in the conventional sense, they do consist of natural sugars. Therefore, I do not consider those recipes to be sugar free, and I will not tag them as such. Any recipe tagged Sugar Free, contains no glycemic sweeteners and/or uses stevia.
All of my work/recipes/photos/etc... (unless otherwise indicated) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
If you are interested in using any of my content, please email me: alessandrina @ cucinalibera.com
Thanks for reading!
1. I still think it's gross.
2. N.B., my taste buds are a bit "eclectic"; I doubt anyone else would have cared for those particular muffins... I was also excited to be able to have a muffin, and had no other options; it was that mildly successful (?) muffin or nothing.
3. So notable, my family (and some friends) remember and speak of them to this day.
4. Since I've been going on and on about soy, I feel I should note, that I do consume fermented soy, and occasionally cycle tofu into my diet... I'll even allow some non-hydrogenated Tofutti "Cream-Cheese" on rare/special (holiday, maybe) occasions. However, I avoid all other soy products, for various reasons, which I probably won't get into here.
5. Well, really anything that doesn't classify as a baked good.
6. Please, don't feel bound by this. It's easy to sub other sweeteners.
7. I can pretty confidently say that there will be some recipes containing nuts; I don't have a tree nut allergy (yet!).