Chef Amber Shea Crawley of Kansas City is releasing her first vegan cookbook, Practically Raw on March 15. This young chef, who writes the blog “Almost Vegan,” is making her place in the vegan world with an open attitude about food and a strict view on health.

Though Crawley says her diet is at least 95 percent vegan, she calls herself, as her blog name suggests, an “almost” vegan.

“I’m meat- and dairy-free, but I do sometimes eat eggs, Campo Lindo Farms eggs only, and, rarely, fish. Other than that, I’m all about veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains, and a reasonable amount of sweet treats,” she says.

She began her vegan diet for health reasons, and it became more than just her lifestyle. It became her career.

Crawley has been blogging for several years but only realized she wanted to be a cookbook author after going to culinary school.

“When I was getting serious about going to culinary school a couple years ago, I asked myself what I’d really wanted to do afterward as a food-related career,” she says.

“Since I’ve wanted to be an author since I was 6 years old and I’ve been blogging about food for over three years, I came to realize I had a secret dream to be a cookbook writer.”

The title of the book takes after the name of her blog. After all practically and almost are, well – nearly synonymous. She says, “I’m a linguist, so I loved the double entendre of practically the first time I thought of it.”

Crawley’s book includes a variety of raw, gluten-free recipes. But don’t let that description scare you – the recipes are tasty. Often, they are tastier than their meat-filled counterparts, and they are better for your health. Everyone can use a little more health in their lives.

“All of my recipes are ‘healthy’ in the sense that they’re free of processed foods, refined sugars or flours, and allergens like dairy and gluten. However, they can still be quite sinful-tasting!” Crawley said.

Her favorite aspect of the book? “I love that my publisher let me devote whole chapters to hummus and kale chips!”

But she does have a sweet tooth: “Truth be told, though, the desserts chapter is my favorite of the bunch.”

“I really love the Coconut Rice Pudding, Sugared Doughnut Holes, and Crunchy Salted Cashew Cookies.”

Of the savory recipes, Crawley says, “Some of my favorites are my Curried Kale Chips, Sopes con Mole Poblano, and Italian ‘Sausage’ Pizza.”

Though Crawley’s personal view on food has been generally well-received, some vegans think her views are too lax.

“I wish I could say it’s a rarity! I’ll admit that I do get semi-regular ‘hate mail.’ Sadly, the vast majority of it is from vegans, who resent the fact that my diet is ‘only’ 95 percent vegan.”

Crawley is well-aware that the criticisms are bound to keep coming as her book is released.

She says, “I’m feeling a little bit of everything, but excitement definitely predominates. I know the book will be well-received, and I’m looking forward to getting lots of great feedback on it.”

She adds, “I am a little worried at how I’ll react to negative reviews, but I’ll do my best to brush them off.”

Crawley remains firm in her views and keeps positive about such criticisms. “But I’m committed to maintaining my almost-vegan status, and to stay upbeat and inclusive in my message. Ninety-nine percent of readers appreciate that about my work, so I can’t waste too much time worrying about negative people. The vast majority of the comments and emails I receive are overwhelmingly positive and supportive!”

With a support team made up of longtime readers and regular commenters on her blog, Crawley has taken on other challenges. She won the 2011 Living Light International’s Sweet Valentine Hot Raw Chef contest by submitting a video of her making her recipe of raw-vegan Caramel Fudge Brownies.

She says, “The whipped caramel-vanilla icing on those brownies was a happy accident, created one night as I was messing around with the idea of white chocolate mousse. It was so out-of-this-world good that I immediately came up with a rich, dark brownie base just to slather it on.”

With chocolate being a common Valentine’s Day staple, Crawley was a little hesitant at first to submit the recipe.

“Although chocolate on Valentine’s Day might be a little cliché, it’s still highly popular, and clearly my gamble paid off!” Her web presence could only grow from there. “Winning the Hot Raw Chef contest. right off the heels of my graduation from culinary school, was life- and career-changing.”

Crawley’s book-release party is scheduled from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, March 24 at Shawnee Books & Toys. “I’ll be signing books and offering up samples of some of the recipes in my book. It’ll be a very informal, open-house-style gathering, which will be nice.”

You don’t have to wait to order it though — copies of Crawley’s book can be pre-ordered through Amazon and will be shipped out March 15.

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