Photo by Clara Polito

Writing a book is no small feat. Now imagine doing it while still in your teens. LAIKA’s one-time cover star Clara Polito has accomplished just that. Her first cookbook, Clara Cakes: Delicious and Simple Vegan Desserts for Everyone! was just published by powerHouse Books. It’s chock full of recipes for a dizzying array of creative desserts, with an entire chapter dedicated to frosting, plus sage business advice, a super handy guide to kitchen gear and egg substitutes, even a spread about why she’s vegan.

Photo by Logan White.

Polito is a serious pro with a heart of gold, but she’s no overnight sensation. She’s been running her LA-based company Clara Cakes since the age of 12, selling her creations at stores, restaurants and countless events across the city, as well as doing many brunch and dinner pop-ups. Her hard work has rightfully earned her treats a loyal following. The artist and skateboarder Ed Templeton says it best in his introduction to Polito’s cookbook, “Clara is the kind of girl that gives me hope for future generations. She didn’t wait for anything happen to her, she made it happen for herself.” Indeed.

Polito shares her S’mores Bar recipe with LAIKA, followed immediately by our Q&A with her.

Photo by Clara Polito

 

S’mores Bar
“I rarely ate traditional s’mores growing up because: 1) Marshmallows have gelatin, and 2) I’ve never been camping in my life. What I can remember of these sweet snacks is that the marshmallow always swallowed up all the other flavors. It was too sweet to be able to enjoy the perfect graham cracker and melty chocolate combo. These s’mores bars give you a balanced ratio of a lot of graham-cookie-bar crust, just enough chocolate chips, and a bit of melty marshmallow to tuck it in. I honestly don’t have much of a desire to ever go camping since I can just make these bars in my oven…”

Ingredients
1 cup crushed Nabisco plain graham cracker crumbs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips*
1 cup Dandies Marshmallows,* torn in half
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup v. butter, melted
1 tablespoon coconut vinegar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
* Specialty ingredient, buy ahead

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9×9 baking pan with nonstick spray and line with parchment paper.

2. In a small bowl, stir together the vinegar and baking soda with a fork. The baking soda will dissolve. Set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs, flour, and baking powder.

4. Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy.

5. Add the vinegar and baking soda mixture to the butter and beat on high until the vinegar is fully incorporated, about two minutes.

6. Slowly add in the dry ingredients on medium speed and beat until it looks like cookie dough.

7. Reserve 1/4 of the dough and set aside, you’ll use this later for the topping. Press the remaining dough into the baking pan.

8. Sprinkle chocolate chips and marshmallows evenly onto the cookie dough layer.

9. Take the cookie dough you set aside and scatter grape-sized pieces over the marshmallows and chocolate chips.

10. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Place on cooling rack, serve warm.

 

Then and now. Clara covers our Summer ’13 issue (left); and is the author of her first cookbook four years later. Photos by Sylvia Elzafon and Logan White.

LAIKA: Veganism has become a lot less stigmatized in recent years. Do you even still feel the need to explain that you’re a “vegan” baker?

Clara Polito: It depends on who I’m talking to, or where I’m selling. Most of the time, I like to let my cooking speak for itself and win people over, and then tell them afterwards that it’s vegan which is always very much to their surprise! I think because being vegan is second nature to me, and such a part of my inner moral compass, I don’t have to work too hard on integrating it into my identity. Changing the way people eat is ultimately why I do what I do.

LAIKA: It’s a pretty crazy time, with this country’s government trying to escalate the oppression of both human and nonhuman animals. How does all this affect your craft and your sense of urgency to make the world better?

Clara Polito: I feel that being vegan is so important, especially now, as a way to express compassion. Our country is so accustomed to feeling disconnected to cruelty, corruption, etc. I think being vegan is the simplest, everyday activism you can do that touches on so many different issues beyond animal cruelty. I think it motivates me to make my recipes accessible. It makes me want to hold tight onto my craft and work harder.

LAIKA: The cookbook is so impressive. It must’ve been a ton of work to put together.

Clara Polito: Other than jotting down recipes, I had no prior cookbook experience. I think I needed someone to say, “Let’s do this, here’s what I need from you,” and from there it was a blast. The problem I run into is narrowing down recipe ideas, so coming up with new ones was fast. I took most of the dessert photos (Logan White took some as well), so there would be nights where I’d have four different cakes in my fridge calling my name.

LAIKA: The design of the book is also very eye-catching. Did you collaborate with the publisher and designer on it?

Clara Polito: My publisher was really open to my ideas for the book design. They’d send over different versions of possible designs and really listened to my feedback. The designer asked me to send over different tablecloths and aprons I use, and that’s where the flowers throughout the book come from. The handwritten old English was a tribute to the first business cards I made, and I love how modern it feels in the book. I love how much the book design represents myself and my baking.

LAIKA: And your best friend is a part of the book too, is that right?

Clara Polito: Sophia [Longo] is an extremely talented writer, and about a year ago she wrote a zine called Dessert Haikus. She wrote several different haikus having to do with desserts and then we put them together with photos of my baked goods. A couple months later when I started working on the book, it seemed like the perfect addition to it! She’s been a part of this adventure since I started baking, so it makes the book even more special and meaningful.

LAIKA: That’s so cool, and such a great example of young women’s camaraderie. So, people new to vegan baking are sometimes intimidated by the lack of eggs. What’s your take on that?

Clara Polito: My favorite egg substitutes are applesauce, coconut vinegar, and Mori-Nu silken tofu. I think texture and taste both taste more fresh when not using eggs. Isn’t it weird how non-vegan cake is technically chocolate eggs?!

LAIKA: Yep! What’s the top advice would you give young women your age who have a hobby or passion and yearn to turn into a career?

Clara Polito: I would say to embrace your passion and know your self-worth. People might offer you advice, which is nice, but you don’t have to take it. Do what you want to do.

LAIKA: Ok, final question — what’s inspiring you these days, and what are your must-eat vegan dishes around LA?

Clara Polito: Stella McCartney’s latest collection, both womenswear and menswear. I keep going back to the lookbook for inspiration! And specific dishes at particular places are: Organic Puff Pastry Tart with Market Green Salad at Elf Cafe (Elf is vegetarian, request this dish vegan); the Sweet Potato Falafel at Fala Bar; Spicy Sweet Potatoes at Azla; Masa Echo Park’s vegan Deep Dish Pizza (request vegan); the vegan pupusa combo that comes with fried plantains and black beans at Delmy’s Pupusas (request vegan); and the Jackfruit Taco with Chipotle Mayo and Tomatillo Salsa at Plant Food For People.

Clara Cakes’ latest pop-up dinner is in Detroit this weekend, and the NYC book launch is on March 23. Get to know this inspiring young woman even better in our Issue Two cover story. Pick up her stunning new cookbook online or at stores nationwide.

Interview by Julie Gueraseva

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

THE INTREPID CHEF: MAKINI HOWELL

Chef Howell with Copper in front of her food truck, Plum Burgers.

JUST TRY TO KEEP UP WITH CHEF MAKINI HOWELL. She has been running Seattle’s much-loved vegan hot spot Plum Bistro for a number of years now (along with its sister eateries, Plum Café, Plum Juice Bar and Quickie Too Tacoma); earlier this year she released her first cookbook, Plum: Gratifying Vegan Dishes from Seattle’s Plum Bistro; and now, she is quite literally on the move. That is because Makini recently unleashed Plum Burgers on the streets of Seattle—the city’s first vegan food truck, and the nation’s first vegan burger truck. She’s a bit of a trailblazer, this lady. “A food truck is NOT for the faint of heart! I have run out of gas on a hill, had to stand up to (really big guys) for my spot on the street, and work lightning fast to lock down all of the best spots to park in town,” Makini told us. “Once you get it on the road, though, you feel like girls rock!” She raised the money for the truck via a charming crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter last year, and finally made her dream a reality over this summer. The truck’s menu and visual identity all skillfully tie in with the well-defined branding of Plum. “The design is simple with a usable clean look and a classy logo. I saw a lot of trucks around town with screaming logos and I wanted to keep ours understated,” Makini explains. “The color of the truck is connected to the cookbook, and we have two burgers from the book on the truck—the Jerk Yam and the BBQ Oyster Mush.” Before she was a chef, Makini worked for years in New York City as a menswear designer at Jay-Z’s Rocawear fashion label, which explains her eye for branding. The truck also features her infamous Mac & Yease, and while she keeps the recipe for it under wraps (a girl’s gotta leave some things to the imagination, right?), she does have a recipe for the equally-delicious Smoky Mac in her book, and shares it with us here—perfect as a side dish for any holiday dinner party. (And we all know that side dishes are really the main dishes.)

PLUM’S SMOKY MAC

Ingredients:

FOR THE PASTA:
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 pound elbow macaroni
1 tablespoon canola oil
3 ounces smoked tofu (such as Plum
brand), minced to roughly resemble
bacon bits
1 large onion, diced
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

FOR THE SAUCE:
3 cups unsweetened soy milk
4 to 6 sprigs fresh thyme
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
3 tablespoons unsalted vegan buttery
spread (such as Earth Balance
brand)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup Savory Soy Cream (recipe below)*
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
5 cups (22.5 ounces) shredded vegan
mozzarella or cheddar cheese (such
as Daiya brand), divided
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
½ cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)

Make the dish:

To make the pasta, bring a large pot of water and the salt to a boil
over high heat. Add the macaroni and cook according to the package
instructions, until al dente. Drain and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a medium sauté pan heat the oil over medium heat. Add the tofu
and cook until crispy, about 2 to 4 minutes. Put the onion, garlic, and
thyme leaves in the same pan and cook for about 5 minutes, or until
the onion is soft. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove the pan
from the heat and set aside.

To make the sauce, in a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk
with the thyme and garlic until hot but not boiling, about 7 minutes.
Strain out the solids using a fine-mesh sieve and set the milk aside.

Melt the buttery spread in a deep sauté pan or Dutch oven over
medium-low heat. Whisk in the our and cook for about 1 minute,
stirring constantly. Make sure this roux doesn’t darken; turn down
the heat if it’s in danger of browning.

Whisk the milk into the roux. Continue to whisk over medium-low
heat until the roux is smooth, about 1 minute more. Stir in the soy
cream until it is thoroughly incorporated, about 1 minute. Season to
taste with salt and pepper, and remove the pan from the heat.

Add the cooked macaroni, 4 cups of the cheese, and the red pepper
akes, and fold together until the macaroni is coated. Scrape the
mac into a large baking dish (3 quarts is about right, or use 2 smaller
dishes). Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup of cheese and tofu-onion mixture
over the top, then dust with the panko. Bake until the mac is bubbly
in the center, crispy on top, and heated through, about 30 minutes.
Makes 6 to 8 servings

*SAVORY SOY CREAM
Ingredients
1 Cup unsweetened soy milk
2 Cups canola oil
1 Tablespoon agave syrup
1¼ Tablespoons freshly squeezed
lemon juice
Vanilla extract, for sweetening (optional)
Ground cinnamon, for sweetening (optional)

Put the milk in a powerful blender, such as a Vitamix. (The more powerful the blender, the creamier the consistency of the final cream.) With the machine running, drizzle in the oil very slowly, until it is thoroughly blended with the milk. Continue blending for another minute or so, until the mixture has the consistency of heavy cream.

Pour the mixture into a medium bowl and whisk in the agave syrup, lemon juice and vanilla and cinnamon to taste.

Store the cream in a tightly sealed jar in the refrigerator for up to a week. It will firm up to about the consistency of mayonnaise.
Makes about 3 cups.

For Plum Burger’s latest locations, follow Plum on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram

Written by Julie Gueraseva

Photo of Makini Howell courtesy of Angel Ceballos
Photo of Smoky Mac courtesy of Charity Burggraaf

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

THE SECOND ISSUE HAS ARRIVED!

LOVELY READERS, WE ARE SO THRILLED TO SHARE OUR Second Issue: Summer Abundance Issue! Brimming with vibrant content, bursting with color— this is the place where creativity and compassion converge. We have compelling profiles on future luminaries like our amazing cover star Clara Polito, who at only sixteen years old is already leaving an indelible mark on the world with her vegan bakery Clara Cakes and her passionate activism. Style and substance come together in our first-of-its kind stunning 8 page feature on vegan and ethical fashion, styled by Joshua Katcher. And we continue to showcase the most brilliant discoveries in everything from food to beauty. Of course, as always, we dig deeper with uncompromising features on animals. Like the photo essay and exclusive narrative from groundbreaking photographer Jo-Anne McArthur— for the first time in print, including never-before-seen images from her archives. Contributors like renown author James McWilliams return with spectacularly thought-provoking essays.

Clara Polito Clara Cakes Laika

We get invited into the homes and lives of paradigm-shifting trailblazers like triathlete and Vega founder Brendan Brazier, who shares his lifelong expert knowledge on wellness; and Chef and restaurateur Makini Howell of the celebrated Plum Bistro who gives us an inside look into her signature cuisine. We travel around the country to bring you the most fascinating stories from activists, some who are raising their kids vegan, and others who are declaring their compassion in the form of tattoos.

And that’s just the beginning! With nearly 20 pages more content than the Premier Issue, we have the most innovative and exciting subject matter in the vegan community covered. Made with love, from the heart, this issue is a bold declaration of the limitless possibilities of compassionate living and the abundance of sensory enjoyment that it holds for everyone.

We hope you love our Second Issue: Summer Abundance Issue as much as we loved making it! It will be arriving to our subscribers in the first week of July and hitting newsstands soon after that, and is now available to order on our site! Stay tuned for extras, outtakes, and behind-the-scenes videos. We’re so thrilled and grateful to have you along for this ride!

Cover photographed by Sylvia Elzafon

Clara Polito feature “Girl Wonder” photographed by Joel Barhamand

Fashion feature “Summer Fling” photographed by Balarama Heller

“Philly Flavor” photographed by Hannah Kaminsky