Our household has been meatless except for fish and a turkey on Thanksgiving for the past five months and I'm having fun experimenting in the kitchen and developing new recipes, particularly with my baking.
Here's how the culinary adventure started: About a year ago, my 16-year-old daughter Eleanor became a vegan.
Her decision was primarily for environmental reasons. But she was also considering the ethics and dietary consequences of eating animals and animal products.
At the time, I told Eleanor I was proud of her for being thoughtful, taking a stand and following through. I promised to support her by making well-rounded vegan meals for her, as my husband and I continued to eat our regular diet consisting of small amounts of meat and dairy.
Eleanor was very disappointed in us for not jumping into veganism with her and frankly, she sometimes got a little preachy.
"Don't you care about the environment?" she asked, when I came home from the store with packaged chicken.
"You're definitely not going to get people to change their ways by being confrontational and putting them on the defensive," I told her.
Later, on our evening walk together, she said, "Mom, I don't want to make you feel bad, but can I tell you why veganism is important?"
So we walked and I listened. She told me that it takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce just one pound of beef, but it takes 25 gallons of water to grow a pound of wheat.
I checked her facts. She was right. Here are some of the things I discovered:
You can actually save more water by not eating a pound of beef than you do by not showering for six months. (John Robbins in "The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and the World" )
Only 5 percent of US water consumption comes from domestic use, whereas animal agriculture uses 55%. (Water Footprint Network)
It takes 1,000 gallons of water to produce one gallon of milk. (Water Footprint Network)
She told me that according to a report by the United Nations, the single best thing you can do for the environment is become vegan.
She was right:
"A global shift toward a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, (energy) fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change." (United Nations Report)
"As the global population surges towards a predicted 9.1 billion by 2050, western tastes for diets rich in meat and dairy are unsustainable."(United Nations Report)
“You can’t call yourself an environmentalist and eat meat. Period."(Howard Lyman, farmer and animal rights activist )
We also talked about animal cruelty and the health benefits that come from a plant-based diet.
"Males of the egg-laying breeds are of little value, as only a few roosters are required for reproduction. A day after they’re hatched, chicks are sexed (their gender determined), with the unfortunate males heading straight to the grinder for use as animal feed. In the United States alone, several hundred million newly hatched chicks are killed this way each year, while Germany estimates its annual day-old-chick death figure at about 50 million." (Al Jazeera America, 2015)
Researchers at Harvard University found that individuals eating beef, pork or lamb daily have approximately three times the colon cancer risk, compared to people who generally avoid these products. (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine)
Eleanor had lots of good points, and through our discussions and my research, I could see that I was making lame excuses such as "the cow is already dead so it's okay to buy it" to validate not changing my ways. But conscientious and compassionate daily decisions, no matter how seemingly small, have a big impact on our planet. Maybe start out by going meatless just one week a month or only cut beef out of your diet at first.
I'm not perfect by any means. I still use eggs and dairy in most of my baking, but I'm branching out and experimenting with vegan baking and finding success.
My latest creation is this Vanilla Orange Cake for our New Year's Day celebration. The fact that it's vegan isn't what's best about it. The best part: It's a delicious cake! My husband says it's one of the best cakes I've ever made (and I've made a lot of cakes).
It's four layers and the cake is light, super moist, flavored with orange juice, zest and vanilla extract and filled with a creamy orange curd.
Here's the recipe:
Vegan Vanilla Orange Cake
Orange Curd Filling:
1 1/2 cups orange juice
2/3 cup sugar
3 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons orange zest
2 tablespoons Earth Balance brand vegan butter
In a medium sized saucepan combine the orange juice, sugar, cornstarch and zest. Heat it over medium high heat, whisking constantly until it comes to a simmer and thickens. Remove it from the heat and transfer it to a glass bowl. While the mixture is still hot, whisk in the Earth Balance until thoroughly combined. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cool.
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons vanilla
1 1/2 tablespoons dehydrated orange zest (I like Penzeys brand) or substitute 3 tablespoons fresh zest
2 cups unsweetened soy milk
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2/3 cup canola oil
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Grease, flour and flour 2 cake pans (8 or 9-inches). I also like to line the bottom of each pan with a round of greased parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a small bowl, combine the orange juice with the vanilla and dehydrated orange zest. Set aside for about 10 minutes for the zest to soften.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the soymilk, vinegar, sugar, lemon juice and canola oil. Whisk until well combined and add the orange vanilla mixture. Whisk again.
In a medium sized bowl sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add this to the liquid mixture and beat until well combined and no lumps remain.
Divide the batter between the two pans and bake for about 35 minutes or until the cakes are done and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Invert the cakes onto a cooling rack to cool completely before filling and frosting.
1 1/2 cups Earth Balance brand vegan butter
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/3 cup unsweetened soy milk
1 cup powdered sugar
Cream together the vegan butter, vanilla and soy milk until light and fluffy. This takes a while so using a stand mixer is preferable. When you first whip it, it will look like a lumpy mess, but don't worry, it will come together. Add the powdered sugar and whip again until it is well combined and the mixture is light and spreadable.
Remove the orange curd filling from the fridge and whip it until it becomes smooth and spreadable.
Use a serrated knife to cut each cake in half to create four layers. Place one layer, cut side up, on a cake cardboard or serving plate and top with 1/3 of the curd mixture, keeping a 1/2-inch clean border around the edge since it will spread out when you place another layer on top of it.
|Adding orange curd to the first layer.|
Add the second layer, cut side up, and spread with another 1/3 of the orange curd.
Add the third layer, cut side up, and spread with the remaining orange curd.
Finally, add the fourth layer, cut side down, and refrigerate the cake for about 30 minutes or until it firms up.
|After you've stacked the cake, refrigerate it for a bit to help it firm up and be easier to frost.|
Crumb coat the entire cake with a thin layer of the frosting and refrigerate for another 30 minutes.
|The crumb coat is really thin and locks down all of the crumbs for the final layer of frosting.|
Coat the cake with the rest of the frosting and top with a bit of grated orange zest. One thing I did notice is that the vegan frosting doesn't spread as easily as a true buttercream so you need to be a little more patient.
Keep the cake chilled and remove it from the fridge about 30 minutes before you are ready to serve. Enjoy!