By Selena Fragassi

For Sun-Times Media

As a child, Heather Crosby never ate vegetables. “My first salad was when I was 19 years old, and it didn’t really count because it was at a buffet,” she recalls. Yet the years of eating the Standard American Diet and comfort foods like bread, cheese and sugar started to catch up with her, and in her 20s, after moving from the family farm in Maryland to Chicago to take a job as a graphic designer, Crosby was diagnosed with acidosis.

“Doctors didn’t have answers for me and medication just felt like a Band-Aid, so I decided to take matters into my own hands to heal myself.” After consulting an acupuncturist, Crosby heeded the advice given to her and started incorporating more fruits and vegetables into her meals, eventually expanding the rule of five servings a day into every serving of every day — and she started to feel better.


When: 6 p.m. Nov. 7

Where: Chicago Art Department, 1932 S. Halsted

Tickets: Free


“A shift of what you consume can make such a huge difference,” she says, noting that for her, the biggest benefits of eating a plant-based diet were the increased energy levels, lack of aches and pains and better digestion and skin appearance. The improvement was so dramatic that five years ago, Crosby decided she wanted to share this new world with others. She created YumUniverse, an online meeting place with free recipes (up to 500 currently) and an enhanced membership portal that allowed for further community support. The online information often morphed into a series of e-books for her members, but Crosby says, “A lot of people were asking me to do a print book; they wanted to hold something in their hands while cooking in the kitchen.”

So, after a year writing, photographing and designing the book herself, Crosby introduces “YumUniverse: Infinite Possibilities for a Gluten-Free, Plant-Powerful, Whole Food Lifestyle” at a release party Friday at Chicago Art Department. Partners include Owen + Alchemy and Rhine Hall who will make a signature cocktail and have juices on hand, while Crosby will sample both savory and sweet ideas pulled from the pages.

The book has more than 150 recipes, like Creamy Broccoli, Red Pepper Macaroni, and Chocolate and Salted Caramel Layer Cake, all inspired by Crosby’s favorite comfort foods of her youth. “I still wanted to love the things I eat, but realized I could make them healthy and good for me,” she says of natural foods’ versatility, even going as far as to put kale in cupcakes. “It sounds strange but it really goes with chocolate.”

Yet with all the popularity given the vegan and plant-based lifestyle and the many cookbooks out there, Crosby says, “It was very important to me to write more than a cookbook. Finding the recipes is the easy part. I wanted to explain the how —how to make it sustainable so it’s not just a diet.” As such, “YumUniverse” includes sections on how to deal with social situations as you start out and how to shop and stock certain foods, even in Chicago where we don’t get a long growing season (“the city still gives you a lot of options for shopping.”) There’s also an introduction by Brendan Brazier, founder of the popular “Thrive” series and the Vega line of food products and supplements, who has been Crosby’s comrade as they have both watched their businesses grow over the years.

“I think there are a lot of people not feeling well right now, and they’re learning ways to turn it around,” says Crosby of the increased attention. “It’s incredibly empowering to be able to heal yourself.”

Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.


Maple Spice Sandwich Cream Cookies

Serves 10

Oatmeal cookies times two with spiced cream filling. What’s not to love?

Maple_Spice_Cookies WEB


Spiced Cream

1 cup cashews, soaked

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Pinch sea salt

Pinch ground clove

Pinch ground nutmeg

Pinch ground cardamom*


¼ cup + 2 tablespoons maple syrup

¼ cup + 1 tablespoon coconut oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 tablespoons hot water


1 ½ cups almond flour

2⁄3 cup brown rice flour

3 tablespoons Sucanat

1 teaspoon baking powder

¾ teaspoon sea salt


½ cup rolled oats

½ cup raw pecans, toasted and chopped


1. Preheat oven to 325°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Blend together all Spiced Cream ingredients until smooth and pop in the fridge to chill for 2–4 hours.

3. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk or blend together all wet ingredients and set aside.

4. In a large bowl, sift together dry ingredients. Fold wet ingredients into dry, and then add fold-ins.

5. Spoon dough into 2″ rounds onto baking sheet. Press them down a touch with your hand or a silicone

spatula. (They don’t collapse when baking, so the height they go in is the height they come out.)

6. Bake 10–12 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheet. Transfer to fridge to chill.

7. Remove Spiced Cream from fridge and spread some on one cooled cookie. Close with another. Repeat until all cookies are made into magical sandwiches.

You can skip the Spiced Cream and just make oatmeal cookies here. Try adding the spice from the cream into the batter first or adding ¼ cup raisins.

Courtesy of “YumUniverse: Infinite Possibilities for a Gluten-Free, Plant-Powerful, Whole Food Lifestyle”