Rebecca Gilbert is creating a community to help Pittsburghers and others eat more plants. Her motive is even more ambitious.
"To be honest, I really want to change the world," she says with a big smile.
She calls her effort Yummy Plants, and you can connect with it at yummyplants.com as well as on the requisite social media channels.
The site, which launched Jan. 4, posts stories and recipes, lists recommended restaurants in Pittsburgh and beyond, and shares nutrition and lifestyle information.
Last month, the site partnered with the also-new Juice Box Cafe in Shadyside to present a raw, vegan fine dining evening and talk.
Even though Ms. Gilbert is a vegan -- that is, she eats no animal products, including dairy -- and she believes that such a diet is better for people as well as the planet, Yummy Plants does not aim to turn everyone into vegans or vegetarians.
"We are a completely non-judgmental site," says Ms. Gilbert. "It's not an all-or-nothing proposition. It's about doing the best you can."
And as we keep hearing from the federal government and other sources, most Americans need more servings of vegetables and fruit in their diets.
She wants the site and its users to help people do that, and help others cook for their vegan friends or relatives, or even to go vegetarian and vegan themselves. "There's not a lot of resources out there."
Ms. Gilbert, 38, of Shadyside, works fulltime in fundraising for Carnegie Mellon University. You won't find much about her, even her name, on the site, because "it's not about me," she says. "It's about building a community where we can help each other."
You can read her story -- about how she gave up animal foods back in 1998 to try to overcome a knee injury that was keeping her from the competitive figure skating that she loved. That worked for her. She slowly reintroduced some animal foods, but stayed off meat because the pain came back. And several years ago she went back to being a vegan, which works for her.
"I'm not a doctor and I always say I'm not a doctor," she stresses about the articles she writes and posts.
Also helping her on the site is her mother, Shandel Gilbert of Squirrel Hill, who is a writer and who has some experience cooking for a vegan daughter. Mom has worked up vegan versions of classic French recipes, some of which already are on the site, where users are encouraged to submit their own recipes, restaurant reviews and more.
"I want people to build the community," Rebecca Gilbert says.
She is optimistic that vegetable and vegan options are growing. Veganism is very trendy right now (earlier this month, Oprah and nearly 400 staffers did it for a week). Even in Pittsburgh, which isn't as hip to this as the West Coast where Ms. Gilbert has spent a lot of time, she knows of several local restaurants that accommodate vegans (she raves about Downtown's Seviche).
"I don't think a restaurant [here] can survive being all vegan," she says. "And as a vegan, I'm not asking for that."
As of Monday, yummyplants.com had 48 users registered to use its forum, but twice that many Facebook fans, and just more than 800 unique visitors and growing.
She set up the site so she can moderate it all with the generous help of Jon Pastor, founder and CEO of the North Side-based Rent Jungle, a company that helps people find rental housing. As she puts it, "So many people volunteered their time and expertise to help the site get off the ground. It was truly a miracle."
About a dozen Yummy Plants folks came to the Jan. 28 Juice Box dinner, where they dined on zucchini pasta with wild mushroom-walnut-carrot meatballs, broccoli salad, and fresh berries over frozen banana cream with cocoa peanut sauce. They got a $5 discount on the $30 feed, which was followed by a lecture by the cafe's Adam Haritan.
Chef Hilary Zozula, who worked with Ms. Gilbert to make the dinner a success, compliments her as ""very professional but also a human being -- very cool person" and likes the site, too, for being very professional. "They're doing a really good thing."
Ms. Gilbert hopes the Yummy Plants community continues to grow. Tomorrow, the site will be a stop on the "virtual book tour" of Karen Knowler, the "Raw Foods Coach" and author of the new "Raw Foods Made Simple." And soon, the site will start selling its first product -- that is, sending folks to the site of the San Francisco maker of the vegan, gluten-free "Inspired Cookie" that she says tastes amazing.
Eventually, she says, "My hope, my dream, is for [Yummy Plants] to go totally global and change the world in good ways."
Dairy-free, Wheat-free Chocolate Pie with "Live" Macadamia Nut Crust
I asked Rebecca Gilbert to recommend recipes from her yummyplants.com site, and this was one of the ones she picked. "This is the BEST vegan pie ever and super easy to make!"
She notes, "This is a great recipe for entertaining. You can make the crust the night before you make the filling. Or you can make the entire pie the night before your event. It will keep in the fridge for several days before serving without any sogginess to the crust."
She used a Vita-Mix blender to prepare the raw crust and says, "Your processing times may vary in another type of blender or food processor."
- 1 1/2 cups of raw, unsalted macadamia nuts (a mix of 1 cup macadamia and 1/2 cup almonds also works well)
- 1 1/4 cups of pitted medjool dates (this variety is the most moist, so use these if you can)
- 2 tablespoons shredded coconut
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Dash of nutmeg
- 1 1/2 cups dairy-free dark chocolate chips
- 1/2 cup of maple syrup (use 1/4 cup if you don't want it as sweet)
- 12.3-ounce package of Mori-Nu firm silken tofu
- 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
- Dash of nutmeg
- Dash of cinnamon
Make the crust: Pour the macadamia nuts (or macadamia/almond mixture) into the Vita-Mix or food processor. Barely process until just ground. (It was about 5 to 8 seconds on setting 3 on my machine. You don't want it to turn into nut butter, so if you're not sure about the strength of your processor, just pulse it to have more control.)
Add the pitted dates, coconut, cinnamon and nutmeg. Process until the dates are chopped into small pieces and the mixture begins to run up the sides of the machine.
Remove mixture from the machine and press into a 9-inch pie plate. Use your hands to press the crust into the pie plate, making the crust about 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick.
Refrigerate the crust while you are making the chocolate filling.
Make the filling: Use a double boiler to melt the chocolate chips. The consistency should be smooth, creamy and lump-free.
While the chocolate is melting, place the maple syrup, tofu, vanilla, sea salt, nutmeg and cinnamon in blender or food processor. Process until smooth.
Once the chocolate is completely melted and smooth, add it to the tofu mixture in your Vita-Mix or food processor. Blend for 5 to 10 seconds or until smooth.
Pour the chocolate filling into the pie crust shell. Scallop the top edges to make it look attractive.
Refrigerate for at least 1 hour so that the chocolate filling will be dense enough to slice.
Bob Batz Jr.: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1930.