Back when I first became a vegetarian, some 15 years ago, people used to quiz me all the time about things they thought I might miss.
"What about fried chicken?" They would ask. "Or bacon on a weekend morning?"
"How about pepperoni pizza?"
"Or turkey on Thanksgiving!"
"What about a good, juicy burger on the 4th of July?"
I didn't miss any of those things, really (except I did kind of miss chicken tenders dipped in honey for a bit, the first time I tried to go vegetarian), and it was funny to me that people kept asking me about all the things they thought I would surely miss. It was also interesting to me that they paired the food they were sure I was missing along with a cultural and emotional context they thought surely existed universally for all of us.
Now that I've been a vegan for a few months, I've found that people ask me a lot about whether I miss cheese.
I think about it: do I miss cheese? Honestly, I haven't really missed it--not in the way I thought I would, because I used to eat a lot of cheese. I loved cheese. My favorite snack on an end-of-the-week evening after work, while I was in the kitchen preparing a meal, or working on a baking project with T., was a glass of wine and some wedges of cheese.
I like grilled cheese sandwiches, and macaroni and cheese, and my favorite thing to order at a Greek restaurant is saganaki--pan seared cheese. No way to veganize that.
When I made the decision to switch to a plant-based diet I did it giving myself full permission to switch back whenever I wanted to. If I found I missed cheese too much, or that I felt trapped and frustrated by a vegan diet, I could switch back. It would be okay. But I haven't felt trapped or frustrated in any way. I haven't mourned the loss of cheese in my diet. On the contrary, I've not only been enjoying trying out new recipes, and veganizing old ones, but I've felt better, too, since giving up dairy. I've lost a few pounds, my skin and my insides feel cleaner somehow, and I feel healthier and better about myself in general, and about my place on this earth. I'm still giving myself permission to go back if I need to, but now that the holiday season and all its associated rich buttery foods and desserts are almost behind us, I feel a sense of triumph and contentment over how easy it was to get through it all. I made my own veganized versions of Christmas cookies I make every year, I kept a bar of dark sea salt chocolate (dark chocolate is vegan--you just have to watch for the lesser-quality milk chocolates) on hand at my parents' house, when the urge for a sweet snack hit. I tried not to get too squirmy inside when people questioned my food choices. And today--today at midnight we'll be slicing into both the traditional Greek vasilopita bread I make every year and, new to this year, a vegan vasilopita.
I can almost hear my mother's exclamations of protest from over here. Vegan vasilopita? How can it be?
It won't taste the same--I know it won't. But it will still be vasilopita. We'll still cut into it and wonder where the coin has been hidden, and who will get the luck for the coming year, and I'll savor it along with my family, as we do each year. I'll cherish the moment as I do each year, and think about Greece, and my mother, and my grandmother, and scores of New Year's Eves extending back through the years--a whole glittering line of them.
Nothing truly vital will have been lost in the translation, I'm sure.
Vegan Vasilopita (adapted from here)
1 cup earth balance
1 cup white sugar
3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup warm soymilk
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup plus 4 tablespoons water
1/2 cup soy vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup soy creamer (I used Silk brand)
1/4 cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon sesame seeds (for the top)
Bowl #1: In a large bowl, cream the earth balance and the sugar with a beater. At this point the mixture will be pebbly, not doughy. Stir in the flour and mix until the mixture is combined.
Bowl #2: In a separate bowl, whisk the baking powder, baking soda, 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour and 1/2 cup plus 4 tablespoons water in a separate bowl. Whisk with a fork until well combined.
Bowl #3: In yet another bowl, mix the soy yogurt, soy creamer, and coconut milk together. Whisk until fluffy and well-combined. Slowly mix into the earth balance-flour mix in Bowl #1, then add the contents of Bowl #2, too. Mix in the warm soy milk and stir well.
Pour the batter into a greased round or square cake pan. Wrap a small coin (I used a dime) in tinfoil. Have a helper drop the coin into the batter and stir to bury and cover.
Bake for 40-50 minutes in the preheated oven (the original recipe called for 20 minutes in the oven but even after 30 minutes the center of my cake was still wobbly). Remove and sprinkle sesame seeds over the top.
We'll cut the cake on New Year's Eve! I'll post photos on Flickr over the weekend.
Happy New Year to all of you!