Life with People – It’s Not Easy

Sometimes, Astrid Cat has to go get into her garage. Generally, she has her head and front legs hanging out the front, but today, she was 100% tucked into the garage, as if she just really wanted a little time alone. And, I really feel that.

As an introvert, in some ways it’s not that hard to be self-quarantining at home. I’ve left the house a total of 5 times in the last six weeks. And most days, I’m not too bothered by not going anywhere. Though, I will say that, even for me this is a long time to not leave the house for more than an hour.

But, on the other hand, for an introvert this is a lot of time to be with people – twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. And I can feel myself getting a little more stressed by the nearness of others as the weeks extend. I am sure they are feeling the same about me.

I’ve been looking for some ways to reduce friction. My spouse and I are both working from the house and we have very different working styles. I am not a fidgeter, and I usually don’t like music while I work, but if I do it is soft music. He is a tapper and a wiggler and he does like music while he works – kind of loud too. It would be easy for me to get fussy with him for not being still or for playing music. But that isn’t really fair if those things enable him to work more effectively. My style of working isn’t better than his. So, I’ve just made myself a little work area in the family/tv room, since usually no one is here. It’s not quite as convenient in some ways (in fact, right this minute, I’m realizing I really need to get into the office and do some paperwork at the desk tomorrow), but it works better for me and him and I can always go in the office for a while if I want to.

Historically, we always ate at the table as a family for dinner. Then I was away from home for most days of the week for about three years and they got used to all eating wherever and whenever they felt like it. And, right now, spouse and I are working many hours every day on teaching and/or research, two of the adult children are doing college classes online, and two have sleep/wake schedules somewhat different than ours. So, I could insist that we all eat at the table, but I don’t. It does tend to mean that I cook, everyone grabs food and runs, and I (or spouse and I) clean up, but it’s what seems to be least friction-producing right now, so I’ll take it.

At the end of the day, living with other adults isn’t easy. Everyone has their annoying habits – goodness knows I do. But, we have to show each other a little grace and try not to become overly focused on the parts of each other that are annoying or we’ll all just end up miserable. As I’m watching friends and neighbors lose people to COVID-19 and miss their final days, that seems more important than expressing my annoyance over someone else’s behavior, even if it means sometimes “eating” my feelings a bit (I just wash them down with carbs). I would love to be able to say that I’m 100% successful at it, but I’m not. I’ll keep trying though.

So, whoever you are spending your time with right now, I wish you patience and equanimity, or at least the ability to pretend that you are feeling those things. And whether you are able to manage that or not, I wish you good snacks!

Vegan Cooking for the Unenthusiastic Omnivore

PanDogNote: This post contains discussion of meat, dairy, and eggs. If you don’t want to read that material, stop now.
Simply view this unrelated but excellent image of a dog in a panda hat (taken by Ms.TheVeganAsanaJr2, aka Emmie) and then go off on your merry way!

I’ve written before about the challenges of cooking for a multivore family, and that continues to be something that I get asked about frequently and that occupies my own attention, with a family that has vegans, vegetarians, and very committed omnivores. Luckily for me, my family has always been supportive of my vegetarian and vegan journey; however, I think that is partly because I’ve always treated it as my journey, not as a forced march. In this post, I offer some additional tips and thoughts on how to be the primary cook as a vegan in a household where other members are omnivores.

1. Recognize that your choice is about you.

When you first become vegan or vegetarian, you may find that you suddenly know things about factory farms or animal husbandry or meat processing that you never realized. You may begin to feel that if everyone knew these things, of course they would be vegan. That’s wrong and not really fair. Lecturing family members (or anyone, really) about a vegan diet is no different than lecturing others about why they should convert to your religion. People don’t appreciate it and it likely won’t go well. You are the person that you have authority over. Choosing a vegan/vegetarian diet for you is a choice for you, unless the others in your house voluntarily go along (or you have children that you feel are too young to make a good choice).

2. Everyone has their limits. Know theirs. Know yours.

With six children in TheAsana house, we couldn’t afford (literally or metaphorically) for everyone to want a different dinner. So, that just doesn’t happen. But, everyone got a short list of three items that they just could not stomach in any form (we made an exception such that “meat” became a category that someone could say no to). Some people only had one item (i.e. the dreaded mushroom), while others used all three. But, this gave me, as the cook, a clear list of things that I needed to make substitutions for when they were a main ingredient, so that the naysayer had something to eat.

Similarly, if you have not always been a vegan/vegetarian in your current family, you may not be able to stop having meals with meat in the house entirely (particularly in a family that includes children). So, it is important to establish what your absolute limits are. Many vegans can eat at the same table as someone having a meal containing meat. Many can cook meat for others, as needed, but not consume it themselves. In my house, while I will still cook meals containing meat, I will not (can not) cook the “big dead bird” type of meals and limit meat preparation that requires extensive handling. I also can’t do it every day.

3. Be willing to negotiate. 

You probably have full stop no-can-do items (see #2), but after that, there is room for negotiation. If you can’t stand the idea of making hamburger patties, could you cook them if someone else made them or you buy them prepared? Is there someone else in the house who can do some meat prep on the weekends for ease later in the week? Can you establish some compromises on how often meat will be included in a meal? It may seem silly to actually hash it all out, but it really can be helpful in establishing expectations.

4. Get creative!

My grandmother told me that you can catch more flies with honey (or agave) than you can with vinegar. You can also win over more people to the idea of eating vegan food once you show them that vegan food tastes good. This can happen pretty easily if you start with foods where the meat/dairy/egg isn’t the focus and play to the strengths of a vegan diet. Vegan pancakes are lovely, and no one needs to even know until they finish eating. Spaghetti with marinara sauce, maybe even with some TVP thrown in, is a delicious and filling meal. Nachos with refried beans are a fan favorite in a lot of houses, as are bean burritos. And who doesn’t like biscuits and gravy (if it’s you, don’t tell me)? You can also make vegan items that have meat and cheese on the side for adding to the plates of people who eat them (ground beef and cheddar for nachos, sausage with the pancakes, meatballs for the pasta).

Basically, the goal should be that people don’t feel punished or shamed for not having made the choice that you made, and begin to see vegan food as a normal choice, not as an unattractive and overly health option that is primarily berries and leaves.

At the end of the day, there is one person whose eating habits you really get to control, and it’s you. You may be able to draw a line in the sand of not having meat served in your house or not cooking it, but you can’t make others be ok with that choice, any more than they can make you be ok with a non-vegan diet.

Giving Thanks, with Less Harm


It was my turn to host the Thanksgiving dinner this year, for my family (minus vegetarian DS #2), my brothers-in-law, my mother-in-law, and my aunt-in-law. So, there were 11 of us at the table, in a mix of vegan, near-vegan, and omnivore. While I wasn’t willing to cook an only vegan meal (see my post about multivore families), I wanted to keep the harm level low. So, with the exception of some egg noodles, and two requested meat items, everything else on the table, including appetizers and desserts, was vegan.

I used my standard list of holiday recipes, with a twist here and there. I’ll be repeating at least the tooforkey, dressing, and pie before the holidays are over. I hope these recipes come in useful for your holidays, this year and beyond.

Home-made Tooforkey (Vegan)

Store bought tofu roasts are rather expensive for their size.  This home recipe takes some time (in fact, I suggest cooking the day before and then heating so it doesn’t tie up your oven, and I actually prefer it on day two and three), but it’s delicious and big!  This recipe was adapted from one by Bryanna Clark Grogan, over a few years of use and switching out items or adjusting amounts.

IMG_1292a2 c. vital wheat gluten
1/2 c. soy or chickpea flour
3/4 c. nutritional yeast flakes
1 t pepper
1 onion diced  finely
4 cloves garlic, minced finely
1 container of firm or extra firm tofu
3.5 c. water
3 t. vegetable broth powder (you can use the non-chicken chicken flavored type)
3 T. soy sauce
3 T. olive oil
1 t. liquid smoke
1 package vegan gravy, if desired

Blend tofu, 1 1/2 cups of water, 2 T soy sauce, liquid smoke, 1 T of the olive oil until smooth.  Once in a while, I will get a block of tofu that has been frozen at some point and it will not mix smoothly.  This is not preferable, but it’s not a tragedy.  Just do what you can. Add the finely chopped onion and 1/2 of the minced garlic.

Mix the gluten, flour, yeast, and pepper in a separate bowl.

Combine the two.  This will be much much easier if you have a dough hook and a stand mixer, but it can be done by hand.  If it is too wet to form a dough ball, add bits of soy or garbanzo flour until it is (this can happen if the tofu has more water in it due to prior freezing, if your measurements are a bit off, etc.).  Knead for about 10 minutes.  Cover the bowl with a warm towel and let it sit for about an hour.  It will rise some.  Knead again for about 10 more minutes.

Line a baking pan with parchment.  Shape the dough into a loaf, try to make it not too “deep” – 2-3 inches tall is preferable.  Mix the remaining water, veg broth powder, soy sauce, olive oil, and liquid smoke.  Pour this broth over the loaf and place in oven at 325*.  Bake for about 3.5 hours, turning it over half way through (I’ve forgotten to turn it and it wasn’t a problem).  Most of the broth will be gone when it’s done (if most of the broth has gone when you turn it, mix up and add another cup of broth).  Remove from oven and allow to “settle” for a while before serving.

As noted above, I recommend cooking this ahead of time.  The next day, place the loaf back into a baking pan, mix your vegan gravy, and pour over it and cover with foil.  Put it back in the oven and heat at 325* until warmed through.


Vegan Mushroom Onion Gravy

I did not actually make this, this year. I went with a store packet Hain vegan gravy, which we like just fine. But, this is good if you want to do better!

3/4 cup white or portobello mushrooms, chopped finely
1 small sweet onion, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup flour
2 1/2 cups broth – either vegetable or faux chicken
2 T soy sauce
1 t liquid smoke
salt and pepper to taste

Place 2 T. olive oil in frying pan and saute mushrooms and onions until the onions begin to carmelize.  Set aside.  Mix soy sauce and liquid smoke into broth and set aside.  In a large pan, add remaining oil and begin to heat.  Add flour and stir, forming a roux.  Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Begin adding broth mixture slowly, stirring constantly to prevent any lumping.  Once fully mixed, add mushrooms and onions.

Continue to stir gently while bringing gravy to a low boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer and stir regularly until gravy thickens.  Salt/pepper to taste and serve over tofurkey or potatoes.


Vegan Dressing/Stuffing/Filling

Growing up in southern Indiana, we always had a bread based dish on Thanksgiving that we called “dressing.”  After I became an adult and was exposed to the horror of Stovetop stuffing, I discovered that some people cooked it inside of the bird (eww) and called it “stuffing.”  Then, I had friends whose families call it “filling.”  So, in my house, we now call it dressing-stuffing-filling.  Those of us who like it REALLY like it, and will eat it for days after, for any meal or snack.  I have now had this for four meals since Thursday.

1 large loaf of stale bread ripped into bite sized pieces**
1 large onion, diced small
4 stalks celery, sliced thin
2 cups unsweetened soy milk
2 cups vegetable broth
4 T vegan butter, softened
2 T white vinegar
4 T flour or starch (soy, potato, chickpea, corn)
3 t sage
2 t thyme
2 t black pepper
1 t salt

** You can use white, wheat, or a combination of breads.  Bread can be “staled” by either leaving in oven for a day or two prior or baking on a low temp until dry

Place ripped bread in large mixing pan.  Add spices, onions, and celery, and flour and toss gently.  In a separate pan, mix softened butter with soy milk and vinegar.  It should take on the consistency of oily buttermilk (sorry).  Add vegetable broth and stir.

Add liquid to dry ingredients and fold in.  If you like your loaf to be really dense and not have bread pieces still visible, stir more briskly for longer to break up the bread more.  If you prefer the bread bits, fold in gently.

Spoon mix into shallow baking pan, cover with foil, and cook at 350* until warmed through.  If it gets too dry as you cook, add a little more veggie broth.  After thoroughly warm, remove foil and continue cooking until top browns, visible liquid evaporates, and stuffing “sets.”  Time depends on what else you have going in the oven.  I would expect at least 45 minutes covered and another 15-20 uncovered.

Do not try to make a double batch in one pan unless you have time to cook for at least 2 hours.


Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Roasted Sweet Potatoes

IMG_1261a IMG_1263a2 stalks of brussel sprouts
3 lb of sweet potatoes
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (optional)
Chili powder (optional)

For sprouts, remove sprouts from stalk and remove any loose leaves. Cut off woody end.

For sweet potatoes, scrub but don’t peel. Chop into bite sized bits.

Toss whichever veggie you selected in a large bowl with the olive oil and vinegar if desired. I like the vinegar on the sprouts but the chili powder on the potatoes. Add sea salt.

Pour onto a large baking sheets (I like cooking this in a stone pans) and place in oven at 450* and cook for 45 minutes (turn veggies in pan every 10 minutes or so for even roasting).  If needed, add foil over pan and cook an additional 10 minutes or until done.


Vegan Holiday Mashed Potatoes

This is a boring mashed potato recipe with extra fat for special occasions.

5 lb chopped potatoes (peeled or not)
4 T vegan butter
1/2 container vegan cream cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Chop potatoes (skins off) and put on to boil. When potatoes are tender, drain.

Add cream cheese and butter and mash. Salt and pepper to taste.


Baking Soda Biscuits

I had store biscuits this year, but include this here for the more ambitious!

4 c. sifted flour
1/2 c. vegan butter
1 tsp. soda
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. soy milk
1.5  t vinegar

Whisk vinegar into soy milk so that it slightly curdles (like buttermilk).  Mix together the dry ingredients.  Cut in the vegan butter until like coarse meal. Make well in center of flour mixture. Add the faux “buttermilk” and stir to create a dough.  Knead for a minute or so on a floured board.  Pat or roll out (aim for between 1/2 and 2/3 inches deep).  Cut with a cutter or a lightly buttered cup top.  Place on an unoiled baking pan and bake at 450* for 10-12 minutes or lightly brown.


Vegan Broccoli Salad (Gluten-Free)

3 cups chopped broccoli stems (throw in a few crowns if desired)
1 large onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 large carrots, shredded
1/2 cup vegan mayo
1 t apple cider vinegar
2 T raw sugar
1/3 cup raisins or dried cranberries
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix, and chill.  If desired, add vegan bacon bits immediately before serving.


Vegan Spinach Dip (Vegan and Gluten-Free)

1/2 cup vegan mayo
1 cup vegan sour cream
1 lb spinach, chopped (either fresh or use 1 10 oz package frozen spinach, thaw, and squeeze out water)
1/2 onion, finely diced
1 small can water chestnuts, diced (optional)
2 t dill
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 t turmeric

Mix and chill overnight. Serve with bread or pita points.


Cranberry Relish (Vegan and Gluten-Free)

1 lb fresh cranberries
1 naval orange plus 1 T of orange zest
1/2 cup raw sugar

Place cranberries in a food processor and chop until fairly fine.  Add oranges and pulse until shredded and mixed.  Stir in sugar.  Chill and serve!


Vegan Pumpkin Brownie Pecan Pie

This recipe started at the Post Punk Kitchen, and was then adapted by Angela at Oh She Glows, and then by me. So so good.

IMG_1271aPumpkin Brownie Layer:

1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup + 3 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup coconut oil, softened
3/4 cup unbleached flour
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp baking soda

Pumpkin Pie Layer:
1 cup canned pumpkin
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup sugar
3 tbsp soy or almond milk
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
Shaved dark chocolate, for garnish

Pecan Topping:
1/4 cup vegan margarine
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
3/4 cups chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 350F and prepare a pie pan.

For brownie layer: In a stand mixer or by hand, mix together the coconut oil, pumpkin, vanilla, and sugar until blended well. Sift in the flour, cocoa powder, cornstarch, baking, soda, sea salt and mix until incorporated. Take the entire mixture and place in pie pan. Wet spatula and spread around evenly so it is smooth.

For pumpkin layer: In a large bowl mix together the pumpkin, vanilla, and milk. In a small bowl, mix together the cornstarch, sugar, and spices. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix well until all clumps are gone. Now add on top of brownie mixture. Garnish with grated chocolate.

For Pecan topping: Mix all ingredients until well combined and sprinkle on top of the pie.

Bake for 35-40 minutes at 350F. Remove from oven and cool for 20-30 minutes and then move to the fridge to chill for 1.5 hours.


Vegan Pumpkin Pie

This recipe started out on The Vegan Spoonful and was very slightly adapted by me. I might have eaten it for three days straight at breakfast last year. This year, I made two.

IMG_1282a1 unbaked pie crust
2 cups pureed canned pumpkin
1 cup plain soy or coconut milk
3/4 cup sugar
3 Tbsp cornstarch
1.5 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine pumpkin, non-dairy milk, sugar, cornstarch, salt, and spices in a large bowl, and mix very well with an electric mixer, food processor, or blender. Pour into unbaked pastry shell, and bake for about 60 minutes. The pie will still be jiggly when you take it out of the oven, but it will firm up as it cools.

Cool completely on a cooling rack, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for several hours or overnight before serving. Serve chilled and top with vegan whipped topping if desired.