I think day 5, in Omaha, was my favorite. Because someone we cooked for had chickens.
No wait day 6 in Denver with @ohladycakes was my favorite - I still can't believe one of my vegan baking blogger idols let me cook with her ... Wait for it ... In her kitchen!
Oh shit, but then there was day 7 in Boulder when we got to meet and interview Dara, creator of Raw Balls, a raw, vegan, gluten and soy free dessert. More like AMAZEBALLS.
I guess it's no longer "my favorite" when I can't pick just one. And I really can't. Hear me loud when I say the people I have met on this road trip, and I mean ALL of them, have made this experience deeply meaningful to me and my crew. I have to say, when knocking on people's doors I kind of expected more people to say "um... No you canNOT come into my house and cook for me you freaky hippie." So imagine my surprise when Susan, wife and mom of three, got wind of what we were doing and contacted my producing partner with such enthusiasm we couldn't resist showing up at her door in Centennial, CO.
"Please help us. We WANT to eat better, we do a PRETTY good job during the day, and then we're all so busy and tired at the end of the day, we just ruin it all by eating out every night," Susan explained.
"And for the love of God, someone teach me how to vegan bake. I fail every time."
Um. Yes please. Vegan baking is my jam. Everybody shut up and let's get shoppin'.
And so we did. We decided to make an easy peasy chickpea "tuna" salad sandwich (at first they weren't sold - my favorite kind of subject) and vegan cupcakes in a jar.
#tbt to when I made said cupcakes for the first time. Please also note that this was the first time I baked for my friends and they suggested I may have a talent for this vegan baking game.
Well, well, well. Fun doesn't even begin to describe our day. Immediately upon arriving back at the house, Skylar (Susan's 21 year old son) started doling out aprons for everyone. And We. Looked. Like studs.
What I loved so much about Susan (particularly as it pertains to our documentary and what we're trying to say) was her imperfection.
T.O. (Time. Out for those who aren't up to snuff).
I would like to be very clear that this last statement is anything but a judgement. And this is my point: imperfection is not only a part of being human, it's what makes us unique and wonderful. So when I say what I loved most about Susan is her imperfection, I ask you to trust that I mean LOVE. This woman volunteers for PETA, secretly puts on documentaries about animal abuse and the sad realities of factory farming in the hopes that one will catch the attention of her husband Greg (which it has). She is a vegetarian, AND she is also willing to admit that she can't give up cheese (or rather she's afraid she can't); that she refuses to eat eggs, but can manage to stomach it if it's in a cupcake or other baked good. This is someone who isn't a vegan, but wants to do her best. She would LIKE to bake only vegan things she just needed a pinch of help, a little sprinkle of inspiration, a dash of guidance. And without any reservation she reached out and asked for help. So, no. We were not willing to leave Colorado without swinging by.
I was able to give them some helpful tips about lunch and dinner:
The mock tuna salad is so easy to make, and if you make a shit ton you can put it in some Tupperware and have leftovers for the whole week.
Don't feel like eating the same sandwich everyday? No problem. Here are some other things you can do instead:
Take the "tuna" stuffing, scoop the pit out of an avocado, now stuff it. Enjoy.
You can also use butter lettuce or romaine and make a lettuce wrap for a low carb version of this treat.
Anyway, who cares about stupid lunch. Let's get back to those yummy ass cupcakes! After we went shopping, I asked Susan to make her go-to, non-vegan cupcakes while Ashley (her daughter) and husband Greg helped me make the vegan yummies. It was just the right amount of cooks in the kitchen where lots of laughing, learning, and playing ensued. After about an hour (let's be honest, we took our time enjoying each other's company) both cupcakes were ready. And the results were perfectly imperfect; wonderfully rad, if you will.
Oh you will? Ya know, I'm really starting to have a crush on you.
Everyone liked the vegan ones more than that delicious shit from a box (and homegirl ain't even playin' - the fact that I am committed to never having Duncan Hines funfetti cake mix again is mildly tragic). Success!
(Phew. I was a widdle bit nerbous).
Sidenote: a brief tangent while we take a look at my own imperfection. While preparing to cook for this family I kept telling people it was okay if they didn't like something, they just had to be honest so we could make something else. The last thing I wanted was to leave everybody with a bad taste in their mouth. (Oh, punderful!)
But let's get real people. That was really the second to last thing I wanted. The LAST last thing I wanted was to fail at impressing these people. Sad, I know. But also really human. So I decided to try and have faith in myself, and I'm glad I did because they were quite pleased with everything I cooked for them. And they were an integral part of the process, so they should feel confident when they take on the challenge themselves.
Back to the cupcakes. We decided to change up the recipe a bit. The frosting called for 1/2 a cup of earth balance buttery spread and 1/2 a cup of vegetable shortening. I could see something was bothering Susan when I whipped out the earth balance.
"Well, I know it's hypocritical because I'm not a vegan, but..."
And before she could finish I knew exactly what she was gonna say next.
"Palm oil" I sighed.
"Well, it's just that PETA doesn't approve earth balance butter, I just learned that myself" she said shyly as if not to offend me.
And she was right. If you use palm oil that doesn't specifically state it was sustainably and ethically sourced then you are partaking in the destruction of the rainforest and most importantly for me, the murder (ps I just spent ten minutes trying to find a less dramatic way of putting it, but let's just call it what it is) of monkeys.
In that moment I had a choice: would I rather be one step closer to being a part of the solution or making a guaranteed perfect cupcake?
The former. These days, it's always the former.
So we did a little experimenting. And while it took a minute to finagle the recipe - with a little patience and some faith - I'd say we nailed it.
I was feeling feisty. I know!
"Susan. I have a challenge for you."
"If you give up cheese for three months, I'll give up earth balance and all other non sustainably and ethically sourced palm oil forever."
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
"Okay, I'll do it." She said nervously, and with great hesitance.
"I don't make promises I can't keep, so I'm glad you held me accountable my new friend" I told her. "Because this is an important, albeit bold promise."
"Me either" she smiled.
Too bad the road trip is ending in just a few days. Things are really starting to get fun.
But first we have one last stop...
(Which is vegans without the 'n')
And one of pepper. Because she's so damn cute and because I can. Ta Ta for now!