Sunday, March 6, 2011

Vegan in Suburbia Becomes Vegan in Italia

Well, maybe not literally--I won't be changing the title of this blog--but this vegan living in suburbia will soon be in a whole new environment, across the Atlantic, on Italian soil. If I started this blog to show that being a vegan in the suburbs of a relatively big city is far from being difficult, next month, as of April 15, I'll be scoping out the difficulty or facility of being a vegan in Italy... in a self-sufficient monastery in a town of 381 people.

As many of you know, I've been to Italy on several occasions--every year since 2006, really, save for 2007. On these occasions, I've stayed with relatives or ate exclusively in restaurants. Relatives graciously accommodated me, and cooks in restaurants did likewise. I missed baking and cooking for myself, but, in the country of delightful pastas, pizzas, and delicious vegetables, nary a complaint passed my mind or escaped from my lips. I revelled in being catered to and cooked for, leaving the magic to those who mastered the cooking, whether they be my charming great aunts, distant cousins, or the outwardly unfriendly but truly sweet-as-pie chef at the local pizzeria. This time will be different, though, as I'll be living in the Monastery (see my previous post, if you have no clue about which I speak. I haven't decided to become a monk, in the traditional sense), cooking meals for myself or eating those that other housemates have put together. So, to be truthful, this time in Italy will be different, but I don't know exactly in what way. I'm looking forward to the challenge but not being naïve, either.

So, despite being reassured about being easily accommodated, old habits, as they say, die hard. Just like every other time, I'll be bringing my trusty Nature's Path oatmeal with me (four boxes of the Variety Pack patiently await their departure from our basement storage room). Sure, there are Italian cereals and breads that happen to be vegan, upon which I can pour Valsoia soy milk or spread jam, respectively. But, come the morning, I just want a comforting bowl of oatmeal--not for the reminder of home but because l love oatmeal. Sue me. 

So, I'm going to attempt a quick compte rendu of the last little while before I jump into a whole different atmosphere, continent, language... I'll ask for your forgiveness in advance: when I immerse myself in another culture with a different language, my syntax tends to go awry and match the host language's. You can laugh with me and at me, when the time comes (oh, it will come...).

Oh, and I got accepted to the University of Toronto. Yay! (Talk about anti-climactic.) I'm absolutely psyched about my acceptance. When I get back from Italy, I'll revert to Vegan in Suburbia, but it won't be long before I'll be living in the precise antithesis of the suburbs: I'll be inhabiting the biggest city in Canada. That's huge. And maybe hugely frightening--hence, hugely exciting. For now, I'll be sure to read as many books as possible, since, come September, I won't get to choose what books I read, except in the few minutes before I fall asleep from studying-induced exhaustion. I'm starting with Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. I received it for Christmas in 2009 but craved fiction at the time and, thus, never picked it up. Several graphic novels later, re-reading Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice, a few other novels, and after devouring--pardon the expression--Dracula by Bram Stoker (linguistically delicious, at times exciting, mostly long-winded, and not as appealing as Anne Rice's vampire lore) and Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel (a surprisingly disappointing read), I'm ready for non-fiction.

Without further ado, after that unintended foray into a discussion about books (my other passion), we get to food. 


My first-ever vegan French onion soup, made from this recipe from Meatout Mondays, and sprinkled with mozzarella-style Daiya.
This is a horrendous photo--I look really tired--but I think it's important to show my enthusiasm for my first French onion soup in over seven years. It blew my mind.

Some friends and I had a vegan, Southern-cooking themed potluck, with a menu of "chicken" and waffles with gravy, along with baked asparagus (we scrapped greens since we had asparagus on hand). After realizing we had no baking powder at my friend's house, and that every waffle recipe in existence requires baking powder, we delayed our cooking (and eating) to procure the magical ingredient. The wait was worth it. We made waffles with vegan shiitake chicken, which filled my friends with awe, as it resembled chicken so closely in texture and taste. I now know why Southern cooking is often called soul food: this dish is comforting, warm, delicious, and it leaves you grinning for the rest of the night.

On a recent cold day, I treated myself to my first cup of hot cocoa with marshmallows in... seven years. I know--it makes me sound super dramatic, but there were some foods and drinks that I simply didn't miss or care to recreate until I happened to have the ingredients on hand. It turns out that there is something very special about marshmallows--Dandies, pictured here--melted in a mug of boiled water, sugar, and cocoa powder.

Hahahaha. Seriously, I'm a moron. I forgot how much peanut-butter cookies spread on a cookie sheet. See, I didn't want to wash two cookie sheets afterward--ask my mum: I make water splash everywhere but the sink itself when I wash these beasts. I convinced myself, and the innocent bystander (my hysterically laughing best friend, in this case), that I could fit all of the cookies on this sheet. Well... I learned my lesson.

This is my "I'm a complete moron, but I accept it" face.

Oh, did I mention these were thumbprint cookies? We filled them with home-made Nutella that I had sitting in the fridge. Now they look like oversize painted toenails--not at all appealing, but suffice it to say that they were that delicious that three girls finished the entire tray. I will not say whether or not I was among these girls (of course I was).

On a cold winter's day (yawn), I made one of the tastiest Bundt cakes ever (yay!). The day was truly frigid. I'd asked for the day off from work the week before, and it turned out to be a wise decision: the temperature dipped to minus 24 Celsius, if I recall correctly, with the wind chill making it feel like minus thirty-craziness Celsius. So while my poor fellow Montrealers schlepped around the city, I made cake. And I ate it, too. (Sorry, guys.) This delightful recipe, which I have made two other times since, is thanks to Miss Mihl at seitanismymotor.

Cake bears witness to the frigidity indicator

To celebrate Vegan Pizza Day on January 29, I made vegan calzones. They were nothing short of glorious, and the pizza dough was one of the best I've ever made... and I've tried many different pizza dough recipes. For the life of me, I cannot locate the recipe for the dough, and this is troubling, because I do want to make these again. Sigh. Anyway, I filled these bad boys with stir-fried mushrooms, spinach, sundried tomatoes, tomato sauce, onions, garlic, and Daiya. And I had them for lunch at work for three days, happily making a cheesy mess at my desk.

Finally, @graemegiskhan--of the inspirational, eloquent, and thought-provoking blog The Skies We Share, based in Mongolia--was celebrating Tsagaan Sar, the Mongolian lunar New Year. He explained that hundreds, if not thousands, of little dumplings called buuz are made for the celebration. Traditionally, they are filled with mutton; these I filled with TVP. The recipe can be found here. I ate them in an unorthodox way, slathered in veggie butter from Aux Vivres or dipped in sweet chili sauce. From what Graeme told me after I confessed to dipping them in ketchup at first (which I do not recommend), in Mongolia, they are eaten with soy sauce, chili sauce, or the sauce of whatever dish accompanies them. They're fun to make and the various intricate ways in which you can fold the dumplings provide a welcome therapeutic culinary challenge.


With that, I bid thee all fare well for now and thank you for stopping by.

'Til next time,

Vegan in Suburbia (for now...)