Vegan Key Lime Pie: It ain't easy being green

Kudzu powder? Agar flakes? Florida crystals?

Clearly vegan orthodoxy is not for the ill-informed.

The substances mentioned above are in the ingredient list for the Key Lime Tart in The Artful Vegan: Fresh Flavors from The Millennium Restaurant, which, for whatever reason, I had to make Saturday. Sourcing these exotics required a trip to the Asian market, where agar powder--the de facto vegan substitute for gelatin--was to be had for $2 instead of $8 at the neighborhood granola emporium. If for any reason you need agar flakes or powder, know that you can use 1 TBS of flakes to every 1/2 tsp of powder and vice versa. Aren't you glad you know that?

Kudzu powder (yes, from the weed) is a general thickener that stands up to citrus better than cornstarch. I used cornstarch. And Florida crystals? Well, apparently in the final processing of sugar cane, the sugar is submitted to filtering through charcoal, which may be of animal (bone), vegetable or mineral origin. I dug a cup out of the lifetime supply of organic sugar we had on hand from Costco.

I don't feel comfortable posting the recipe, housed as it is in the lovely aforementioned volume. Suffice it to say there were many steps that involved the gelling and setting up of soft tofu and avocado. The whirring and blending of gelatinous masses. The grinding of pistachios. The wringing of hands when the white chocolate mousse failed epically. And the happy consuming of the finished product, which tasted "much like a key lime pie."

That's "vegan" for "not-as-good-as-the-real-thing-but-delicious-in-its-own-way."

Grumpy Vegan

The green smoothies, almond milk and beans are starting to wear thin--everywhere except my hips. One doesn't spend a decade or few as an omnivore without developing wide-ranging tastes. When Guy Fieri showcased the roast chicken at a local-to-us eaterie, I 'bout wept.

Saturday we went to the 9Health Fair to get our blood sucked. It's been a month since I've given up dairy and meat, so I wanted to get the lipids checked. For people who lack health insurance or for high-deductible insurance holders such as ourselves, the 9Health Fair is a remarkable community service. For 30 bucks, you get an entire blood chemistry screening, which tests thyroid, glucose, liver, kidneys, cholesterol and more. Men can get a PSA screening for another $25. A $15 blood cell count can detect anemia and certain cancers. They've even added a vitamin D test for an extra $40. Those of us living above certain latitudes are supposed to be wildly deficient in this particular nutrient. We'll see. They also offer tons of other free screens ranging from bone density and blood pressure to Body Mass Index, eye and dental screenings.

We're huge 9Health Fair fans. Years ago Mr. Nake-id learned he ha a minor health issue by attending a fair; they called two days after he had his blood drawn. It took longer for him to get an appointment with his doctor! If you're a Colorado resident and it's been a while since you've had a blood test, go! It's an amazing deal.

Mitch saved my place in line (if you attend a Health Fair, plan on a bit of a wait; the lines can be long but are usually convivial affairs with people laughing and joking and telling health horror stories) while I bounded over to the weight station convinced of new sveltness. I hopped on to the scale, smug in my veganness. When the number came back...not a pound, not a bloody ounce. I hadn't lost anything!

Who lost weight? Mr. Nake-id. Mr. Nake-id, who's already so thin it's as if he exists in two dimensions.

This did not endear me to the tofu and seitan and beans and brown rice I'd been sucking down.

Hopefully, though, some changes have been wrought on my innards, the point of all this. Veganism aligns with my feelings for animals and the environment, too. Right now, this experiment feels annoying and just a little too precious.

Send along any great recipe recs. Meanwhile, I'll do battle with my pissy 'tude.

Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes

The veganism meet-the-parents experiment went swimmingly, in no small part thanks to these tastey morsels. The recipe hales from long-time vegan blogger Hannah Kaminsky, author of the cookbook, My Sweet Vegan. I made substitutions to avoid another trip to grocery: Almond milk for the soy, black onyx dutch cocoa powder rather than plain "dutch" and grape seed oil for vegetable oil. I also backed off on the amount of sugar, using about 3/4 cup instead of a full cup; Mr. Nake-id likes his desserts on the slightly less sweet side.

Don't you love the color of the grape seed oil?

"Dutched" versus "natural" cocoa powder has been alkalized; this apparently mitigates some of the bitterness of the cocoa. "Black onyx" dutch cocoa has been alkalized to the max, leaving this black-as-pitch, lower-fat powder. Had this post been written prior to baking, I would have known to boost the amount of fat in the recipe, but that wasn't the case and the treats didn't suffer. The result is a dramatic-looking little cake, dark as the rainforest.

I was going to whip up a simple dark chocolate ganache with almond milk and dark chocolate chips, but these sweeties needed no help. Isn't it nice to know that you can go vegan and still gain eat like a pig?

Lost vegan weekend

The vision: Roasted organic beet gnocchi on a bed of wilted beet greeens with mushroom-wine sauce and crispy shallots. The reality: Gummy, liver-colored blobs doing the backstroke in a flat, vegetal brew.

By the time I was done wrestling with the beets, the kitchen looked like I had sacrificed a squirrel with a dull knife. Ratio of effort to taste: 9:3.

The vegan adventure persists. Day 17 and counting (if you forget the odd anchovy and sprinkling of parmesan cheese). Eliminating dairy has been surprisingly easy; unsweetened almond milk makes for a fine cereal delivery system and mellows the morning coffee. And cheese? As long as someone doesn't come at me with an artisanal cheese plate, I'm fine.

It's the meat. Smokey, carmelized, toothsome meat. Mitch ordered a roast chicken the other night and it was all I could do not to stick my fork in the carcass and haul it over to my plate to keep my Boca Burger company. Nobody tells you this. All these vegan bloggers are all like into their silken tofu and nutritional yeast and ahimsa and I'm eyeing my old hiking boots, thinking, "Jerky!"

The upside of all this is that it's interesting. The days can so easily become a drudge of deadlines, jarred spaghetti sauce and garter stitch, can't they? Sameness is comfortable--and comforting--but to step out, even it it's just to spatter beet carnage all over the kitchen in an epic meal fail is invigorating.

Changing my diet has been like visiting an exotic place on vacation. Maybe it's not a place I want to live, but I'll return the wiser. 

Tonight's a big challenge: Can I feed my father a vegan meal without him going home hungry? The menu: Potato leek soup, homemade rye bread, vegan Caesar salad and chocolate cupcakes. Will report back.