Mind you, Kate isn't "one of those". Her spice cabinet is very well stocked. Her mind (and mouth) are both open to new experiences. When she was here, I was cranking out random weird South Indian dishes that most people hadn't heard of before (because most Indian restaurants focus on North Indian dishes), and she was cheerfully eating them. She absolutely loves vegetables of every shape and size. She takes genuine pleasure in all foods, be they the memories of yesterday, or experiments of the present and future.
I said all that to share this story with you. My friend Joanna's husband Mark comes from a very large family in upstate New York. They're a rather close-knit family, headed by one of the sweetest matriarchs you could ever hope to meet. I would like to introduce you to the gentle, the kind, the ever-patient Suzanne. She sent me a message on 25 March. I'll let her say it in her own words.
Hi, Dino. Mark's mom here. I have a vegan cooking question, and thought you might be able to help me. For years I have made a pineapple torte for our Easter dinner. The recipe uses gelatin, but now that we have several vegan/vegetarian family members, I'm trying to find an alternative that will still set nicely while not compromising the convictions of my loved ones. Any suggestions? Thanks so much in advance for any assistance you can give me. I hope we'll able to meet both you and Stephen on one of our next visits to Mark and Joanna.
I got a little misty-eyed, but was overall rather touched by her desire to respect the morals of her children. I thought that was a wonderful thought.
Hi Suzanne, Clearly, you are even more compassionate and kind than even your wonderful sons and daughter-in-law have mentioned! What a lovely way to continue traditions, but make everyone feel included! I have such an incredible amount of respect and warm feelings towards you and your family, because of the love that you all share with each other, and this is just one more example of that love. Thank you for reaching out to me. Mark and Joanna talk about you all the time, and about how what a pleasure it is to be in your presence. I hope to some day share in that too!
I have found that agar tends to replace gelatine quite closely, though not exactly. It'll get very close, though. The Japanese have a long tradition of making vegan gelatine desserts, which they call Kanten. It seems like it's fairly pricey (and it is), but a little goes a long way. At work, we buy the stuff by the pound, and it lasts a long time.
The beauty of agar is that if it ends up too firm (as it will do the first time you use it), you can melt it down and it sets right up again! I was so amazed by this that I thought that my boss was pulling a cheat on me somehow, but sure enough, it worked out when I tried it myself too! Who knew, right? As with anything where you're working with new ingredients, experiment with a little bit first, to see how the stuff behaves.
Most of the Internet swears up and down that you can use it interchangeably with the amounts you'd use for gelatine, but I don't think that's the case, from how we've used it at work. I've found it especially effective in baking, when I want a bit of firming up, without adding cornstarch, and keeping the gel jewel-clear. For example, when making the cherry topping for the vegan cheesecakes we make at work, agar makes the fruit stay put. When you have finished setting up the agar (it sets up at room temperature, for the record, so no need to refrigerate unless you want to hurry it along), it'll stay solid for a long time. I remember using agar when I was running gel electrophoresis in genetics lab. It was endlessly amusing to see how the stuff held its shape no matter what you threw at it! Hope this helps a bit in your cooking adventures!
It had taken me a day or so to respond, because I had to double-check with my boss if pineapple would inhibit the setting up of agar, as it does when you put it into a cheesecake. Apparently, it doesn't.
Thanks, Dino, for your gracious reply. I really appreciate the time you gave to my question. Daniel located some agar in Rochester , and it will be a family experience making the torte together this year. (We live in a very rural area, and ingredient choices are not very broad here.) My husband has been very unwell, as you may know, and is facing his first of five surgeries this coming Monday. I'm so thankful that all of the children can cook, as I will be arriving very late the night before Easter. We'll all put the dessert together as soon as I arrive. Just gotta keep those traditions going! Thanks for helping us to do just that. Take care, Suzanne
I didn't realise what a rough time her family was going through. It was even more poignant that she was still thinking about everyone's comfort, in spite of having so much on her mind already.
So then, I rambled back, to maybe help take her mind off of things for a bit. Also, I kind of wanted to keep the correspondence going, because I wanted to know if the dessert worked out well for everyone.
Sounds good, Suzanne! Please let me know how it all turns out. Also, please have Daniel do a test run to make sure that the whole thing does set up. Few things are quite as disappointing as the grand finale being anything but. If it doesn't work, I can email Daniel something vegan that he can knock up quickly. I've had to do the same to gallop in and save dessert on more times than I care to remember. Seriously, there have been some nights.
Like the one time that I had my dear friend Ricardo coming over for dinner, and he asked if he could bring a friend. No harm, no foul, right? I just add more water into the pasta pot, ready to feed both of 'em. About 20 minutes before arrival, Ricardo lets me know she's gluten free. D'oh! Thankfully, I had the rice pasta from Chinatown in my pantry, and I figured that today was the day to use the thing.
Or the many times I've been to Joanna and Mark's house, and got a request for dessert. I'm not a baker, y'see. I just know a couple of recipes that're fool proof, that I keep in the back of my brain, in case of dessert emergencies. Like the apple lingonberry crisp I made for those two when I think Daniel and Andrew were visiting. That came out fantastic. Or the Lemon Poppyseed cake. Man, was that good!
Funny story about the lemon poppyseed cake. I was flat on my back, having over-indulged the night before (in an effort to keep Mark at home, so that Joanna could go to the store to "get more beer" [when she was really going to pick up Daniel and Andrew]). I basically dictated the recipe, and the specific instructions to the gang, while running an online interview that I'd promised to do months before. It was the most hilarious thing (looking back), because there I am, hollering highly specific instructions to the kitchen, while trying to type to my interviewer at the same time. For the record, the cake was delicious. Thanks again for reaching out. I appreciate getting to know the families of my friends better. I wish your husband a speedy recovery. Dino
It took a while, because that was around when Easter hit, and things got crazy busy for everyone. However, I got back some very good news when the dust all settled on both sides.
So, Dino, the torte was perfect! Thanks so much for your assistance. I was sooo happy that everyone in the family could continue to enjoy one of our holiday traditions. You're the best! PS...Mark, Joanna, Drew, and Daniel have had amazing things to say about the food you've cooked for them, as well as good things to share about you and Steven. Seems like you have a knack for multitasking.
Score! The point is, to this whole long rambling tale, that we do still have those foods that mean more to us than the specific ingredients in them. There are traditions, there are memories, and there are all kinds of other things tied into those things. When you start on a vegan lifestyle, you sometimes have to tweak those traditions, and make them into new traditions, so that you still connect with your family and friends over those things, while still holding true to your moral convictions.
Again, to reiterate: it's not fair to judge everyone who tries a mock meat thing, or an omnisub thing as "one of those lazy vegans who just lives off of boxed food". Daniel and Drew were quite adventurous eaters too. When they were visiting Mark and Joanna, I made all kinds of varied things, which they eat with great gusto. They're both capable of cooking, and cooking well.
But sometimes, they just want a little taste of home, mom, and pineapple torte.