I grew up (and originally went vegetarian) in rural, northwestern Virginia.
That’s our driveway, fording a creek. Like I say: rural.
My parents still live in the house I grew up in, surrounded by encroaching suburbanization that is depressing but has made a lot more veg*n-friendly ingredients and even prepared foods available at places like Wegmans. Still, that hasn’t done a whole lot to change the meat/potatoes/fast-food culture of the place, and going home to visit is always an exercise in suspending the spoiled vegan expectations that result from living in the PNW.
Except–there’s my mom. When my sister and I went vegetarian nearly 20 years ago, and when we subsequently went vegan a few years later, Mom expressed the usual worries about protein, calcium and the like, but never balked from making sure we’d have foods suitable to our changing diets. Despite being raised (and taught to cook) in a household where dinner consisted–every night–of meat, potatoes and another vegetable, Mom’s always been up for culinary adventure and is also the clear source of my obsession with making things from scratch.
So when the holidays and the sad loss of our aunt meant that my sister, Maren, and I made two trips east within a month–and Maren’s doctor recently advised her to cut all gluten from her diet–Mom once again rose to the occasion.
At risk of inspiring severe jealousy in those of you not so fortunate, I wanted to walk you through some of the things we ate on our visits, partly to share the perspective of things that appealed enough to our omnivorous parents to suggest them for meals that we all enjoyed. Maybe those with less-accommodating families could try these recipes on them? And perhaps veg*n readers can pick up some ideas for feeding those in their lives who are avoiding wheat or gluten.
Ahead of our pre-Christmas visit, our parents took the initiative to get the Kindle edition of The Vegan Table for their iPad, and identified a bunch of potential recipes to make that looked good to them. This advance work helped a lot with having appropriate groceries on hand and being able to narrow down options based on time available and what people were hungry for at a given time. We had Red Lentil Artichoke Stew for a lunch and Fast & Fabulous French Toast for a breakfast. I was in charge of “Christmas” dinner for the group of 11 relatives who assembled at our house, and with cooking help from Jud and Mom, plus one of Maren’s signature salads, we put together an entirely vegan menu:
From left: my own seitan roulade in puff pastry (the second one was not yet on the table), Herbed Scalloped Potatoes (hidden behind centerpiece, from Vegan Table), Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Apples and Onions (from Vegan Table), two different roasted sweet-potato dishes (one with cinnamon/ginger/brown sugar/orange and one with thyme and lemon, both improvised on the spot), and a green salad.
Dessert? Flourless Chocolate Tart, also from Vegan Table:
Every bit as good as it looks, and not at all hard if you have a two-piece tart pan. The only tweak I would make: reduce the margarine from four tablespoons to three, or the crust might seem a bit too oily.
Other than Maren and me, only one person in attendance was vegetarian, but the whole group of omnivores–including two young kids–either enjoyed the meal or were very polite, convincing liars. At this point Maren was still eating gluten, but the only gluten-containing dish was the roulade.
When we returned for a shorter visit this past weekend, Mom took the gluten-free thing completely in stride. We had a delicious (and quick to prepare) Better Than Tuna Salad (once again from Vegan Table) for lunch one day:
Sunday was a group gathering to which we took three dishes to make sure those of us with more limited diets would have enough to eat. Maren made another of her green salads; I made the quinoa-bean-and-vegetable “Aztec Salad” that is one of my favorite potluck dishes and will some day get written up for this blog; and Mom declared that she wanted to make (for the first time ever) tamales.
After November’s epic tamale adventure, I have a healthy respect for how time-consuming tamales can be, and I admit I was more than a little wary of the prospect of fitting that into the weekend. But Mom’s adventurous, not crazy, and so instead of three complex tamale fillings she had singled out a simple one, dug up online (made without the cheese and with a different wrapping technique). We wound up adapting the dough recipe as a hybrid of the one from that page, the one from the masa package, and my memory of Terry Hope Romero’s recipe from Viva Vegan.
Let the record show that Mom took to tamale-making like a duck to water:
Stirring together the dough. Totally doable by hand, but if you’ve got a stand mixer, use it!
Tomato and corn filling, going onto the first tamale.
Tying it closed
Mom’s first tamale. Seriously, duck to water.
On a roll. We made double batches of filling and dough and wound up with around four dozen tamales.
Was Mom done after all that? Mais non. On our last morning there she suggested a tofu scramble for breakfast–and then acknowledged that she wasn’t quite sure what that would entail. Maren and I talked her through the basics, and mentioned the value of pressing the tofu ahead of time to get rid of excess water. How to do that, she asked? Just put it between two plates and then weight it, we said. Shortly thereafter, I found this in the kitchen:
TofuXpress, you have met your match.
We had the broccoli-and-red-pepper scramble with Fakin’ Bacon (not gluten-free; you can follow my recipe for a gluten-free version.) and toast from this shockingly good gluten-free bread. Seriously, all four of us were amazed at how normal this bread seemed, and we enjoyed it with Earth Balance. The brand (not all of which is vegan) appears widely available in Washington and Oregon in Safeway and Albertson’s stores; in Canada it seems to be available by mail order only.
Add in some savory black-bean soup and warm French apple pie (made with wheat flour, but there was plenty of chocolate tart to keep Maren supplied with desserts), and it all went way beyond just getting through a weekend with some sad times and instead helped us relax and really appreciate the opportunities our far-flung family had to spend time together.
So there you have it. In talking to countless veg*ns and near-veg*ns over the years I have learned just how rare this level of support is from families, so I wanted to celebrate it with a big, public thank-you to Mom for going above and beyond (and the rest of my family for the wide-open acceptance of so many unfamiliar dishes, especially during this stressful time for all of us).
I’d say it was also quite a solid endorsement (not that any more were needed) of The Vegan Table, which obviously played a huge part in helping with menu planning and preparation and came through with tasty, omni-friendly recipes without too many hard-to-find ingredients.
What other recipes, resources or strategies have you found helpful in bridging dietary gaps between you and those you’re close to?