From what I know about Santa Claus, I surmise he knows why he should and how he can keep his personal carbon footprint in check. After all, from the picture window of his North Pole workshop, he’s got a pretty good view of the Arctic melting at unprecedented speeds. And, as the tale is told, he’s got a pretty green track record. He contracts elves to make artisanal, non-plastic goods. His sleigh is powered by alternative fuels. And while retail outlets may use his image to promote consumerism, he’s worn the same outfit year in, year out, which signals that he’s not caught up in a throw-away product cycle.

But I can’t even hazard a guess about his green eating habits because I’ve only ever offered him butter cookies, cow’s milk, and single-malt Scotch. While my husband assures me Santa is a big fan of all three, eating green means cutting back on both animal products and whisky flown in from across the pond.

What if I force the issue this Christmas Eve by seeing if Santa and his crew are willing to bite into vegan – but still soft and chewy — oatmeal cookies, washed down with a glass of non-dairy milk. The libation will have to be whiskey from Maine.

I’ve adapted one of the millions of vegan cookie recipes on the internet to suit my tastes. But the myriad non-dairy milk options available at the grocery store make me dizzy. It seems as if you can take any grain, nut or seed with a little protein in its inner core, mix it with a little water, and make a bottle of milk out of it.

I could serve almond milk to Dasher and rice milk to Dancer. Prancer might like soy milk and Vixen, coconut milk. Comet could sip on cashew milk and Cupid just might love macadamia milk. Donner could dip into some milk made from peas, and Blitzen seems like he’d be good to go with milk derived from hemp.

According to market research firm iGate Research, the global dairy alternatives market is expected to exceed $34 billion by 2024. How is the average consumer to choose the most sustainable option?

Almond milk is one of the fastest-growing segments tracked by iGate, but in the face of a warming climate, eco-conscious consumers are increasingly concerned that to set fruit each year, the California almond crop requires almost every commercial honey bee in the country. Add to that, it takes about three gallons of water to produce a single nut. Whether rice milk is sustainable is also in question, as the crop needs a constant infusion of water to grow.

Commercial soybean (and pea) production in the U.S. has been linked to detrimental mono-cropped systems and heavy phosphorous fertilizer use (the runoff of which creates dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico). And soy beans have been linked to deforestation in South America since it requires a lot of land to thrive, facts that raise sustainability questions about buying products made from this legume.

Hemp, as a crop, is sustainable because it helps build soil health and, due to its hardy nature, requires few pesticides. But the jury is still out on whether making it into milk is a sustainable business prospect. Though hemp farming was legalized by the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp farmers have struggled to get banking and insurance.

While it’s been around for over 30 years, oat milk is all the rage in trendy coffee shops up and down coastal Maine right now. Baristas prefer its texture because it’s most similar to that of cow’s milk and provides a nice foam on cappuccino, though it does have a slightly oaty aftertaste and is prone to separating. Producing it uses up to 60 percent less energy and 80 percent less land than is needed to produce cow’s milk. Of all the plants turned into “milk,” oats generally require the least water to grow.

DIY oat milk is just 10 minutes’ work. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

The Swedish company Oatly makes the most ubiquitous oat milk option on the market. For the U.S. market, the company sources Canadian whole oat groats and combines them with water and a natural enzyme blend. Parts of Canada are certainly close to Maine, but you could also buy rolled oats from a dozen Maine producers and make your own oat milk in under 10 minutes.

You need 4 cups of water, 1 cup of oats, 1 tablespoon of maple syrup and a pinch of salt. Process it all in a blender for one minute, then strain the milk though a cheese cloth. Compost the somewhat slimy solids and chill the milk until it’s time to pour a glass for Santa. Let me know if he likes it.

CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, recipe developer and tester, and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at [email protected]

Help Santa save the planet. Leave him some vegan cookies and oat milk this year. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Chewy Oatmeal and Cranberry Cookies

If you don’t have vegan butter – or vegan sensibilities – use an equal amount of real butter and 1 egg in place of the applesauce.

Makes 36 cookies

3/4 cup vegan butter

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 1/4 cups old-fashioned oats

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 cup dried cranberries, unsweetened if you can find them

Flaky Maine sea salt

In a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars until thick and creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the applesauce and vanilla extract and beat to combine.

Combine the oats, flour, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and allspice in a large bowl. With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients to the butter-sugar mixture in three installments, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Add the cranberries and mix until a uniform dough has formed, about 30 seconds.

Cover the bowl and chill the dough for 30 minutes before baking. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats.

Scoop out 2 tablespoons of chilled dough and roll it between your hands. Repeat. Place rounded cookies on the prepared baking sheets, allowing about 3 inches of space between them. You will likely have extra dough for a third sheet of cookies.

Press each cookie down slightly with the palm of your hand, sprinkle each with a bit of flaky sea salt, and bake until the edges are slightly browned but the middles still slightly underbaked, 9-10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring the cookies to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days. The dough can be stored in the freezer for up to 2 months.


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