It feels like a very long time since the Vegan Venture cookery day, so I thought I’d better post about it before I forgot any more details. Getting to Altrincham, where the Vegetarian Society is based, was something of an adventure – I’m not very good at last-minute plans – but I made it eventually.
When I finally arrived at the hotel and managed to check in, I wandered round the hotel foyer and bumped into a girl who turned out to be my roommate. She took me to meet the rest of the group and we headed out for dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant. It was a really nice evening; we chatted about our various paths that had brought us to a vegan cooking course, and my roommate told us about her experiences as a vegan veterinary student. Looking back, this conversation was the start of the tipping point for me, but more on that later.
We had to get up early to walk the twenty minutes to the cookery school for breakfast. It was a pleasant day and a nice walk and we were all pretty hungry once we arrived. Once we’d all eaten, met the two girls who hadn’t been with us at dinner the night before, and been on a tour of the Vegetarian Society building, it was time to get started.
The day was long and pretty packed, so I won’t continue my no doubt fascinating blow-by-blow account. In the morning the teacher demonstrated how to cook several of the recipes and gave us advice on how to substitute for eggs and dairy without sacrificing flavour or quality, and showed us basic knife skills. I’ve always wanted to know how to chop an onion properly so that was pretty interesting. After a short break for tea and biscuits we each picked a recipe to work on and started cooking.
I chose to make macaroni and cheese, and two salads once that was done. I was really intrigued by the vegan cheese sauce from the demonstration, and since macaroni and cheese is one of my favourite dishes I wanted to try it out. I felt kind of stupid when I managed to mess up boiling the pasta (the pan was too small, I hadn’t salted the water but I had put olive oil into it, which apparently is totally pointless – add it once you’ve drained the pasta instead) but the sauce came together nicely: I started with a roux made from vegan margerine and whole-wheat flour, and added soya milk and nutritional yeast.
One of the most complicated recipes that several of the others were making was for an amazing vegetable flan. It was absolutely delicious, but I knew that I’d be unlikely to make something so complex at home unless I was hosting guests (which is very improbable in my 170 sq ft flat). They really were lovely though. There were three or four different versions made, some without nuts for the nut allergy sufferer. I was impressed at the fact that the teacher managed to make last-minute substitutions for the heavily nut-based recipes, since they hadn’t known in advance that one girl was allergic.
We ate mid-afternoon, and the food was amazing. I didn’t manage to try everything, because there was just so much of it – we started with soup, and then delved into a buffet of savoury dishes before managing to squeeze in some chocolate banana cake and gooseberry mousse. It was all so good, I had to get second helpings (and then didn’t eat for the next two days).
When I originally applied to go on the course, I had no intention of becoming vegan. Even during the day, I wasn’t thinking that I would give up dairy and eggs entirely, but the quality of the food and the simplicity of most of the recipes made me realise that I could veganise my diet a lot more than I had previously thought. But I came home and the things that we talked about in the restaurant began to percolate. Some of the details that the vet student told us about dairy and chicken farms turned my stomach (and she didn’t embellish or sentimentalise, which I would have considered to be emotional blackmailing). Somewhere along the line that week I realised that becoming vegan wasn’t an option any more. It was inevitable.
So that’s where I am now: in the process of using up all the non-vegan items in my fridge, freezer and cupboard and not replacing them. I suppose at the moment it would be accurate to say that I’m a vegan shopper but still a vegetarian eater. In fact yesterday I overloaded on eggs and dairy, finishing up a box of eggs, a portion of cauliflower cheese and a Quorn fillet. I’ve still got three more fillets, another portion or two of the cauliflower and a few store cupboard items with milk powder in them, but I’m getting there. I’d anticipate being vegan by Christmas. I’ll be totally honest: I’m very sorry to think that I’ll never again eat brie, or blue stilton, or scrambled eggs (unless my mum and stepdad’s chickens start laying again, since I can be certain that they are well treated throughout their natural lives, not slaughtered once they become non-productive), or dairy ice cream, although that one is tempered by two things – the fact that dairy ice cream makes me very ill, and the fact that frozen bananas with cocoa powder is one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted.