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Almost Vegan in 2011: a year in review

December 30, 2011

2011 has been my biggest year yet, by far – I was named Hot Raw Chef; I scored a cookbook contract; I studied nutrition at Living Light; I traveled to San Francisco, Toronto, Minneapolis, Dallas, Los Angeles, and many more; I even got engaged – but 2012 is shaping up to be even bigger! (Cookbook release and more traveling and wedding, oh my!) Today, I thought it’d be fun to glance back over the highlights of the past year and reflect on how far I’ve come.

JANUARY

After my graduation from 105degrees (i.e. the Matthew Kenney Academy) at the end of 2010, I was ready and raring to go in my new career as a raw chef. The year started out with a bit of a hiccup when I received a nasty blog comment about my famously flexible food philosophy, but the overwhelming reader support that poured in warmed my heart and stoked my fire. I repaid that kindness in the form of perhaps my most well-loved recipe yet: the 5-minute, single-serving, raw vegan blondie. It remains one of my most popular blog posts, and recipes, to date. You’ll see a full-batch version of it in my cookbook!

I also made the decision in January to enter my caramel-fudge brownies into Living Light’s Hot Raw Chef contest, which completely paid off, because the next month…

FEBRUARY

I WON! Thanks to your votes, I was named Hot Raw Chef of 2011 by Living Light International and awarded the life-changing prize of a $5,000+ scholarship to the Living Light Culinary Arts Institute. More on that later.

Matt and I spent the week of Valentine’s Day in San Francisco, where we visited the likes of Café Gratitude, Gracias Madre, Loving Hut, Millennium, Cinnaholic, Herbivore, Paxti’s, and more.

MARCH

Immediately after San Fran, Matt and I road-tripped to Oklahoma City, OK (where we revisited Matthew Kenney OKC for the first time since graduation and dined with Philip McCluskey) and Dallas, TX (where we ate at Bliss Raw Café again, as well as Medieval Times!).

My raw chocolate almond butter cookies this month were quite a hit.

APRIL

This was a busy month, which saw blog posts about my raw red pepper-pistachio bisque

honey-almond butter truffles, meetups with fellow foodies, bloggers, and Brendan Brazier, Tanya’s raw chocolate goodies, my family’s famous “red cake”, and Matt’s birthday.

MAY

I spent most of the month of May at the Living Light Culinary Arts Institute in Fort Bragg, CA, cashing in my scholarship prize from winning the Hot Raw Chef competition and earning my Nutrition Educator certification. Besides the incredible day-to-day eats (six posts of delicious raw meals!), I learned to like salad (sort of), enjoyed a luncheon with the mother of gourmet raw cuisine herself, Cherie Soria, and hosted an informal (and super-fun!) raw desserts party with my classmates at the Living Light Inn, where we had a blast making my raw brownies and blondies.

I also basked in the glory of a heavenly dinner at Ravens Restaurant, the world-renowned vegan dining establishment in Mendocino, CA, where a certain warm pecan torte in particular stole my heart.

JUNE

Another road trip south occurred in June, with more meals at Matthew Kenney OKC on the way to and from, and trips to ZPizza, Spiral Diner, Café Elite, Best Enchiladas Ever, Pizza Lounge, and of course Bliss Raw Café in Dallas.

We did even more traveling than that in June, but I didn’t get a chance to write about it until the following month. Perhaps most importantly, though, I made the biggest announcement in AV history mid-month: I’M GETTING PUBLISHED! My first cookbook will hit stores in Spring 2012!

JULY

I took a break from cookbook recipe testing long enough to post a 4th-of-July-ish summer berries with vanilla sweet cream recipe…

…and then I got to work blogging about our trip to Toronto, Ontario in June. We ate at Merge in Buffalo, NY and visited Niagara Falls on our way into Canada, where we didn’t quite enjoy Raw Aura, grabbed raw treats at Mylk Uncookies, attended a veg-friendly wedding and the Toronto Raw Vegan Festival, had probably the best raw meal of our lives at Live Food Bar

…and meals at Fresh Restaurant and Green Earth. Whew!

AUGUST

You can tell I was majorly backlogged in my content in August, as it was then that I finally wrote about our trip to small-town Kansas back in June AND our trip to Minneapolis, MN in early July. We ate at Gateway Market in Des Moines, IA and Ecopolitan, French Meadow Bakery (three times!), Seward Café, and Galactic Pizza in Minneapolis.

The raw sunny cashew apricot energy cookies I posted in August became very popular.

At the end of August, Matt and I traveled to the veg paradise of Portland, OR for the first-ever Vida Vegan Blogger Conference! We had a blast and made lots of new friends over the course of our eventful four days there.

SEPTEMBER

I professed my undying love for watermelon and posted some raw Brazilian “cherob” energy bars before Matt and I got the news that we won a trip to Los Angeles from Vega! To say “we made the most of our short weekend in LaLaLand” would be an obscene understatement. We ate at Real Raw Live, Café Gratitute, KindKreme, Euphoria Loves Rawvolution, Real Food Daily, and California Vegan. We hung out with Brendan Brazier and the Vega team at a pre-Emmys expo and rubbed elbows with the glitterati of Hollywood.

We also ate at Sage Organic Bistro and Sweet E’s Mini Bake Shop, got an LA “makeover” on Melrose Blvd, and dined at Flore Vegan, Babycakes, and Native Foods Café. Wow.

OCTOBER

I “flashbacked” to my birthday in July to blog about Matt’s and my wanderings in my college town of Lawrence, KS and my vegan b-day brunch at home in KC. There were also raw raspberry cream filled chocolate candies in October. Can’t forget those!

The real excitement, though, happened when Matt proposed to me over a 10-course vegan dinner during yet another road trip to Dallas. We’re gettin’ hitched!

The rest of that trip to Dallas was very eventful as well, with the Texas State Veggie Fair kickoff party and my raw culinary demos (cookbook recipes: Kale-Tahini Salad and Famous Five-Minute Blondies) at the Fair itself.

NOVEMBER

In November, I blogged about the jaw-dropping 10-course vegan tasting menu over which Matt proposed to me the month before. I also made almost-raw chocolate-pumpkin mousse, enjoyed a leisurely local Sunday brunch, dressed like a zombie (and ate like a [prom] queen), was thoroughly impressed by Matt’s mom’s veg-friendly Thanksgiving, and created these easy raw chocolate apricot kernel butter cookies.

DECEMBER

I spent most of the past month holding a “12 Days of Giveaways” bonanza, which has been a lot of fun. After the madness of the holidays passed, I posted my much-anticipated recipe for raw white chocolate coconut-macadamia nut butter. Have you tried it yet? What do ya think? Amazing, right?!

This year has been a whirlwind, to say the least, and 2012 is looking to be even more epic. I hope you’ve had a wonderful 2011. Cheers to 2012 being the best year of all of our lives!

QUESTION:
Do you make New Year’s resolutions? Traditionally, I don’t bother to—my attitude has always been, why not make healthy and positive changes year-round, any time you want? I must admit, though, that the concept of a new year being a fresh start is enticing and invigorating, so I’ve actually been considering making a few resolutions this year. How about you? Do you have any resolutions for 2012? Do share!

See you next year!

3 years ago…
Classic chocolate chip cookies
2 years ago…
Almost Vegan in Amsterdam, Holland, parts one and two
Almost Vegan returns home
Almost Vegan in Europe: the wrap-up
1 year ago…
Matthew Kenney Academy: Level II graduation

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58 Comments leave one →
  1. December 30, 2011 9:12 am

    what an amazing year you had!

  2. December 30, 2011 9:56 am

    Yay! Congratulations on all of your success this year & the engagement! In 2012 I want to be like you : ) I love your creativity and zest for food & life.
    I’m also planning to post one cooking video a week on Sweet Potato Soul. Girl, I have a lot of resolutions!

  3. December 30, 2011 10:38 am

    This post must have taken a LONG time, but it’s awesome! I’m loving that you recapped SO much of your great year!!! Seriously- you’ve really had quite a year. SO many exciting things you’ve done, seen, and experienced!

    I love all of your recipes and dishes you’ve tasted. And your ring and man!

    Congrats on such a wonderful 2011, and wishing you WAY more Wonderful in 2012- maybe this year will be the year we FINALLY meet. lol

    Love you!

    • December 30, 2011 10:40 am

      Oh my gawd, SO long. Like, a couple hours, heh. Oy.

      Happy new year to you too! And YES, third time should be a charm in 2012 – next time we’re anywhere near each other, we WILL get together!

  4. December 30, 2011 11:19 am

    I was SO happy to meet you and Matt in August! you have had a BEAUTIFUL year, I love this recap!

    happy new year to you both, and here’s to a fantastic 2012! XO

    • December 30, 2011 11:20 am

      I was so happy to meet you too, my friend! I look forward to our paths crossing again in the future 🙂 Happy new year!

  5. bitt permalink
    December 30, 2011 11:26 am

    What a great recap, I love that it’s not a recipe list, because your blog is so much more than that. I think 2011 has been the first year I’ve read your blog through the whole year and it’s been a pleasure to get to know you, be completely envious of your amazing vacations, oogle your desserts, and try to understand more about your “almost veganness” and what that means. I am so looking forward to your wedding posts! Sounds like a great year ahead.

    • December 30, 2011 11:29 am

      Thanks bitt! I sometimes feel like I don’t post enough recipes, so I’m really happy to hear you enjoy my travels and “other” posts.

      It’s been wonderful interacting with you as well, and I really appreciate your endeavors to see my side of the vegan equation.

      Cheers to 2012!

  6. December 30, 2011 12:03 pm

    WOW…is that all you can say…i say WOW KAPOW YOU…and all that achieved and acomplished this past year and to your future…WOW KAPOW…

  7. December 30, 2011 12:25 pm

    OMG, I seriously almost died over here…..do you know how many of your desserts I can have on my grain free diet?! LIKE ALL OF THEM!!!! I’m making these cookies today….omg, omg, so excited!!!!

    I agree, I make a life change and I do it big, yet i do set my goals to see what I’m working for. I set some with Ryan and in Business and then my own 🙂

    2012 is going to be AMAZING for you lovie!!
    xxoo

    • December 30, 2011 12:27 pm

      Yeah! Most of my raw treats are grain-free, so you’ll be good to go! Report back on how you like ’em 😉

      Happy new year to you!!

  8. December 30, 2011 1:19 pm

    WOW! You’ve had such an amazing year, and with such amazing food, too! Have you and Matt set a date? 😀

    I’m the same with New Year’s resolutions. I don’t like to put things off, so if I want to change something, I start working on it right away. I think too often people drop their resolutions because it’s too much pressure and they burn themselves out. I think we should create change in the moment, and do it at a manageable pace 🙂 Happy New Year, Amber!

    • December 30, 2011 1:22 pm

      Not a definite date yet, but we’re close to doing so 🙂

      Re: resolutions, I wholeheartedly agree! Happy early 2012 to you, Char!

  9. December 30, 2011 3:03 pm

    Congratulations on an impressive year of achievements. But, like you said, it seems 2012 will be even bigger for you with the release of your cookbook and your wedding. Happy New Year

  10. December 30, 2011 3:39 pm

    What a fantastic year, and more to come in 2012! I’m looking forward to your cookbook.

    I don’t make resolutions, but I do like to set goals or intentions at the start of the year.

  11. December 30, 2011 4:59 pm

    That really is a stunning year. I hope you hold all the goodness of it close to your heart whenever you’re feeling “not good enough” or any of those “not enough” feelings, and allow the sparkliness of it to light you up all over again.

    I’ve followed along so closely that every bit of this was familiar to me, but the photography is so stunning that I’ve had to go refresh my memory on a couple of the refeatured goodies nonetheless.

    Interesting that several people seem to share my view that resolutions can be made at any time. I do like to do retrospectives and reviews, and sometimes gather my thoughts for some intentions also, because I feel like the collective energy toward that can be helpful and synergistic.
    love
    Ela

    • December 30, 2011 5:10 pm

      Thank you for reading, following, and engaging with me all year long, Ela 🙂

      You’re so good at “public introspection” (as oxymoronic as that may sound) on your blog; I really admire that.

  12. Matt permalink
    December 30, 2011 6:15 pm

    I can’t imagine the last year without you. Love you dearly. I plan for 2012 to be our best yet!

    -M

  13. December 30, 2011 7:20 pm

    ps. the seward cafe is actually in minneapolis too! too bad we couldn’t cross paths. one of these days. i’m actually going to eat at mk-okc tomorrow. and the next day. yay!

    • December 31, 2011 1:34 pm

      Oh! Thanks for the heads up; I’ll correct that.

      YES, one of these days we WILL cross paths and get all kinds of geeked out about food science together! 😛

      Enjoy your meal at MK-OKC! Jealous!

  14. December 30, 2011 7:24 pm

    Wow, this was a good year for you! You’ve come up with a ton of excellent recipes, graduated from raw chef school, gotten engaged, so many awesome things. Cheers to a new year, I bet it will be even better!

  15. December 31, 2011 4:24 am

    Beautiful wrap-up of an amazing year from the goddess-friend whom I admire, cherish, and think of so often it’s sometimes hard to forget that I haven’t yet danced in slow motion around your kitchen. Can’t wait to see and cheer on where 2012 takes you (I’d say “to the stars”, but you’re already a star 😉 ). Happy New Year to you and to Matt, precious Amber!

    • December 31, 2011 1:37 pm

      I think of you constantly too, love. Psst – the wedding will likely be moved to September, so update your mental calendar! I want you here!
      Happy new year to you toooo!

      • December 31, 2011 6:08 pm

        *brain shadiggles* Ooh, that’s some rather serious mental jiggling, but fingers crossed I can make it work! Better in some regards, trickier in some, but I’ll endeavour! Talisman! 🙂

      • December 31, 2011 6:13 pm

        Hmm, trickier is no good 😦 Let’s make it work! Talisman!

        • December 31, 2011 6:15 pm

          Oh I’m sorry darling! I didn’t mean to paint a negative picture at all! Will just have to rethink some of the longer-term plans and changes I was thinking of making, but in terms of work deadlines, not-June is better 🙂

        • December 31, 2011 6:34 pm

          Oh! Ok. If it helps, I can tell you that right now, the likeliest date we’re looking at is September 1st. But again, nothing’s set in stone yet, and it could end up being the 8th or 29th.

  16. Monica Soto permalink
    January 1, 2012 2:03 pm

    You really had an epic year Amber and yet really that is only the precursor to the plans you have going on in 2012. I’m sooooo excited for you!

  17. January 2, 2012 9:07 am

    What a rich and exciting year for you, dear Amber! It’s a joy to watch you grow and evolve as a chef and vegan superstar. Best for 2012.

  18. January 2, 2012 1:49 pm

    Looks like an awesome year….and one full of delicious food!!!! I must try your almond butter cookies. It was so great meeting y’all in August!!

  19. January 2, 2012 1:57 pm

    These pastry baked goods look so fabulous! I’m going to see if I can find some of the ingredients where I live so that I can try them. (Vegan foods haven’t really come to France yet, it’s still sometimes difficult to find tofu outside of Paris.)

    • January 2, 2012 2:14 pm

      Thanks Holly! Even if you can’t make some of the more specialized vegan pastries, you can almost certainly make most of the raw treats–they’re mostly made up of nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and liquid sweeteners. 🙂

  20. January 2, 2012 4:12 pm

    I’m tired just reading about your year! Nice work Amber (and Matt!).

    I look forward to reading about all that 2012 brings to you.

    I don’t really make resolutions, but I am making a to-do list for this year, like trips I want to take and a few things I’d like to get done. Nothing vague like ‘be happier.’ More like ‘read hunger games.’ 🙂

    • January 2, 2012 4:59 pm

      Thanks Michelle! I hope to carve out more time for reading in 2012 too, though that may prove difficult…

      PS – Before you read Hunger Games, you should read [the English translation of] Battle Royale! The Hunger Games lady totally stole her plot line from there. 😛

  21. January 2, 2012 4:23 pm

    What a wonderful year for you! Looking so forward to reading about your adventures in 2012 and your upcoming book release! Good luck Amber!

  22. January 2, 2012 6:36 pm

    Well, I’ve not been calling it a resolution, but I do want to start eating healthier again. I’ve sorta let myself go on what I eat and I would like to cut out some foods that are really not good for me and that I know I can do without anyway. I would also like to get myself on a regular workout schedule. I have good feelings about this year, though. 🙂 I have no doubt I will be able to make wonderful changes this year for a refreshing, new, and healthy lifestyle.

  23. January 2, 2012 8:19 pm

    What an extraordinary (and delicious) year you have had, and it’s wonderful that you have it all documented right here! Thank you for sharing all of your joys, successes, and delectable recipes with us. May 2012 bring you many more blessings.

  24. Silvia permalink
    January 3, 2012 12:10 am

    Congratulations on your hard earned, well deserved accolades! And thank you for sharing your tasty recipes and offering us your friendship by sharing your personal life w/us!

    To a delicious 2012 to you and all blog readers!!! SD

  25. Bliss Doubt permalink
    January 4, 2012 9:33 am

    Amber, I love your blog. You don’t need me to say it, but about the negative comment: the naysayers will always come. If you blog all raw, all vegan, there will be challengers to your whole philosophy. If you blog flex eating, the purists will come after you. If you blog a 24/7/365 menu of hot dogs, someone will object. A blog is like a very boutique online magazine. Keep in mind, even big famous magazines that hog up the rack space in the stores get negative letters to the editor.

    You’re the one putting out beautiful, creative ideas, photos and stories. You’ll hear from your fans, and you’ll hear from people who have nothing better to do than criticize your efforts. I feel sorry for the latter.

    Best to you in 2012 and beyond.

    • January 4, 2012 9:48 am

      I really appreciate that, and I couldn’t agree more. I’m gonna keep doin’ what I’m doin’ – it’s what I love! Thanks for reminding me that my only real responsibility on this blog is to stay true to ME. 🙂

  26. Madeleine permalink
    January 5, 2012 8:30 pm

    Just came back from a hatha yoga class, and my teacher briefly touched on resolutions and new year’s goals. she said she wasn’t the type to do so, and like you, thought that when you want to change something -you can change it any time of the year. she did say though that through a mayan exhibition she attended, she felt a connection to a citing that the mayans believed that after a certain amount of time (scientists haven’t been able to figure their timing, if they meant every year, years, half a year, etc. that) they burned all their possessions to start new. and when those of us make resolutions/goals at the start of the year, it’s our way of theoretically burning whatever negative baggage we might have to find an enlightenment in ourselves. such a sweet thought

    • Madeleine permalink
      January 5, 2012 8:35 pm

      an even sweeter thought is that this blog is amazing! i’ve tried your raw blondie recipe that was posted on foodgawker and it’s going to be my staple-go-to, i work at a cookie store that uses all natural ingredients but we have limited vegan-friendly snacks so i end up giving into temptation when i forget my lunches.. at least i can make your blondie’s ahead of time, pack it, and nibble on when the temptations strike.

      thanks so much for the creative ideas, beautiful photos, and recipes! you’re a life changer 🙂

      • January 6, 2012 5:54 pm

        Madeleine, that is so kind of you to say! What an incredible compliment. I’m so glad you love the blondies. Thank you for reading!

    • January 6, 2012 5:53 pm

      That’s interesting! Starting from scratch in any situation can be scary, but also very rewarding. 🙂

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