Monday, October 10, 2011

lessons in veganism

Well, we have one week of veganism under our belts.  Sadly, I can't say that I've made it through completely dairy-or egg-free.  The slips have generally been unintentional and small, as you'll read below.  But, I felt guilty when they happened nonetheless.  Dirty almost.  Like I was consuming something forbidden.  Not enticingly forbidden, though.  Rather, forbidden in a violating, immoral sort of way.  Funny how something so demure as cream cheese can cause such feelings of demoralization. 

These past ten days have brought with them some surprising and some not-to-surprising discoveries.  So, let me share with you what I'd like to call, "Lessons in the Life of an Endeavoring and Eager but Not-Always-Successful Vegan: Week One" (It's a working title).

1. I don't miss cheese as much as I thought I would.  However, having a babe who is not eating vegan and who adores cheese does force me to use my strongest will-power.  The hardest to resist?  The bits of cheese that he attempts to feed to me between pudgy, greasy little fingers.  He seems slightly sad and surprised when I tell him, "Mama can't eat that, buddy."  He must wonder what happened.  I can only imagine his puzzled ponderings, "My mama never, ever turned down a piece of cheese before." (This, however, is not where I failed.)

2. The absolute hardest part of being vegan is when I find myself in social situations which involve food, especially the ones that involve the food being served to you.  I hate interrogating my hosts and hostesses, and I do not like the feeling of "putting people out," (especially for a self-imposed, month-long experiment).  So this, my friends, is where I floundered.  In most situations I have been fine, staying confident in my decision to "do vegan", and to do it right.  However, I know that a few bites of cream cheese filling passed my lips, along with an egg-tainted mouthful of apple turnover. (Darn those Trader Joe's samples and their Siren-like ability to lure you in, rattling your brain and making you completely oblivious to the very un-vegan thing that you are shoving haphazardly into your mouth.)

3. People do not know how to respond when you tell them that you are vegan.  "I'm going vegan for the month of October," I'd try to explain, as if people do this sort of thing all the time (my husband has promised me that they do not).  My announcements have been met with an interesting array of responses.  Wide-eyes.  Questioning looks.  Laughs.  Assurances from those to whom I'm explaining that they could never live without cheese.  And even one very genuine, "I'm sorry."

4. I have eaten more salads in the past week than ever before in my life.  This is probably a direct result of Vegan Life Lesson #2.  If all else fails, most people serve salad alongside a meal.  I may have a dislike for lettuce, but at least it's vegan.

5. When preparing my own meals at home, the vegan diet is fun and rather easy.  I am finding plenty of things to eat, have fallen in love with Vegan Pumpkin Muffins, am eating more fruits and vegetables than ever, and am in awe of the fact that one can create a fascinating (and delicious) substitution for cheese sauce out of cashews, vegetables, and a myriad of other non-dairy ingredients.  (More on that later.)

6. Perhaps the best outcome of Vegan Week #1 was that it forced me to think about the meals I'd be preparing during the week and to cook healthy, interesting dishes. I knew that I couldn't fall back on my go-to meals like fried-egg sandwiches and quesadillas and grilled cheese sandwiches.  So, preparations had to be made.  And, guess what?  It feels good to be prepared.

7. All things considered, eating vegan isn't as hard as I'd imagined.  Granted, we are only one week in.  But, I am entering Week #2 with renewed fervor, a desire to avoid any "slips," and a newfound love for vegan mac & "cheese." 

Segue to this week's incredible recipe: Vegan Macaroni and "Cheese"...

A vegan friend of mine shared this recipe with me upon learning of our Vegan October experiment.  She claimed it to be amazing, so I thought it was worth a try.  Now, I must start with the assertion that I am a die-hard macaroni & cheese lover, so I knew that this recipe would fall under intense scrutiny.  Could anything besides actual, full-fledged Cheddar satisfy my craving for mac & cheese?  I just prepared myself that the meal would not taste like cheese.  I had every hope that it would taste good.  But, the flavor of cheese was not something I was anticipating.  Well, my friends, let me tell you that I was the "cheesy" creation that mysteriously formed in my food processor somewhere between the time when I dumped in all the ingredients and when I pressed the off button.  I opened the lid and nearly gasped.  How did cashews, margarine, potatoes, carrots, and the like blend into a substance that looked strangely like Cheese Whiz?  It took everything in me to resist the intense temptation of dipping my finger into the mix right then and there for a little taste test.  No.  I'd wait until it emerged from the oven in its finished form before passing judgement.  And wait I did, wondering all the while how this mock macaroni and cheese would fare under my critical taste buds.

The verdict?  Somehow cashews (along with a whole lot of other ingredients) masquerade quite amazingly as cheese.  I am not saying that actual mac & cheese and this vegan version are identical.  But, the creaminess, the salty flavors, and the richness all lent a very cheese-like memory to my mouth.  And even if you find that this dish does not exactly remind you of its dairy counterpart, I think that the flavor is wonderful, comforting, and familiar enough to be enjoyable for even the most ardent cheese lover.  The recipe requires a decent amount of work, but traditional mac & cheese does as well.  I'd recommend doubling it to make all your hard work worth the effort.
The timing of this recipe was impeccable.  It quite possibly saved me from a vegan-diet-busting-run-in with the holy grail of cheesy indulgence.  Today, as I pulled into one of our local grocery stores, a brand new "Mac & Cheese Bar" was being advertised on a garishly over-sized sign. It taunted me with its bright orange block letters. "Just try to resist me," it snickered. I gritted my teeth as I passed through this section of the store, the free samples sitting within arms reach, as if to mock me and my vegan resolve.  In that moment I found myself very thankful for cashews and nutritional yeast and miso and tahini and the veganized magic that somehow took place in my food processor one "cheese"-worthy Sunday night.


  1. As always, your creative writings entice me!! Although I'm not likely to make your Mac & Cheese, I'll be happy to taste it, if you have any left:-)

  2. As always, you amaze and impress me with your resolve, your creativity, and your honesty. I'd just eat the cheese (inadvertently, yes, but concerned about it, no). Probably why I won't ever go vegan. I just can't deal with foods making me feel guilty.

    But your vegan mac and cheese looks yum and I would love to see the results. Intriguing!


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