Monday, June 11, 2012

I Want To Be A Veg When I Grow Up

I have always aspired to be a vegetarian or vegan.  I'm not sure if I lack the self-discipline or I simply haven't found that one thing that will change my whole outlook on eating meat.  I watched Fast Food Nation several years ago and quick eating red meat.  Although quasi-fictional, it shed a light on the meat industry that I had not seen before and don't care to again.  But I just haven't been able to find the switch that will turn off all desire to eat animal protein.  I've watched Super Size Me, King Corn, Food Inc. and many other documentaries dedicated to the travesty that is our food production system in this country.  Sadly, my search has come up empty.  Despite this, I hold out hope that I will one day love tofu the way I do shrimp.

One place that I don't struggle as much is dairy, and milk in particular.  This is not to say that we don't occasionally do the tango...yes I will, no I won't, you can have me, no you can't. Growing up, I was horribly allergic to milk and so were my three siblings.  And by allergic, I mean in the gross way. Many of my other relatives are, too.  A couple of years ago, after seeking out an integrative medicine practitioner to help my son, he was tested for and diagnosed with a dairy allergy.  And not the go-to "it must be lactose intolerance."  He's got a full-blown dairy allergy caused by his body's inability to digest the proteins in milk-containing products; casein especially.  So we cut dairy from his diet completely for three years and saw an unbelievable improvement in his overall well-being.  It wasn't easy.  He was an incredibly picky eater before we removed 90% of his favorite foods.  We survived, and my mental health is still intact an average of 3 out of 5 days. His doctor recently gave the green light to allow products that have been cooked, so the dairy is broken down.  I still rarely let him partake, as I want it to be a treat not the norm.  I, too, have cut out raw dairy (but I still occasionally have cheese, yogurt or sour cream in moderation) and have seen an improvement in my skin and sense of wellness.  A couple years ago I learned in a genetics class (because I'm getting edumacated) that most of us no longer make the enzyme necessary to break down milk after our toddler years.  We don't need to.  Some lucky mutants continue to produce it, but most of us mere mortals do not.  Sometimes we don't even know it makes us feel yucky.

I know that one day my son will have to leave the nest and will be left to decide for himself whether or not certain foods should be a part of his diet.  I hope that I have taught him well and that he will take these lessons with him into the real world.  If he really, really wants real ice cream or frozen yogurt, I hope he will choose a small portion and pay attention to how it makes him feel.  We do that on occasion now and it has led to greater insights into how what he puts into his body affects not just his body, but his mind.  If, at twelve, he has the capacity to say "Wow, I don't feel so hot after eating that,"  he will be much better equipped to make good choices in the future. That's if I don't move into his dorm room, first apartment and first home with him. I'm delightful. He'd love it.

It has been really important to me to show him (and my stodgy, meat-eating husband) that our favorite foods can be vegan and still be amazing.  I'm always on the lookout for vegan cookbooks that blow dairy-laden recipes out of the water.  While Jay doesn't have an egg allergy, it can be tough to find recipes that are just dairy-free and still cook, look and taste the same.  Vegan recipes account for the lack of milk. Plus, I figure if I'm going for it, I should go all out.  I'll tell you, I have spent a small fortune on cookbooks since my son's diagnosis.  And the results have been lackluster at best.  However, occasionally I will come across a diamond in the rough, and it makes me go "Hello veganism!  You are wonderful and delicious and I'll love you forever!  Be my BFF, pleeeeaaaase!"  Oh, and one more thing: delicious is not the only requirement.  It can't have crazy things like xanthan gum and agar agar.  I'm a real girl, not She-ra: Princess of Power.  I can't solve the world's problems AND be out scouring the stores for organic spelt flour! I have a life and I would like to live it outside of my local health food store. I also have no desire to pay $25 for some obscure ingredient when the recipe only calls for one teaspoon.  Uh, pass.  I could buy two pairs of the fancy flip flops at Target for that.  You know, the ones with rhinestones or bows or hemp.  Anywho, I've kept you in suspense long enough.  Here are my gems.

The Enchanted Broccoli Forest:


I was first introduced to this cookbook by a friend when I was in my early, early twenties.  Even then, in my unenlightened state, I fell in love with it and have never fallen out.  I've gifted it to only the most deserving friends; those who would truly appreciate its beauty.  The author, Mollie Katzen, hand wrote each of the pages, making it even more wonderful (if that's possible).  There aren't any crazy ingredients, just fabulous ideas.  My hands-down favorite recipe from this book is probably one of the simplest: Wilted Cucumbers.  I've made them for countless get-togethers and they are always a hit.  They've sat, lonely and forgotten, in the back of our fridge only to be rediscovered and eaten. I use this vegetarian cookbook mostly for side dishes, but also when I need a little inspiration.  Or just want to feel twenty-one again. It will be on my (cook) book shelf forever.

Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World:


This book is a new friend, and one I will treasure forever.  I don't know the authors of this book personally, but I want to.  They rock my world.  I bought this a couple of months ago and immediately racked my brain for a reason to make and share every recipe.  Being the resourceful girl that I am, I decided that I would thank the staff at my son's school for their years of excellent tutelage by baking them a treat every week for the rest of the school year; meanwhile blowing their minds and widening their horizons with my vegan creations.  They will never guess that the secret ingredient in the chocolate mousse frosting is...wait for it...silken tofu!  They had no idea, but they loved it and could not stop raving.  The recipes are also super-adaptable and not as picky as a lot of vegan recipes (um, Babycakes, for one), so I've been able to use coconut or almond milk in place of soy if that's all I have; and the results are still perfect.  None of the ingredients are super expensive or obscure, either. My son never wants for real cupcakes now that I have this gem in my tool belt.  It's awesome.

Vegan Pie in the Sky:


This is the previous cookbook's sister and she's nice, too.  I have checked this out at my local library numerous times, renewed it even more, and owe $4 in fines because I just couldn't bear to give it back.  She will be on my bookshelf soon, too.  The vegan whipped cream is worth the purchase price alone.  Whipped cream is at the top of the list of things that my son has missed most since becoming dairy-free, and this recipe made it all better.  He also loves pie.  A lot.  My husband was in a car accident a few months ago (he was fine), and upon arriving back home my son hugged him tight and tearfully said, "Life without you would be as bad as a world without pie!" It's become a classic phrase around our house, but is indicative of how much that kid loves fruit between two crusts.  This book has cream pies as well, which we once thought we would have to kiss goodbye.  But not on the lips, because that's technically consuming dairy.  If you are going to buy one, buy the other.  You won't regret it.  Would I steer you wrong?

The following books get an honorable mention because I own them and they are lovely.  I simply have less experience with them.  But I hope to have more.  Don't judge them based on my lack of attention.  They're no red-headed stepchild.

Go Dairy Free:

 

This book was invaluable when I was just getting started and I still turn to it, three years later, when I need answers.  It was like the author could feel my angst.  She knew that my son's only sources of protein prior to his diagnosis were cheese and ice cream.  She told me it would be okay and she was right.  With her help, I got through it.

Vegan Bake Sale:


 This cookbook has no shortage of tasty, unique recipes like Beet Chocolate Muffins and Apple Tea Loaves.  It's a great addition for those times when you want to experiment or need inspiration.

The Vegan Scoop:


Did I mention that one of my son's only protein sources used to be ice cream?  If it was a Sophie's Choice kind of situation, however, he'd still choose pie.  But frozen delicacies are a close runner-up.  This is a gorgeous cookbook with everything from the eclectic (Wasabi ice cream) to the enticing (Chocolate Martini sorbet).  Not only that, it has all the classics (Cookie Dough, Vanilla, Chocolate, Rocky Road, etc.) and an entire section devoted to sauces and various baked goods that are complemented nicely by ice cream, of course.

I have a long way to go, but baby step by baby step I'm getting closer to a cleaner way of existing. I hope this rather lengthy post has provided you with more than the ramblings of an exhausted mother hanging on to her last shred of sanity. But really, truly, let me know if you have comments, opinions, spite, or joy.  We're in this together.

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