Friday, September 9, 2016

Comfort Food Classic: Mac & Cashew Cheese

Mac & cashew cheese with peppers & peas, dusted with sweet paprika & dried parsley.

For the past five years, I have always referred to the same recipe as the end-all-be-all of vegan macaroni and cheese. I have tried out many other recipes that seemed promising but ultimately fell flat. This macaroni & cashew cheese is what made me fall in love with using cashews for richness and creaminess. This recipe is what made me realize, 'Oh! Vegan cheese can be seriously f*cking delicious!', and I never looked back.

The first time I made this I nearly ate the entire batch by myself and I can tell you with confidence that the leftovers are still enjoyable even when they're cold straight out of the refrigerator. Discovering this recipe was one of those pivotal moments for me that made transitioning to veganism that much more accessible. Finding methods of cooking and recipes that may even surpass prior techniques prepared with animal products is what causes the choice to adhere to a vegan diet to become a lifelong adoption. The appeal to my tastebuds along with the knowledge that both my heart (no cholesterol!) and the animals are happier for my plant-based choices keeps me motivated and inspired. I can tell you with complete honesty that I have never craved any dairy-ladden mac and cheese since I've found this golden nugget of a recipe.

I came upon the original of this recipe in Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's The Vegan Table, who actually adapted it from The Real Food Daily Cookbook by Ann Gentry. Patrick-Goudreau notes in her book that she only modified the recipe slightly, and I have only modified her version slightly as well. My modifications make the recipe more streamlined (in my opinion) but they don't compromise taste one bit. The beauty of this recipe is that you can use any type of pasta and add any delicious mix-ins you have on hand. You can also certainly bake this mac as a casserole with seasoned breadcrumbs or grated vegan cheese on top, but I find it tastes better straight off of the stovetop. This makes enough for 4 servings or more if you're serving it as a side dish. You can also easily double the recipe for the holidays or any larger social gatherings.

Homemade mac & cheese with roasted brussels & smokey spicy tempeh.

Mac & Cashew Cheese
Yield :: 4-6 servings 
Adapted from the 'Creamy Macaroni and Cashew Cheese' recipe in The Vegan Table.

Continue for the recipe!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Through Jealousy & Fear: Embracing Truth


I sometimes find myself battling an inner dialogue characterized by jealousy & fear. Here's how it can go: someone demonstrates a skill in the kitchen I'm not sure I have, I become jealous, then angry at myself for being jealous, then naturally I become afraid that I may be a fraud & not talented enough to be in a professional kitchen. For a moment seemingly suspended in time, I believe that I am only 'faking it' and don't deserve the good fortune that has fallen into my lap. 

This is quite obviously a slippery slope thought process that inevitably leads to me feeling quite negatively about myself. In these moments, I mentally shut down. I lunge into my work & pretend these emotions don't exist.

 Jealousy & fear are hard things to admit to. Lately, however, I have been trying my best to acknowledge the jealousy & fear - unpack why it is I may be feeling these things, consider the reasons why on an intellectual level these emotions are not helpful, and proceed to push through them to reveal instead why I admire what I was initially jealous of. I admire those decorating skills because I haven't really seen buttercream flowers piped like that before, for example. Or maybe I admire their creativity in developing new flavor combinations.


These feelings, of course, are not relegated to the kitchen. Unfortunately, I am guilty of harboring jealousy with regard to many different things - such as owning a nice house or having a charming, extroverted personality. Many of us are prone to jealousy; I know for a fact that I'm not the only one out here who feels these things. The primary reason I become jealous, I have found, is because I'm afraid of some revelatory truth twisting my mental state into something (or someone) I no longer recognize. I'm afraid of suddenly becoming self-aware in a way that confirms I am nothing extraordinary, nothing notable, all ordinary & fruitless.

So, I'm kind of afraid of the truth. I have a fear of truth when in all likelihood truth is a lot less sinister & emotionally devastating than my psyche imagines it to be. I balance lead-footed anxieties on my shoulders that consistently mutter, I am not good enough, when in reality nothing I can logically think of proves this to be true. I am, in all likelihood, just as good enough as anybody else.

Many people must struggle with similar inward uncertainty & panic. When I'm overwhelmed, I attempt to console myself: I do not have to be what you want me to be. Or, rather, what I imagine you want me to be. (The 'you' in this situation, of course, could be anybody.) Trust the good in people. Stop comparing to win. Encourage in the face of insecurity.


Nikki Allen wrote something on her blog last month that struck a chord with me: "You will not stay the same, and you shouldn't anyway." 

I don't imagine that one day I'll wake-up & suddenly never be jealous again, but openly acknowledging & deconstructing jealousy gives it less power & allows me to feel lighter & understand myself better. Jealousy is natural when you have goals you wish to reach & a lot of work to do in order to achieve those goals. My aim is to turn that jealousy into inspiration & use it to motivate me try harder, go further, dream bigger.

We're all in this together.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Choosing & Distorting Food: Confidence in the Kitchen



It's been a long time since I've written, and part of the reason is because while I'm interested in relaying tried-and-true recipes I'm also currently more interested in other things. Like my laundry, my cat, sleep, applying myself fully when it comes to work, applying myself fully in my romantic relationship, keeping in contact with friends and family, contemplating my personal and professional future, etc. Essentially: these days I'm most interested in taking care of myself and making room for growth. Boring as hell, I know, but it's fucking taken a lot for me to get to this point.

Food has been my go-to for comfort for a long time, which is not all bad. As I have written about before, I was first diagnosed with an eating disorder at seventeen and was later re-diagnosed at twenty-two by another therapist with comorbid bulimia nervosa and post-traumatic stress disorder. I am now twenty-seven. Needless to say, I have a long push-and-pull history with food - but so do many others. Somehow I have been able to recover from a life where food was something to be hidden and ashamed of. By working on myself consistently and feeding on the confidence and support of those around me, both friends and strangers, I have been able to slowly shift from distorting food into something dangerous to choosing food as a vehicle to both physically and mentally nourish myself.

This sounds arbitrary for its overuse, but finally-really choosing recovery after so many years is what made all the difference. Various factors contributed to my successful recovery, the most notable being:  1) I reconnected with the love of my life (who I am now very recently married to) and 2) I received a large monetary settlement related to the event that caused my PTSD and thus was able to pay off my student loan debt, move to Portland, and go to culinary school. If one or both of those things (having my partner's support &/or being financially stable) had not happened, I could have very well stayed holed-up in my small town bedroom and remained quite sick. Ugly yet somehow fortunate things have happened in my life, but I have landed in a city I love with an apartment I love shared with a person I love creating food that I love...and it's so surreal. But don't think it didn't take a million tears, certain privileges, and hard work to get here.

Trading shame for pride is a difficult goal for anyone to aspire to.  Choosing food as a means of expression & nourishment instead of distorting food into some kind of symbolic enemy has made all the difference; I have finally chosen to embrace what excites me most & I feel much healthier & happier because of it.


Books, articles, entire blogs, songs, and probably all other avenues of media are often dedicated to the intersection of confidence and the body, but where can one explore confidence as it relates to food that isn't tied to 'clean eating', dieting, or fitness? I personally look to cookbooks, cooking-related television, food writing, vegan blogs, etc., & try my best to find confident, mentally healthy, kind people who are excited to be in the kitchen. Often major professional cooking outlets are dominated by white men: see this resource guide, the list of Michelin starred chefs, James Beard award winners, Food & Wine's featured chefs, etc. Reviewing this proof that a person has to actively search to find a successful, confident, non-white, non-cisgendered-male who harbors a truly positive relationship with food...it's no wonder that so many females and non-conforming individuals have a tough time being confident and choosing to nourish their bodies.

I am nearing a small yet important crossroads in my career. I'm looking for a new job, a new project, something that challenges me to grow and learn as a person who prefers to spend an inordinate amount of time elbow-deep in flour. I love the bakery I currently work for; it's full of kind and extraordinary people who are passionate about so many different things. However, I need to take care of myself. I know that taking care of myself means I need to expose myself to new methods & new chefs. I need to be excited again, to fall headfirst into the unknown. I owe it to myself to take chances & pursue terrifying yet thrilling opportunities. I want to increase my confidence by further developing my skills in the kitchen. I owe it to myself to work hard & aspire to be 'great', whatever that means.

This is a difficult process.  It's tough for me to look to myself, identify what I honestly want, decide that I deserve it, believe that I deserve it, & convince other people that I can absolutely deliver what it is they're looking for. The beautiful thing is: only good can come of this. I have to trust that whatever extreme effort I put out into the world, the world will return in kind.

So here's to chasing dreams.