Ricki Heller is Naturally Sweet and Her Cookbook is Too

Blogging has allowed me the opportunity to meet some fabulous people, including the truly talented and passionate Ricki Heller. And nothing makes me happier than to see truly talented and passionate people get some well-deserved opportunities to shine. Ricki Heller is in this category too because she’s now published her second cookbook  Naturally Sweet & Gluten Free, released in September, 2013. Her first book, Sweet Freedom, was one of only three cookbooks recommended by Ellen DeGeneres on her website. Ricki is also an Associate Editor for Simply Gluten-Free Magazine and has written for Clean Eating magazine, Allergic Living, Living Without, VegNews, and many other publications. I’m going to share three exciting things with you today, and one includes Ricki’s recipe, Butterscotch Blondies with Chocolate Chips and Goji Berries and the other is the opportunity to win a free copy of this book for yourself!

Butterscotch Blondies with Chocolate Chips and Goji Berries by Ricki Heller
From Naturally Sweet and Gluten Free by Ricki Heller. Photo by Celine Saki
Ricki Heller's Cookbook Naturally Sweet and Gluten Free

You’ll only find whole food ingredients in Ricki’s cookbook, but you can also expect a generous serving of humor too. And Ricki loves to share tales about her two chatty canines, along with gluten-free, allergy-friendly and sugar-free recipes on her blog, RickiHeller.com

I thought it might be nice to get to know Ricki a little better. Check out my interview with her below to join in on the conversation.

Ricki Heller, Vegan and Gluten Free author

Marly’s Interview with Ricki Heller

What was your inspiration behind your book Naturally Sweet and Gluten-Free?

 To a great extent, the book was written as a response to many of the requests from my former customers of my organic bakery, Bake it Healthy, or readers of my blog (rickiheller.com). Although I hadn’t intended it that way, many of my customers were people whose children had food allergies and couldn’t eat eggs, dairy or the other Top Eight allergens. When I closed the bakery, they asked if I’d continue to cater privately (which I did do, for a while). Once I closed the catering business, I decided to compile all the recipes in one place so my customers could make them at home for their own families; that became my first cookbook, Sweet Freedom.

Then, in 2009, I changed my own diet again, cutting out all gluten and high glycemic sweeteners. Naturally Sweet and Gluten-Free reflects the way I eat now, consuming only whole,  gluten-free foods with a fairly low glycemic index (a measure of how quickly foods raise blood sugar). I’ve grown totally accustomed to eating this way, and am happy to say I don’t feel I’m missing any of my favorite desserts despite the dietary restrictions.  I wrote the book partly so that others on restricted diets could also discover that food allergies or sensitivities need not feel like a culinary prison sentence—and to show them how well they can eat on their “special” diets!

I love how your book covers so many different topics from breakfast foods to chocolate. What’s your favorite breakfast recipe from the book?

Thank you! Do I have to pick just one? I’ve often said that breakfast is my favorite meal of the day—I just love ALL breakfast foods!

One of my favorite pancakes in the book is the Carob and Buckwheat Pancakes with Chopped Almonds and Chips, mostly because I think they will convert even the most trenchant carob or buckwheat averse person to a lover of these ingredients! They’re light and fluffy and just right with some melted nut butter or syrup.  I also love the Cinnamon Buns if you’re looking for something gooey and a bit decadent. The Multiseed Muffins are a favorite because of the aromatic spices and variety of different seeds and textures in them. . . oh, I could go on!

This book is about sugar-free recipes. Why?

As I mentioned, the book is a reflection of the way I eat now.  I’ve been sugar-free since around 1999, but only switched to exclusively low glycemic sweeteners, like coconut sugar, coconut nectar or stevia, since 2009, when I was diagnosed for the second time with candida (an overgrowth of yeast in the body). The only way to reduce the yeast enough to restore health is to basically starve it of its favorite food: sugar. And while my love of sweet things hasn’t wavered, I have certainly discovered that you can enjoy pretty much any sweet treat, from breakfast muffins to cheesecakes to pecan pie to chocolate buttercream frosting, all using lower glycemic sweeteners like coconut sugar and stevia. These sweeteners can be used by Type 2 diabetics as well as anyone looking to lower the sugar content of their foods.

I notice you use a lot of coconut sugar. What are the benefits of coconut sugar?

Besides being a natural and delicious type of unrefined sugar, coconut sugar is also quite low on the glycemic index, with a GI of 35 (pure glucose is 100; and even an apple logs in at 38) . For that reason, it’s a great sweetener for anyone watching their blood sugar levels. It’s also one of the few natural, dry sweeteners that can replace white sugar, since you measure it by the cup, just like sugar.  And, of course, there’s the taste: coconut sugar tastes like a cross between brown sugar and butterscotch (mmm)!

Ultra Fudgy Brownies by Ricki Heller
Ultra Fudgy Brownies from Naturally Sweet and Gluten-Free (photo credit: Celine Saki)

Some people say don’t use agave nectar others say it’s a good choice. Why the agave dilemma?

I believe you’re talking about the fact that agave contains quite a bit of fructose, the natural kind of sugar found in fruit. The level is fairly high in some brands of agave, and people are concerned because the way the body metabolizes it can put a strain on the liver. Apparently, the levels of fructose can vary wildly, depending on the source and production methods of the agave.

I think there’s no need to use agave if you prefer not to, but I do still use it in the few recipes that call for a light, mild sweetener that doesn’t have an overpowering taste of its own. Of course, you can always use coconut sugar in your vanilla layer cake recipe, but your cake will be slightly tan colored (like the coconut sugar), and may have a distinct flavor of caramel. With agave, that doesn’t happen. I think of agave as the French fries of sweeteners: it’s okay if you have it every once in a long while as a special treat, but I wouldn’t go eating it for lunch every day. Then again, you don’t want to have ANY sweetener that often.

I notice you include some raw and no-bake desserts too. Do you have a favorite from this category?

I really love raw desserts, and wish I’d had time to include more in the book! Because I tend to do better with fewer grains in my diet, raw desserts allow me a sweet indulgence without having to consume grain-based flours. One raw recipe I like a lot is the Raw Frosted Lemon-Poppyseed Bars (which I prepared on air in a Google Hangout a few weeks back), but I also just adore the Raw Gingersnap Cookie Bon Bons. When they’re coated in the “white chocolate” coating as they are in the book’s photo, they taste like a decadent kind of truffle. But you can easily make them without the coating and either roll into balls or pat in a pan and cut into bars for a delicious, portable energy bar.

What’s your vegetarian story? I mean, have you always been vegetarian? Or has it been some kind of progression ending on veganism?

I’d say it’s been a slow progression. From the time I was a teenager, I’ve always preferred vegan cuisine, and it’s the kind of food that has appealed to me the most. What makes this fact ironic, however,  is that my dad owned a butcher shop, and our family ate meat virtually every day when I was a kid (and twice on weekends)! As I’ve mentioned on my blog, I also suspect that my mom was naturally inclined to be vegetarian, too. She didn’t eat fish (except canned tuna) and wouldn’t consume soups that had meat or bones in them; I don’t remember her eating meat; and she mostly ate eggs and cheese for protein. By the time I left home to attend university, my diet was already about 90% vegan, although I didn’t even know what the word “vegan” meant at the time.

Then, when I attended nutrition school, I learned more about veganism as a choice. Because I was intent on improving my health as much as possible, and with all that I learned about how meat, milk and cheese were produced, it didn’t take much for me to switch over to a completely vegan diet.  I honestly didn’t find it difficult at all, since I love vegan food!

Once I began blogging and became inspired by the wonderful vegan bloggers I’ve met, my conviction to continue with this lifestyle has deepened.  A vegan diet is the one I enjoy most, and the one I feel healthiest and most comfortable following—both physically and philosophically. And I’m still a work in progress, of course.

What do you tell people who think being vegetarian or sugar-free (or whatever food lifestyle choice) is too hard?

So much of what makes dietary restrictions feel like, well, restrictions, is generated mostly from our attitude and reaction to the changes we have to make.  I really believe that first and foremost, accepting, and even embracing, the new way of life will make all the difference.

When I was in French immersion school, we were told that we had to speak French 100% of the time we were there; students were fined 5 cents each time they were caught speaking English! Well, it seemed hard for the first few days, but in the long run, that approach helped me to learn how to speak French, and to become much more comfortable doing so. I stopped mentally translating from English, and began to think in French.  Similarly, learning a new culinary language works the same way.  Jump right in and accept that you won’t be eating wheat-based bread, or bagels, or whatever, any more. No, gluten-free (or sugar-free, or egg-free, or whatever-free) might not be exactly the same as what you ate before, but so what? It might just be better. Just because something was familiar doesn’t necessarily make it the only good choice.  I mean, Toronto (where I live) is great, but so is, say, Tuscany, right? So “different” need not mean the same as “bad”.

It’s the same with a new food vocabulary. Jump right in and immerse yourself in all the wonderful new grains, flours, sweeteners and other ingredients you can eat, and you’ll find that there are dozens of new recipes and foods that you will love as much as, or more than, your old favorites.  I’ve discovered so many new foods since I turned to a supposedly “restricted” diet. And I actually now enjoy baking with the incredible variety of gluten-free flours way more than I did baking when I had a choice of just one kind of flour!

What’s next for you?

I love sweets (obviously), but I think it’s time to focus more on the savory side of the spectrum. My next book will feature everything from appetizer to salad to soup to main course (and a few desserts, too). Of course, that won’t be for a little while, yet!

Thank you Ricki!

And now for that recipe I promised. Check out the section below the recipe for your chance to win your own copy of Ricki’s book, Naturally Sweet and Gluten-Free!

This is just one of many fabulous recipes in Ricki’s book. If you’d like a copy for yourself, we’re offering a give-away to one lucky reader.

This contest is now closed. The giveaway winner: Sarah

Here are the give-away details:

One lucky Namelymarly.com read can win Ricki Heller’s book, Naturally Sweet and Gluten-Free (pictured above).

This giveaway will be open from today, Friday, October 4 through Friday, October 11 at midnight. The winner will be chosen at random. This giveaway will ship to USA and Canada entries only.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of the book for review purposes only. The opinions shared on my blog are entirely my own.

Happy natural sweetness to us all!

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64 Responses to Ricki Heller is Naturally Sweet and Her Cookbook is Too

  1. Marly, thank you so much for this great review of the book–and such a fun interview! It has really been such a pleasure getting to know you, too, via our blogs (and this chat). I hope you and your readers enjoy the goodies in the book–and good luck to the winner! 😀

  2. My favorite dessert was my mom’s homemade pumpkin roll. She used to make this around the holidays when I was a kid. The only bad thing is it is full of gluten, dairy and sugar (something I can no longer tolerate). I would love to convert her recipe into something that tastes as good.

  3. I recently tried out black bean brownies and love them!
    Also totally in love with homemade roasted applesauce. No guilt there!

  4. I am so glad to have found you both! My 16 year old daughter was just found to be allergic to wheat, rye, and barley and all this info is such a blessing! In honor of my daughter, I will name our favorite dessert as CUPCAKES!

  5. I don’t know if I could pick just one favorite dessert! But I do love anything with pudding or mousse (chocolate, of course). Thanks for the giveaway 🙂

  6. Love Ricki’s recipes since mine are very simple. I like a fruit, usually pear or apple crisp, with extra oats and brown sugar on top!


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