As much as Cafe Gratitude (or ‘Cafe Attitude,’ as Jay has aptly dubbed it) annoys me with their too-cool-for-school employees, constantly running out of what you wish to order, and irritating ‘questions of the day,’ I occasionally seat myself at their bar and order one of the many delectable, raw, vegan shakes, and perhaps a grain bowl (which is ‘dead’ – ha!), from off of the menu. Sitting at the bar has another perk: the tender will often pour extra bits of smoothie into a small cup and slide it your way. What other bar does that?
I sometimes used to buy outrageously expensive bottles of almond milk to bring home and enjoy for breakfast with granola (also of the ‘dead’ variety), until I decided to get myself a nut milk bag and give it a go for myself.
Freshly made almond milk tastes nothing like the chalky stuff you find on the shelf at the store. It is smooth, mild, and sweet, with an ethereally delicate texture. I used to think only raw foodist hippy freaks made almond milk, but recently found that it is traditionally made in India, with the addition of cardamom and rose water. Once you taste homemade almond milk, you won’t want to drink another milk substitute, or possibly the real thing, ever again. It does take a bit of planning ahead, as the almonds need to soak for 8-12 hours (after soaking, they can be stored in the fridge for a few days if you don’t get to them), and elbow grease; squeezing the dickens out of the almond pulp is harder than you may anticipate. But the results are well worth it.
You can sweeten your almond milk with anything you like, add vanilla or other flavorings. And don’t throw away the pulp – it can be dried out in a low oven, whizzed in a coffee grinder, and used in place of some flour in muffins, cakes or cookies. Cafe Gratitude’s dessert cookbook has many other tantalizing recipes for the pulp, as well, including raw cakes, breads and crackers. Almond milk is delicious in tea or coffee, warmed with honey and a bit of grated nutmeg, or blended into a smoothie of your liking. Bananas, yogurt and frozen huckleberries went into mine this morning; raspberries and peaches would also be heavenly.
And you don’t have to tell them, ‘I’m grateful I can make my own almond milk, thank you very much.’
Makes 3 1/2 cups
1 1/2 cups whole almonds
3 cups water
2 tablespoons maple syrup or sweetener of your choice (optional)
1/4 vanilla bean, chopped up, or a splash of vanilla extract (optional)
Place the almonds in a bowl or jar, add enough water to cover them by a couple inches, and let soak for 8-12 hours. Drain off the water, rinse the almonds and drain again.
Place the almonds in a blender with about a cup of the water, the salt, sweetener and vanilla bean. Begin blending on low. Increase the speed gradually, adding just enough water for the mixture to turn over, until the blender is on high and you have added all the water. Blend on high for about two minutes, until the mixture is as smooth as possible.
Place a nut milk bag in a large bowl or measuring cup, and pour the mixture into it. (Alternatively, use several layers of cheesecloth lain in a sieve.) Twist the top closed, and squeeze the mixture as firmly as you can, pressing out as much of the milk as possible. This will take several minutes, and your hands and arms will probably feel worked. (Spread the remaining pulp out on a baking sheet and place in a low oven, or an off oven with a pilot light, until completely dried out, several hours or days. Whiz in a coffee grinder or food processor to break up any clumps. Use in place of some of the flour in muffin, cookie or cake recipes.)
Store the milk in a jar in the fridge for up to a week. The almond milk will separate; no problem, just shake it to recombine.
Banana-Berry Almond Milk Smoothie
1 large, ripe banana
1/3 cup frozen huckle (or other) berries
1/4 cup yogurt
1/2 cup almond milk
Place the bananas, berries, yogurt and half of the almond milk in a blender. Puree on low to combine, then increase to high, gradually adding the rest of the almond milk, until very smooth.