Tuesday, October 27, 2009

VeganMoFo III: The Struggle and Noobie Fundamentals

I don't remember much about when I first went vegan.  I know it was the second week of August in '01.  When people ask I just tell them that I've been vegan off and on for 8 years.  From '04-'07 I was floating back and forth between vegetarianism and veganism.

Honestly, my heart always belonged to veganism.  I cannot express the amount of self loathing I felt during those days.  I would pledge to be vegan at least once a month.  It wasn't until late Fall of '07 that I realized this was going to be a lifelong commitment for me.  I got two tattoos to remember the occasion.  The vegan society flower on one wrist and the Chinese symbol for "fu" (which means the ability to judge right and wrong) on the other .  It was my way to remind myself that even if veganism is a struggle for me, I believe it is the ethical thing to do.

I think some of us forget how hard this can be for a newbie.  I am not the type to ever shame somebody for struggling with veganism.  I love vegetarians just as much as vegans (though vegans win for food hands down!).  In the beginning, the easiest thing for me to do was make food I was used to.  I didn't own a single cookbook until I was 24 so my source for everything was Vegweb.com.  I remember my first birthday as a vegan.  My mom told me to pick any recipe and she'd make it.  I had her make this chocolate raspberry mocha layer cake because no combination tops chocolate and raspberry for me.  This was my first encounter with vegan sweets and my hips haven't been the same since.  Hee hee.

Looking back on it, I'd tell the 19 year-old me that all I'd ever need to survive is a good chili recipe, the ability to manipulate tofu, and the knowledge that vegan desserts are just as good (if not better) than the stuff that comes out of a box.  Oh, and I can't forget the sketti!  Spaghetti was one of the first things I learned to make.  It's easy, filling, and super versatile.

This, right here, is what I like to call pantry spaghetti.  This is a non-recipe recipe.  It doesn't involve anything but pouring stuff into a pot.  I sauteed some canned mushrooms (Era bought these and I don't know why) in some olive oil with red pepper flakes.  Then I added garlic powder and onion powder.  I emptied a 28 oz can of tomato sauce into the pot and added oregano, basil, a pinch of sugar and some salt.  Then I simmered for about 20 minutes before adding the olives.  Topped it with parm and served it with fresh spinach and a breadstick.

As basic as that is, it was some of the best spaghetti sauce I've had in a while.  Even with the canned mushrooms.  Brr...

What was the first thing you learned to make as a vegan?


Tiffany C. said...

Your spaghetti looks tasty! It's nice to hear mention of the struggle those new to veganism often undergo; I agree, it's easy to forget when we're so used to the lifestyle. I'm only about a year into committing to veganism after bouncing between that and vegetarianism up until maybe nine months ago. The first vegan thing I made was a Vietnamese curry for the friend who first got me to explore veganism :).

mollyjade said...

I think I ate a lot of spaghetti and beans and rice in the beginning. The first thing I remember making that was new and strange was a fried tofu recipe that used silken tofu from How to Cook Everything. I really love Mark Bittman's cookbooks, but the man has no idea what to do with tofu.

Jeni Treehugger said...

Yummy looking spaghetti - those non recipe recipes are my favourite kind.
The first things I made as a vegan were the same things I made as a vegetarian but just veganised - I guess I'm still in that comfort zone and I really need to branch out a bit more.

Jen said...

veganism is a process. i know very few that balls-to-the-wall go that way and stay on path the whole time. for those who can, kudos on their achievement. for the rest of us, it's progress, not perfection. i mean really--really analyze every action someone takes, there's some vegan violation somewhere.

anyway, i really liked this post. the first time i went vegan it was for the wrong reasons, and the person i was with did all the cooking. when i broke up with the vegan, i wasn't. when i got back on the tofu bus--i still struggled, and with pregnancy have not been able to be 100% vegan, but i do my best to shoot for 88%-99.9%. after i have the baby, it's all the way.

my first big recipe i learned to master was tofu scramble. i really take pride in that dish and have no official recipe. i'm so picky about my scramble, i don't like trying anyone else's.

sorry so long winded. you rock, mo.

jessy said...

we didn’t own many cookbooks when we became vegan & it was pretty tough the first couple of months, fo ‘sho! then i started reading blogs & forums & bought some cookbooks and got rolling! veganism can for sure be tough – and i think it’s most stellar that you have such an open mind & heart for both veggies & vegans. i remember when we started making vegan bake goodies. mmmmmmm – so much yumminess! and we were so happy the treats were even yummier than their omni counterparts. w00t! hooray for one helluva tasty non-recipe recipe – those are the best! (and i happen to love canned mushrooms – and canned peas, too!) i’m trying to think back to what i first learned to make vegan – and i honestly can’t remember. it hasn’t been that long ago (january ’08), but for some reason my mind is drawing a blank. i do remember one of our first tasty successes – bean ‘n rice mix. lots of beans, brown rice, peppers, tomatoes, & tons of spices. we’d eat leftovers for days – on chips, with a spoon, we’d make nachos, and burritos – it was so awesome & we were so happy to have made something so darn tasty. ah ha ha! what an awesome post, Monique - it totally took me back! that rocked!

kmouse said...

I love how it gets easier to be a vegan when you are open to all the different ways of cooking and baking. It made me realize I can do this for life.

My first vegan dish I think was a vegweb recipe for spinach casserole or something. It was just spinach, tofu and spaghetti sauce that was baked in the oven. I had it with herbed rice.

The Kuntrageous Vegan said...

this is a great post! the first thing i ever made as a vegan was lentil soup out of a little food not bombs cookbook. :)
i struggled with cheese for ages; and sometimes i'm still tempted. but i know i won't eat it. i know the "taste" is not worth the guilt-not to mention the inablity to breathe within minutes. it's like my sinuses instantly clog. ughhh! i'm so glad you wrote this.

zel(da) said...

one of my favorite proteins in college was actually tempeh. it took me SO long to make tofu taste good, but i found tempeh was so versatile. i had two go-to meals in college that, looking back, were pretty darn gourmet for a struggling vegan student! one of tempeh fried straight-up in oil with homemade bbq sauce. i would usually serve that with sauteed spinach and potatoes. the other was a tempeh bolognese in an arrabiata-type sauce. my mom was really pretty supportive the whole way through, so she bought me La Dolce Vegan one Christmas, and I added to my repertoire the potato leek soup and her tofu scramble. gosh, now it seems like i was eating better back then than i have been lately!

Monique a.k.a. Mo said...

Tiffany C.-Vietnamese curry was your first vegan dish?! Fancy pants. ;p

Mollyjade-Oh that dreaded tofu. I don't even know how many blocks I messed up before I got it right. I remember using tofu in paella when I was veg. I didn't even season the thing!

Jeni-Nothing wrong with that comfort zone. I could live off of Tex Mex and Soul Food every day of my life.

Jen-If anybody ever gives you crap for your personal eating habits, kick 'em in the shins! Ha ha. And the tofu scramble is the best thing in the world. I hear ya about liking it a particular way. I often like a no frills kinda thing.

Jessy-Yes to beans and rice! I ate so many black beans and rice that it was ridiculous. Loved every second of it though.

Kim-Exactly. I was not a person who cooked when I was vegetarian. I ate a lot of salads and prepackaged crap. I started cooking out of necessity. Crossing over into veganism made me have to be accountable for what I ate. It seriously opened the world for me. The most exotic thing I had ever eaten was Chinese takeout before going vegan.

Lacey-At this point, I think the only tempting thing for me is seafood. That was the hardest thing to give up and I didn't give it up because I hated it. I wish there was more available vegan seafood type things.

Zelda-For years, the only tempeh I could manage to get down was the sea veggie one. I'd fry it in some soy sauce and serve it over brown rice. Not until I discovered that boiling got the bitter out did I start enjoying tempeh. It's really, really good!

Anonymous said...

At first being vegan was a struggle for me too. Something I think that my kids are so lucky to have been vegan since birth - they will never know that struggle. I just found your blog and am enjoying reading your posts!

celine said...

I used to live for vegweb, such great info and so many great recipes there! have you ever tried the chickpea cookies? they don't sound good but they're killer. almost as good as Isa's gigantoid cookies.
I think one of the first things I made as a vegan were Sarah and Tanya's biscuits from how it all vegan. which reminds me I have to make them again soon, it's been forever.

melissa bastian. said...

Jonathan agrees that a good chili and spaghetti will keep any vegan afloat. :)

You know, it's weird - with the exception of some scrambled eggs or a grilled cheese here and there, pretty much everything I ever cooked even when I was omni was vegan. I had cheese in the house sometimes, but outside of said grilled cheeses I didn't cook with it. It was for crackers. I didn't buy meat (I always thought raw meat was disgusting), I just ate it at restaurants or at my ma's.

The first thing I actually said to myself, "I need to figure out how to make this vegan", was cookies. Yeah, me and the sweets. I took the recipe from the back of the bag of some accidentally vegan chocolate chips, subbed margarine for butter and flax for eggs, and have been tweaking it ever since. The resulting recipe is the one I posted a week or so ago! Them's some damn fine cookies, if I do say so myself.

Laura Jill said...

Great post, Mo! Thank you so much for sharing your journey. I've only been vegan for eight and a half months, and I feel so lucky to have the support of a vast online vegan community (a friend of mine texted me today about The Voluptuous Vegan, and I replied that "A blogging friend of mine (you!) recommended it, too," and then I thought, "Yay! I have blogging friends!").

I love that you got the vegan society flower tattooed on your wrist. I've actually been planning for a long time for that to be my one year anniversary gift to myself, done in vegan inks, of course!


Anonymous said...

So awesome how you try to help us noobies out. Seriously. I'd been a vegetarian for forever and a day, and the day I realized I could do the vegan thing, I felt like Alice walking through the looking glass. It was like I entered a completely new world that had always been right at hand, I just hadn't known it. (The break-through moment for me came when I made an awesome, savory sandwich without a recipe, and without cheese or a cheese imitator.) Sure, I had vegan cookbooks. But that food wasn't "real" to me. Your spaghetti? Food you can make quickly, from the pantry with no recipe? In my opinion, when you can cook like that, you can really transition.

Mihl said...

This was a great post, thank you! I also had some back and forth with veganism and now I cannot imagine how to not be a vegan.
Thise spaghetty sound like the most delicious spaghetti in the world!