"Bacon is the candy of meat."

Saturday, February 7, 2015

In Which I Visit Veganland

Readers of this blog will know that since I assumed daily responsibility for cooking actual dinners I have found myself in an off-and-on struggle to perk things up. With the kids having relatively limited repertoires, I've sometimes had a hard time thinking of things to cook that will be nutritious, tasty, acceptable on the Lucas Thumb Scale, and not too difficult or tedious to cook. It's a process.

At the same time, I've also been trying to get my own diet into a new place that helps me get more fit without forcing myself to go against my usual tastes and food interests. While Weight Watchers worked very well for me during the years after I'd given birth, I am emphatically not a Dieter. I've had good experiences in the Land of Low Carb (as a former employee of Atkins Nutritionals, I suppose that's a good thing) but this time when I tried to move back in that direction, I was feeling less inspired than usual.

One of my favorite food writers is Mark Bittman, whose "How to Cook Everything" books have been constant resources for me over the years. He has come to espouse a lower-animal product diet he sums up as "Vegan Before 6" or "VB6" -- eat vegan during the day until 6pm, and then incorporate whatever animal products you like for your last meal of the day. This seemed appealing to me in a way it never had before. Perhaps the flexitarian safety valve made me feel it was doable (plus Bittman's sensible recognition that sometimes you need to pass over the quinoa in favor of a bag of chips or a candy bar). I'm also living in a city that is very vegetarian-friendly, and where a majority of our friends are mostly vegetarian with the occasional pescatarian tendency. Plus, Vancouver is a city boasting of beautiful produce and access to global ingredients that make it easy to explore a zillion and one ways of cooking plant products.

I'd never actually looked at a vegan cookbook, so my friend Nicky kindly let me borrow a few of hers. I was immediately smitten with Isa Chandra Moskowitz of The Post Punk Kitchen. Her recipes are delicious, unfussy, smartly written, and infused with a New York-GenX spirit that feels right at home for me. So far everything I've made from her books Veganomicon and Vegan With a Vengeance has been a huge success.

So what is this bacon-loving, rare-steak-craving, sushi-addict eating? Well, avocados, a/k/a vegan lard, for one thing. While I could probably stuff a few whole ones down my gullet in a sitting, I'm trying to show restraint and eat them half at a time. My favorite way is laid on a slice of garlic-rubbed sourdough toast, and sprinkled with lemon juice and Maldon sea salt. Sometimes I will make a second slice of toast topped with my other new staple -- tahini. This is made even more fantastic by spreading a thin layer of Marmite underneath it, which adds a tang of salty yeastiness to the unctuousness of the sesame paste. This makes a fantastic lunch, and I'll add a little cherry tomato salad, green salad, or fruit salad to the plate to complete the meal. I've also tried avocado on a toasted bagel as a substitute for our usual lox and cream cheese on Sunday mornings, and that has been satisfying enough that I don't pine for the lox. I have even made a very satisfying vegan take on the BLAT by frying up thin slices of smoked tofu brushed with a little maple syrup and using them with the avocado (I didn't have any ripe tomato, but would add it if I had it) on toasted sourdough.

Lunch is served.

 I was somewhat terrified of vegan baking, and I haven't yet attempted a cake (so no final conclusions here) but I have discovered that at least with some things, eggs, milk, and butter are less necessary than I'd thought. I've made terrific buckwheat-blueberry pancakes using almond milk and applesauce in lieu of milk and eggs (plus vanilla and cinnamon) that distracted me even from the presence of bacon on the table during the last two Saturday pancake breakfasts. I made absolutely killer chocolate-chocolate chip-walnut cookies from Veganomicon that used almond milk, canola oil instead of butter, and ground flaxseed in place of eggs, and they're easily one of the quickest and most delectable cookies I've ever made.

The devil is obviously a vegan.

The real test was, of course, whether I could cook anything that the kids would be willing to eat. Tofu to the rescue! They are pretty good with tofu, and have eaten with gusto a vegan stir-fried noodles with plain and smoked tofu dish on several occasions. I cooked a tofu tikka masala, substituting coconut milk for cream and using tofu where my kids have previous had chicken. From Veganomicon I made a very easy and flavorful dish of lentils flavored with tamarind, and served it all with basmati rice. It went so well that nobody complained when I offered the leftovers for dinner the next night.

A surprise thumbs up on the Lucas Scale was achieved when I attempted "cheesy" vegan kale chips. Kale chips, as everyone knows, are complete crack, but they are totally irresistible when prepared with a paste of cashews, lemon, garlic, coconut oil, mustard, and that umami delivery system, nutritional yeast. My only regret is that I can't produce more than one bunch of kale's worth at a time, due to limited space in my oven.

So have I been West Coast brainwashed? When I tell you that I have also been RUNNING. Sometimes at 7am IN THE RAIN you will probably conclude that I have indeed. But I am really enjoying both the running and the new explorations in cooking, and I feel good. I still identify as an omnivore, and do not intend at this point to forego all kinds of eating experiences (animal and vegetable) when they present themselves, but I'm very happy to make daily visits to Veganland.

No comments: