Sunday, December 6, 2009

Pancake Possibilities!

I have ALWAYS loved pancakes (my mother can vouch for this). One of my earlier memories of my childhood was an instance when we had breakfast for dinner. My mom told my sister, Grace, that if she finished the pancake she had, she could have the last one on the plate. I, being the chubmeister that I was, had probably already eaten 5...or 12...but I crammed the remaining pancake on my plate into my mouth and held out my plate for the last pancake. Imagine my surprise when my mother said, "No, this one is for Gracie. You've had enough." She was right, of course, but the fact that I remember this mundane event so clearly illustrates how deep my love for the pancake goes.

Fast forward to the present day. When I found out that my son had allergies to dairy and wheat, one of my first thoughts after, "No more cheese?????" was, "No more pancakes?" followed quickly by, "Oh no, will Rylan ever be able to eat pancakes?" Over the next few months, I began to experiment with dairy and wheat free baking and cooking, and I was SO excited to find a wheat-free, dairy-free pancake mix at the Co-op. I saved it for our "Christmas" morning celebration. They looked so pretty browning up on the griddle. I was so excited to take that first sweet bite, drenched in Mrs. Butterworth's. They tasted like gritty paste. Ick.

Then began my quest to create the perfect vegan, wheat-free pancake. I began with the pancake recipe from my Christina Pirello cookbook and since then have ventured far afield. I discovered that a mixture of half oat flour and half rice flour turns out pancakes that are so crumbly you can barely flip them, but a mixture of only oat flour creates gummy, sticky pancakes. I eventually settled on a ratio of roughly 3/4 oat to 1/4 rice. I also discovered that you have to decrease the amount of liquid if you're modifying a wheat pancake recipe because oat and rice flours don't absorb as much liquid, so you end up with one runny pancake overflowing the griddle and spilling onto the floor (much to the dog's delight). Once I perfected the basic vegan, wheat-free pancake, I began experimenting and a tradition began.

Now, every Saturday or Sunday morning, I try to come up with a new pancake. I've done apple cinnamon, cornmeal/molasses, sweet potato ginger, pumpkin pie, several variations on blueberry, oat and honey, and this week it was sweet potato coconut with a touch of molasses, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg. In my humble opinion, they were the best yet!

The best part about pancakes, other than their quick prep and cook time, is that Rylan loves them! Ry isn't a picky eater, but he doesn't get excited about very many foods. He generally approaches eating like a chore he knows he has to do. He eats methodically and rarely "asks" (read: yells impatiently) for more. Therefore, I know a pancake recipe is successful if it gets the RyRy yell of approval, and that's what drives my creativity. Every weekend, I just hope to create a new pancake that will make my child throw a temper tantrum and that will be my gauge of pancake greatness - at least until he has a sibling he can try to cheat out of the last pancake.

Monday, November 23, 2009

On a Day Nicknamed Turkey Day, What's a Vegan to Do?

So, this Thursday being Thanksgiving and all, I started thinking this past weekend about what I would serve. We'll be a small party of Pilgrims and Indians: me, Dyl, Ry, and our friend Megan, so a turkey seemed a bit much anyway.

When I became a vegan, I thought I would probably make exceptions for holidays. Then, I made the colossal mistake of reading Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals. Oops. Honestly, it's a great book but full of lots of terrifying, disgusting, and depressing facts about factory farming and its widespread deleterious effects on not only the animals, but our health, and the environment. After I read the portion on poultry slaughterhouses, I knew I could never eat Thanksgiving turkey (two words: fecal soup...that's all I'm going to say...).

However, being a reasonable person who can look both ways down the animal product street, I knew Dylan and Megan (our friend Megan, not confusing!) might not be as keen on Tofurkey as I am, so I told Dylan he was in charge of the meat dish. He chose Cornish game hens instead of turkey, since there are only 2 1/2 meat eaters attending our little shindig. I also ordered a small pumpkin cheesecake for the dairy consumers. The rest of the feast will be vegan.

It turned out to be surprisingly easy to transform traditional Thanksgiving dishes into vegan Thanksgiving dishes. Our menu will include: mashed potatoes, mushroom gravy, sweet potato casserole, brussels sprouts, mushroom stuffing, and a vegan pumpkin cheesecake in addition to the Cornish game hens and Tofurkey and traditional pumpkin cheesecake.

I already shared with you the recipe for vegan mashed potatoes - just a simple substitute of non-dairy spread for butter and unsweetened soymilk for milk. The sweet potato casserole recipe hardly has to be changed at all. There are 2 T. of butter in it and it's an easy fix to switch that to non-dairy spread. The brussels sprouts just need to be tossed in olive oil, salt, and pepper and oven-roasted, which is exactly as I would have made them if I wasn't a vegan. The original stuffing recipe calls for sausage. I'm substituting shiitake mushrooms drizzled with soy sauce for that umami flavor.

Turns out it's pretty easy to create a vegan Thanksgiving. I worried at first that I would miss the bird, but then I realized that celebrating this way is my way of giving thanks. I am thankful that I live in a country where following an alternative diet is a possibility. I don't have to eat whatever I can find or grow or face starvation. I have the luxury of making food choices based on health, personal convictions, and even something as frivolous as personal taste, and I am very thankful for that.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New Layout

This is for you, Jaime, for admitting publicly (okay semi-publicly) your love (okay enforced knowledge of) Star Trek: TNG. Hopefully it's kinder to your eyes ;).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mole-asses is Dee-licious

Hello faithful readers. I apologize for my absence. Life is nuts in my house, and we have been guilty of subsisting on foods that are completely un-blogworthy these past couple of weeks.

This weekend, I got the itch I get every fall, no not the fall cleaning itch (wish I got that one, my cleaning gene is missing, thanks parentals). I got the incurable, rolling-in-the-grass-type (this may not be an apt comparison for many of you... I only realized once I reached adulthood that not all children get covered in red, itchy bumps when they roll in the grass, but I'm sticking out my tongue at you and using it anyway) itch for molasses.

Mmmmm...molasses...every fall when the air starts to get crisp and the leaves start to turn colors (they actually do that here in Tennessee!), I get the urge to break out that bottle of viscous, black goo and make something chewy and delicious. I have a similar fall reaction to pumpkin, but that one kicked in earlier this year and I seem to be mostly over it already.

This weekend the molasses urge fell upon me without warning and I immediately baked molasses chewies and an Apple Spice Upside-down Coffeecake. While the molasses chewies recipe definitely needs some tweaking (they morphed into one thin pancake that was so chewy it could probably remove loose teeth...I have the recipe if any of you have the type of weeny kid who won't pull out his/her own loose teeth and leave them hanging there by a disgusting thread of bloody gum tissue), and the upside-down coffeecake was not nearly apple-y enough owing to major apple shrinkage, the itch has been definitely and satisfyingly scratched.

For those of you who don't know, there are 3 grades of molasses: mild, dark, and blackstrap. I'm a blackstrap girl myself. Apart from the fact that peering down into the bottle gives me a rush of tingly adrenaline as I imagine the black goo morphing into the tarry monster that killed Tasha Yar (if you don't know, go watch all seasons of Star Trek Next Generation now: we can't be friends until you're finished), it has a deeper, richer flavor, and is a great source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron! Who knew sweeteners could have actual nutritional value? One caveat: the sweetness is mild and the flavor is STUH-RONG, so I would not use it as the sole sweetener in a recipe; a little bit goes a long way. Apart from its use in baking, it's yummy drizzled onto pancakes (extra points if they're cornmeal pancakes), or swirled into hot cereal. Plus, I mean, does it get any cooler than "blackstrap"? What a bad-ass name!

So, go out and buy some molasses. Heck, if you decide the taste is not for you (wuss!), you can always use it to remove rust, as a component of mortar or animal feed, to treat burns, as a soil additive in your garden to promote healthy microbial growth, as an iron supplement if the traditional kind, well, stops you up, or you can stick it in your pipe and smoke it (literally, molasses is often mixed with hookah tobacco).

Three cheers for mole-asses (and yes spelling it that way tickles my juvenile funny-bone).

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Gloomy Tuesday Food

So, I'm bummed today - not stick-your-head-in-the-oven bummed, but more of a tired, overworked, it's-grey-and-gloomy, haven't-had-a-vacation-in-2-and-a-half-years bummed. Because even severe bummage (wow that sounded bad...) can't keep my mind out of the kitchen (though as I reassured you before, it's not actually in the oven), I'm always interested to see what will happen to my eating habits when I feel low. Either one of two things happen:

a. I will open the fridge at meal times, look at the unprocessed raw stuff-that-must-be-cooked, curse my whole foods mentality and go curl up on the couch with a couple of spoonfuls of peanut butter,


b. I will eat everything in sight, including food I had carefully prepared and planned for the next week and end by creating some crazy Franken-cookie out of the remnants of my baking shelf (chocolate wasabi pea studded oatmeal/rice bars anyone?)and then lay on the couch bemoaning the fact that I still feel bummed and have eaten an entire week's worth of calories.

Today seems to be an interesting hybrid of the two. I ate my normal breakfast, but then followed that up at 11:00 with chai and the rest of the vegan mashed potatoes. However, I now feel no inclination to prepare lunch and have left a half dozen perfectly tasty glazed pumpkin cookies just sitting on my counter, so maybe I'm acting out the former attitude after all.

This makes me want to create the perfect rainy-gloomy-need-a-vacation day recipe, but I'm not sure what it should be. I don't have any one comfort food that I always turn to. I'm comforted by different foods during different crises. Teddy Grahams and Venti Mochas got me through finals anxiety in college. Home-baked bread and gnocchi in vodka sauce eased my post-college what-am-I-going-to-do-with-my-life fears. Bacardi Mojitos and Papa John's pizza were my friends during my I-hate-Knoxville phase. I turned to Vermont sharp cheddar and Oreo ice cream to quiet my pregnancy fears. Tortilla chips and hummus got me through newborn hell.

I guess I just don't have a one-size-fits-all comfort food, which I suppose is good, because life would be very painful if it was something animal-product based. However, this is probably what leads me to either eat nothing because nothing sounds appealing, or eat the entire contents of my kitchen when depressed. I just haven't found the rainy-gloomy-need-a-vacation day food yet, but something tells me in a year or so, I will be saying, "And I eat 'insert name of delicious morsel here' when it's rainy, gloomy, and I'm tired and want to go on vacation."

Oh, and my head would just get really, really hot and begin to smell of burnt-on grease if I stuck it in my oven - it's electric ;).

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Now for the Fun Stuff!

Okay folks, thanks for holding on through my L-O-N-G tale of how I came to subsist on shrubs and bushes. I'm switching gears today to talk about my weekend in food:

Tuesday was Dylan's birthday, but since I had to get up at 4 a.m. on Wednesday for work and I don't have the tenacity of Martha Stewart or the programming of a Stepford Wife, I didn't cook him anything special. In fact, we had leftovers - 3 day old leftovers. Sorry Dylan.

Anyway, I promised I would take my vegan cap off (it's green and covered in moss and pretention) and cook him whatever meat-packed, artery-sludge meal he wanted for dinner last night. He chose braised lamb chops, vegan (!) mashed potatoes, roasted brussels sprouts and garlic and a Dobosh Torte. Good choices!

See, braised lamb chops are pretty much the only meat-based dish I do well - well, that and beef stew. I think it's because you can't really overcook them. Once you sear them, you just make the sauce, pop the chops in it, cover it and leave them alone until the meat starts falling off the bone. Easy-peasy. Oh, the only other meat-based dish I do well is seared ahi. In this case that's because, according to Dylan, you can't undercook it. He'd be happy if it leapt out of an aquarium and onto his plate. But I digress...

Vegan mashed potatoes are awesome. I grew up eating nearly-vegan mashed potatoes anyway since my mom made them with margarine instead of butter (you know, the trans-fat packed nightmare that everyone thought was healthier then...makes me wonder what research will be released about my beloved Earth Balance in 20 years...), and skim milk which really doesn't bring much flavor to the party anyhow. It's an easy and painless switch to exchange Earth Balance non-dairy, trans-fat free spread for the margarine and unsweetened soymilk for the skim milk. I topped them with mushroom gravy made with Cabernet, cayenne (of course), Herbes de Provence, and miso for that umami flavor. Yummy yummy.

Roasted brussels sprouts and garlic. Man, I love this man, could this meal get any easier? Halve some brussels sprouts, crush some garlic, dump them in a pan, add salt, pepper and olive oil, and bake at 375 until brown and yummy. I think brussels sprouts are one of the most misunderstood veggies in the plant kingdom. They've developed a reputation for being bitter little balls of unhappiness that insistent mothers shove down their children's throats, or tiny green vehicles for an obscene amount of butter sauce. I've developed brussels sprouts rules...well rule actually. There is only one rule: Do NOT steam or boil them. Period. Cooking them in water brings out the naturally bitter compound also found in broccoli. If you treat your brussels sprouts with love (AKA olive oil and garlic), they will give it right back to you, honey. That's why I always, always, ALWAYS either saute or oven-roast brussels sprouts. They mellow out, acquire a nice sweetness, and get that yummy caramel-y layer of brown goodness. Deliciousness - no butter sauce or sneaky spoon-wielding moms required.

Now we've come to the Dobosh Torte: most decidedly un-vegan heaven. I discovered this recipe a few years back when I made a pact to bake and cook my way through Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts in a year. I never made it to the end owing to some irreconcilable differences between Maida's idea of tasty and mine (she likes fruitcake, I do not. She likes raisins, I do not. She likes tortes made with ground nuts, I do not.), but I did find some gems: Palm Beach brownies, Moosehead Gingerbread, Beignets, Buttermilk Spice Cake, and the king of them all, the Dobosh Torte.

The Dobosh Torte in Maida's book is 7 thin layers of sponge cake spread with a rich chocolate icing. It sounds simple, but it is quite complex...and contains 13 eggs and 2 sticks of butter - yikes... The first time I made the torte, it took me 4 hours. This time it took me an hour and a half owing to my mad production skills, but that's still an hour and a half for one torte.

You begin by drawing circles on sheets of parchment paper, then buttering and flouring the circles. 7 layers is the minimum. This time, I made 13 smaller layers since this was a personal-sized torte (well I actually made 15, but one was sacrificed to my attempt to trim the edges. I placed a dish on top of it, and cut around it. "Perfection", I thought, until I lifted up the dish and discovered the sponge layer was basically Gorilla-glued to the bottom of it. Oops! The other one hid from me under some discarded parchment paper while I assembled the torte and was only discovered after I ran out of icing. Double oops.)

The batter is composed of egg yolks, powdered sugar, and a eensy bit of flour. You beat the crap out of this mixture until it's ridiculously stiff (the second time I made this torte, it broke my hand mixer. It actually yanked the part that holds the beaters right out of the mixer. I have proceeded with caution ever since). Then, in a separate bowl, you beat egg whites until they hold a point and fold them into the batter in 3 additions.

Once you have the batter, you spoon it onto each parchment circle and carefully smooth it out and then bake the layers. As you might imagine, 15 cake layers don't fit into a dinky home oven very well. I baked them 2 at a time. Luckily, they only take about 5 minutes to bake because they're very thin.

Here's where things start getting hairy. You can't stack these layers on top of each other. Maida gives you some tricks that she swears keep the layers from sticking to each other, but please, the woman likes fruitcake: can she really be trusted? The answer to that question is, "No." I have tried each method and each resulted in me jumping up and down and cursing while trying to unpeel the friendly little layers from each other. So, you have to have space in your kitchen to lay out 15 layers. If you've seen my kitchen, you'd know this is a laughable challenge. I have 1 square of counter space and it's mostly taken up my coffee maker and crock pot. So, I had to get a little creative. There were layers everywhere! I almost put one on top of the dog. I think she was waiting very still and quiet hoping that I would do just that. Alice is a gourmet ;).

Once all the layers are baked (or while they're baking), you make a chocolate icing by beating 2 sticks of butter, adding vanilla, and a little powdered sugar and some chocolate you've melted over a double boiler. Then, you assemble the torte by smearing icing on a layer, stacking the next one on top, and on and on ad infinitum.

It's a lot of work, yes, but the results are superb. I even broke my golden vegan rule and tried a bite. The flavor is slightly reminiscent of those European rolled-up wafer cookies with chocolate in the middle - the kind my sister and I used to pretend were cigarettes - but the texture is softer than that, and it looks very impressive when you serve it. People look at all the tiny little layers and say, "Wow, that must have taken you all day!"

And chances are, it probably did.

Anyway, the birthday dinner was a wild success. Dylan pronounced everything yummy and proceeded to eat 2 lamb chops, a huge plate of mashed potatoes, and a solid ton of brussels sprouts. However, I was so exhausted from my afternoon of cooking that I fell asleep on the couch at 9:15, so we ended up going to bed early and skipping dessert. He got up this morning, though, and cut himself a huge slice of torte for breakfast and called it "awesome", and there's no higher praise in Dylan's vocabulary.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Why I Became a Vegan: or How I'm Going to Live Forever Until I Get Hit by a Bus : Part 2

On to part 2! I want to start out with a little disclaimer/explanation. In writing the story of how and why I became a vegan, I am in no way trying to judge or offend people who eat animal products (that would be my entire readership...if you all left I'd just be typing to myself like the Internet version of the weirdos at the back of city buses). I am a vegan but I do not think that all of my friends and family need to be vegans, too, just as I'm a mother but I know motherhood is not the right choice for everyone either(and for my male readers, both may be impossible ;)). I'm not a fuzzy-hugger vegan. By that, I mean I didn't see a sad video of cows being driven to the slaughterhouse and decide to become a vegan (though I have seen such videos and they are sad). I'm a vegan because I truly believe a plant-based diet is healthiest for me and the environment. However, just because the majority of one's diet comes from plant sources, that doesn't mean there isn't room for animal products, also.

Food should bring joy to your life as well as nourish your body. If steak is your favorite food, it doesn't matter what anyone tells you about the cholesterol or saturated fat content, when you put a bite of steak in your mouth, you're going to think, "Yum!" and it's going to satisfy you in a way that a bowl of greens just can't. I know darn well that potato chips are high in fat and sodium and yet I eat them from time to time because they make me happy. All I think people should do is make responsible choices about what they eat. If you crave potato chips as I do, you should limit your portions and eat them only occasionally. If you eat animal products, I think you should choose products from humanely raised animals if you can afford to and you should think of your health when you make choices. In other words, you probably shouldn't eat hot dogs or Big Macs every night, just as I shouldn't be eating vegan junk food every night (yes there is vegan junk food and it is some of the gnarliest stuff out there!).

Now that that's out of the way, my friendly carnivores, on to part 2 of my story:

So, I said before that my choice to be a vegan can be entirely blamed on Rylan (that's right, Ry, you made your mommy the nutty spinach-lover she is today). The beginning of the transition was due to Ry's dairy allergy. The next part of the story began late late at night...well first thing in the morning for me, really. I got up one morning for work at the completely reasonable hour of 2:30 a.m. (that's right, bakers are hardcore!), and switched on the TV while I...(use the Internet ear-plugging trick I taught you in my earlier entry if you're breastfeeding-squeamish)...pumped milk for Rylan (see, told you it could all be traced back to him). I turned on the PBS Create channel because I didn't particularly want to watch anything starring Chuck Norris and a piece of exercise equipment, and there was a cooking show on. Score! The host was a redhead cooking what looked like amazing food - lots of color, lots of soy sauce (yum!). Then there was this weird slightly-mullety looking guy singing '80's-style ballads in the middle for no apparent reason...but I didn't let that faze me. The host was funny, witty, and she obviously knew her way around the kitchen. One episode was all it took. It was called "Christina Cooks" and I was hooked.

I began watching "Christina Cooks" regularly. After awhile (and it took me a-w-h-i-l-e...I blame mommy brain, though natural ditziness could definitely be the culprit), I realized that she never used any meat in her recipes...or milk...or eggs. I was intrigued. I bought one of her books Cooking the Whole Foods Way to see if I would like the recipes at home. Guess what? They were just as yummy on the plate as they looked on TV - well, mostly. I think she underseasons her food. I am Cayenne Meg, after all, so I had to add some heat to many of the dishes, but then they were amazing.

What was more transformative for me than the recipes, though, was the philosophy of eating that came along with them. She argues that a plant-based diet is the healthiest for humans, that there are multiple health risks that can be tied to the consumption of animal products, and that we should all eat more veggies (come on who hasn't heard that one before?).

I was swaying in the direction of veganism at that point, but not entirely convinced. Then, came the time to stop breastfeeding. "Awesome!" I thought, "Cheese party time!" The day I stopped, I started off my celebration in a small way with a cup of Greek yogurt: creamy, delicious and gone far too quickly. I went on with my day. I started to get a stomachache, but I ignored it. The next day, Dylan and I went out to dinner at a great Italian place, Savelli's. The cheese party was on! I ordered cheese sticks, followed by ravioli, and finished with a gigantic cream-stuffed cannolli. Delicious, fabulous, aaaaaahhhhh....uuuuuuuhhhhhhh....oooooooowwwwwww.....aaaaiiiiiiii! By the time we got home, I was doubled over in pain. I'll spare you the exact details, but I will say my diet consisted mainly of a certain minty pink liquid for the next 2 days.

I figured I had just overdone the dairy thing and tried again a couple of days later. I can't remember what I had this time...I think it was something made with dairy like bread or something. Sick. Again. For the whole night.

That's when I realized that during my near-10 month period of abstinence from dairy, my body may have lost the ability to digest it. This isn't too hard to believe as many adults have trouble digesting lactose and adults aren't actually meant to drink milk anyway. It's baby food, and cow baby food at that.

Wow, this is getting long...ok I'll try to limit my verbosity...Basically, it was then that I decided maybe Christina Pirello had a point when she advocated a plant-based diet. She cites a lot of research supporting plant-based diets in her books, but I wasn't quite sure if I should take her word for it since she so clearly has picked a side. I did a little outside research and found out some interesting facts:

The incidence of heart disease is much lower in Asian and Mediterranean countries. The diets in these countries traditionally are high in grains and vegetables and contain only small amounts of animal products, if any. Most meat consumed is fish.

Okinawans traditionally consume a diet based on whole grains, vegetables, fruit and soy foods and have the longest life expectancy and best general health of anyone in the world.

The risk of heart attack for a man who eats meat regularly is 50% compared to 15% for vegetarians.

Vegetarianism lowers the risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and some types of cancer.

Studies show that even when adjusted for other lifestyle choices such as not smoking and not drinking, Seventh Day Adventists who consume vegetarian diets experience an incidence of heart disease and cancer that is much lower than the incidence of heart disease and cancer in non-Seventh Day Adventists living in the same area.

You can obtain all necessary macronutrients and vitamins and minerals from a varied vegan diet (and sunshine), except for vitamin B12, which while contained in small amounts in sea vegetables, can also be obtained through fortified products and supplementation.

There was a lot more, but you get the general gist. Anyway, all signs point to plant-based diets being healthiest. Does that mean complete abstention from animal products? Not necessarily for everyone, but it does for me. If I liked fish, I would eat it. Some of the healthiest cultures in the world get some amount of their protein from fish. Unfortunately, I can't even stand the smell of it, so I wrinkle my nose and feed it to my kid who loves it.

For me, veganism is the best choice because the only animal products I actually enjoy are the ones that are the biggest contributors to chronic disease: high-fat cheeses, ice cream, and high-fat, high-salt meats like bacon and salami. Since dairy now makes me lay in bed all day saying, "Never again" like a sorority girl after a night in Cancun, my cravings for cheese and ice cream have abated, thank goodness, so I am a very happy vegan.

Guess what else? Since I made the decision to become a vegan, I've lost the 5 pounds I gained back after I started weaning Rylan without even trying, and apart from that, I just feel great. I have more energy and I've had far fewer fibromyalgia relapses than when I ate a lot of animal products. So, yeah, "this crazy vegan life" as my guru Christina calls it is definitely not for everybody, but it is for me...

I never did figure out what the mullety power-ballad guy was about though...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Why I Became a Vegan: or How I'm Going to Live Forever Until I Get Hit by a Bus : Part 1

It seems like some of my many readers had questions about why I became a vegan (here's looking at you, Grandma ;) ). So, I thought I'd share that story today. For those of you who already know it, do the internet equivalent of plugging your ears and humming to yourself: click on over to Facebook and play Farkle or something. It's a long story, so I'm going to split it into two parts.

Basically, like all things in life, this decision can be blamed on a man (just kidding handsome male readers whom I do not want to alienate!). In this case, a very tiny man - Rylan-man.

I've never been much for meat. The texture grosses me out and, unless it's really well disguised like say in sausage or bacon, the shape of it is just so suggestive of, well, flesh, that that grosses me out, too. I ate meat as a kid, because in my house it was "eat this or nothing" (a philosophy which I respect, by the way). When I became a teenager I started experimenting with vegetarianism, but I didn't really have the luxury to become a vegetarian until I was living on my own.

For many years I was what the awesome authors of How it All Vegan call a "lazy vegetarian". I went through spurts of vegetarianism, going back to meat every few months, mostly when I ate out. I didn't really cook meat at home both because I didn't know how and my attempts were disastrous (charcoal-on-the-outside-raw-in-the-middle pork chops in peanut/maple syrup sauce anyone?), and because raw meat grossed me out. During my carnivore periods, I mostly stuck to really salty unidentifiable meat products like bacon and salami - mostly because they were good with cheese.

This went on and on until I got pregnant with Rylan. During the 1st trimester, I couldn't go near meat - couldn't smell it, couldn't look at it in the store. Culinary school was a nightmare. For the first couple of months all I wanted to eat was fruit and cheese. Ah cheese. I ate at least a pound of sharp cheddar a week. Sometimes all I had for lunch was a bowl full of cheese, which I'd eat with a fork to make it seem more meal-like.

As the pregnancy went on, my nausea went away and my dairy habit expanded to include ice cream. Ah ice cream. I went through 2 cartons of Cookies and Cream a week. I still wasn't really grooving on the whole meat thing, and eggs were starting to gross me out, too, because I was dealing with them en masse at work (ever separated 20 pounds of eggs with your bare hands before? It's not terribly appetizing...), but dairy was my friend...until...

Ry was born! Those of you who know us know Ry had a tough beginning. He was in the NICU for a week. While he was there, he was extraordinarily gassy and fussy, and well, there's no nice way to say this, his poo turned green and watery. It looked like pond water. The NICU doc seemed unconcerned - he's there to save preemies' lives not to look at pond water poo, so we took Ry to see his pediatrician when we left the NICU. The man took one look at the pond water poo, and said, "Looks like a food sensitivity or allergy. Since you're nursing, try cutting out dairy."

Try cutting out dairy? The man was insane, right? You can't live without dairy! You need milk for calcium or your bones will fall apart, right? I spent that evening staring longingly at my Vermont sharp cheddar and Cookies and Cream, and then I threw them out. My commitment to nursing was too strong to give it up because I wanted some nachos.

Dairy was the first step and it was for Rylan (who by the way began making poo of a normal color and consistency and his tummy stopped blowing up like a balloon a week or two after I stopped eating foods with his allergens in them - dairy and wheat). I wasn't eating much meat or eggs at that point anyway, but I'll share the story of how I also cut them out later.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Welcome Aboard!

I figured it was about time I start a food blog. With the release of the movie, "Julie and Julia" a few months ago, everybody seems to be doing it, so why not me?

Chances are any readers I have will be people who know me so well that an introduction is fairly pointless...but...narcissism prevails and I'm starting with an introduction:

I'm Megan, 26, married, one kid, one dog, two cats, and far too many reptiles and amphibians and food is my life. I'm not a foodie (God I hate that word), not a fan of the sport of cooking sitting in the stands eating plastic-cheese nachos (though I do love and miss those...). I'm not the kind of person who checks out the new, hot restaurant every weekend where I can hope to be served a tiny portion of something-or-other for $60 when I could have made it at home for $20. I'm right in the thick of it. I'm in the front lines shooting my mushroom cabbage rolls, super soup (we'll get to that later), and the occasional cupcake at the enemy: culinary and nutritional apathy. I'm...a tad bit over-dramatic...

Okay, let's try the straight version: I'm a baker at MagPies: one of the best bakeries in the South, or heck the whole country for that matter (just ask Rachael Ray magazine, Southern Living, THE NEW YORK TIMES). I'm also a vegan, and no, before you ask, I don't consider this to be hypocritical. My veganism is a personal choice and not one that I necessarily think is right for others. The cupcakes and cakes we make at the bakery are AMAZING, and should be enjoyed by all. My boss has often said, "Everything in moderation", (though it's often closely followed another favorite phrase, "all butter all the time"), and I believe that is the smartest way to live. The story of how I became a vegan is a bit complicated and I'm sure we'll get to it eventually. The point is that I enjoy making delicious cupcakes and cakes for people to celebrate with and I relish the fact that I know the ingredients that go into them are top-notch, often local, and free from any weirdo-supermarket additives.

The other half of my life (the half that doesn't begin at 3 a.m.) is my son. He just turned a year old and he is...unique... In addition to a lot of other oddities I won't go into here, he has mild-moderate food allergies. Basically if he eats anything with dairy or wheat in it, we're in for a long, fun night of God-awful-stuff squirting out of various orifices. Gross enough? We've also recently discovered that while he enjoys eggs very much, without fail he will eat three bites and then throw them up all over his high chair tray (while still grinning, the poor kid really likes the eggs). I'm not sure whether this reaction constitutes a food allergy, but needless to say it's not something I really want to experience day in and day out. Thus, despite my willingness to cook animal products for my family even though I don't consume them, there are rarely ever any animal products in our kitchen except packets of Chicken of the Sea salmon which my son eats for lunch some days.

Since I believe very strongly in a whole foods approach to eating, I cook most of the food that is eaten in our household. As I also bake part-time for a living, I spend roughly 75% of my waking hours in the kitchen. I've developed a "take-no-prisoners" approach to cooking. At work, I live by the recipe book. That's my job. At home, however, I rarely ever follow a recipe to the letter. In fact, by the time the dish makes it to the table, it may only contain 1 or 2 of the original ingredients. I tend to use recipes as a starting point for my own creations. Often, I'll throw them out altogether and come up with my own.

So, the long and short of it is that I think about food constantly. If my little boy is sleeping and I'm not currently cooking, you can usually find me curled up on the couch with my latest love: giant textbooks on Nutrition and Food Science. I think the entire journey of food from the farm to...well...the end-of-the-line in our digestive systems is fascinating, and since my loved ones are probably tired of me talking their ears off about it, I'll get all my thoughts out here. I'm sure they'll thank me.