I took a few tentative steps into vegan territory with a terrifying and excellent food experience in mid-January. My friend Ruth was getting geared up to shoot a short film after Christmas. We had been on tour together a few months earlier and she asked me if I wanted to do craft services for the shoot. I jumped at the chance. I figured if I didn’t have to worry about the main meal of the day (the actual caterer’s job) I could certainly round up some snacks and make a few breakfast sandwiches to keep the crew happy. I had heard there would be twelve to fifteen people on set, nothing I couldn’t creatively handle in my kitchen the size of a shoe. I knew there would be dietary restrictions, had jotted down a few ideas, and was rearing to go for my first actual food gig. But by the time production week rolled around and I found out the crew had ballooned from fifteen to thirty, my stomach started to hurt. What if I let Ruth down? What if the grips yelled at me for running out of coffee? What if I accidentally gave bacon to one of the vegans? Then I found out Jeanne Beker had the lead in the film. What if I gave Jeanne Beker food poisoning??
Ok, so I’m a food safety nazi thanks to Mom and Nan and I managed to talk myself off the ledge, resting in the knowledge that no one was going to get ill. I could make thirty breakfast sandwiches. I could make thirty regular/vegetarian/vegan/non-dairy breakfast sandwiches, I was sure of it. But could I do it on a film schedule? I’ve only been on a few film sets, and they’re stressful at the best of times. You kind of have to throw yourself in headfirst, ask as few questions as possible, and expect to be yelled at by someone for doing something someone else told you to do. I’m kind of famous for holding grudges forever when someone yells at me (like that nun on my first day of kindergarten. I’m pretty sure Jesus wouldn’t approve, Sister. If that’s your real name). But the great thing about being yelled at in film is that it probably means you’re at the bottom of the food chain; no one will remember your name and you can start fresh on your next one with the hope that this time, you’ll nail it. Lucky for me, Ruth was insistent on having a positive set full of non-yellers. Everyone was really lovely and helpful. Most everyone knew it was my first time doing craft services and no one yelled at me. Even when the coffee ran out.
I try to be non-judgemental when it comes to people’s food choices (not so true at the grocery store…I love looking at shopping carts when I’m standing in line and wondering about the people with all the beige food). When it comes to meat, non-meat, lacto-ovo, pescatarian, vegan stuff, I try my best to get it. I’m puzzled sometimes when people give up food that they don’t really have to, food they’re not allergic to. I skimmed a copy of Skinny Bitch a few months ago and those ladies almost scared me into being a vegan. They made some excellent points, but they’re sort of mean (hungry). Was I really a lazy asshole if I drank coffee? And what? The only alcohol I can consume is wine from organic grapes squashed by the feet of milk-skinned cherubs? I got over it and ordered a pizza. But in all seriousness, I like the challenge of cooking for people with dietary restrictions. I do, I really do! Food should make everyone happy and it’s nice to figure it out for friends who can’t/won’t eat certain stuff. Which is all well and good when you have a few days to think about it and spend time making something halfway impressive.
I’ve never had to get up and cook at 4:30 in the morning before. I don’t how the hell bakers do it. And after the long day of shopping and baking I just had time to settle in for a two hour nap before the alarm went off at four-ish. I prayed to the gods of dietary restrictions that something genius would happen in my head. I had to be on set at 6 am with five breakfast sandwiches, two regular and four vegan. I had roasted a head of garlic and boiled some sweet potatoes the night before and the loose plan was to fashion a potato cake breakfast patty-type thing while the bacon and eggs were frying in a completely separate and far away place on my stove top. Because I guessed that someone who won’t eat honey wouldn’t appreciate a splatter of bacon grease in their sweet potato breakfast patty. I never understood why vegans won’t eat honey. Don’t bees make it for fun? And if everyone stopped eating it, what would they do for a laugh? But then I read that bees turn nectar into honey by a process of regurgitation. So I kind of get it. And here’s another fun-on-the-farm fact. Honey has been shown to be an effective treatment for conjunctivitis in rats. Gross. That’s probably the worst job I can think of.
So the long and short of it is, I made sweet potato breakfast patties topped with a little slice of soy cheese on English muffins (they’re egg and dairy-free, thanks be to Jesus). I was hoping that didn’t offend anybody. I know some vegetarians who won’t eat fake meat products, so would some of the vegans get mad if I made something with fake dairy? Did bees regurgitate soy and I just hadn’t known for all these years? Jesus, I was so scared. But luckily I was too tired and busy to worry about it and it all had to be done in an hour.
Try these for your vegan or vegetarian pals. Roast a head of garlic. Peel and boil two large sweet potatoes. Add the roasted cloves of garlic and a couple of teaspoons of vegan margarine. Add salt and pepper to taste and some smoked paprika (they’ll think for a second you’ve added bacon grease, so give a head’s up), a teaspoon and a half or so of flour and some chopped chives. Mash together, carefully form into patties, and fry in hot canola or vegetable oil until golden. Put on a toasted English muffin with one of those soy cheese slices. A McVegamuffin! I wish I had more time to perfect the recipe because they were a little mushy. Maybe a bit more flour and hotter oil with a longer frying time. I will perfect these at some point, but they got packed in foil and brought to set with high hopes that the vegans would find them somewhat enjoyable. They did! Sweet waves of relief. Not for long, it was time to get back to my kitchen and make thirty regular breakfast sandwiches for the rest of the crew. I forgot to take a photo in my rush to get things done, but for future reference a regulation size oven can hold upwards of thirty foil wrapped English muffins with bacon, egg and cheese. I cabbed it downtown to location where everyone was filming outside in -25. Another wave of relief when I realized that the sandwiches were good and hot and that’s all anyone cared about. I could have made them out of fried boot leather and the crew would have been happy.
Day 2! Not quite so early a call but still had to be on set with a few breakfast treats. I didn’t want to repeat the sweet potato patties so I had a go at some black beans. And as pleased as I was with myself for pleasing the vegans on morning one, I showed up on morning two and exclaimed “B’ys, I’m not gonna lie, these things kick ass.” Jeanne Beker (not a vegan, likes black beans) loved them. “Jeanne, smoked paprika will change your life.” Yep. I said it.
If your friends don’t like these you need new vegans in your life. Drain and rinse a can of black beans and zing them up with a bit of water (I used a hand blender, worked fine in a pinch and I didn’t have time for the food processor). Salt and pepper. Juice of half a lime. One teaspoon of ground cumin, one teaspoon of chilli powder, a liberal sprinkling of smoked paprika. Some chopped chives. Enough oatmeal that the mixture can be formed into patties. Fry them in hot vegetable or canola oil until golden brown. I wouldn’t hesitate to serve these to meat eaters. Black beans, man. Seriously. People are worried about bananas going extinct. I’m not a huge fan so I’d be ok. If black beans went extinct I think I’d die.
The vegans got sweet treats too. Cookies and muffins for everyone else, but I was too afraid to attempt vegan versions of those. Googled and chose the first vegan brownie recipe that popped up, from allrecipes.com. A little too easy, and maybe too good to be true as you’ll find out soon enough. If you are a vegan who can’t eat a lot of sugar, I can’t help you. Maybe try honey? Shit! The bees. Right.
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups white sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup water
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350F. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Pour in water, vegetable oil and vanilla. Mix well until blended. Spread evenly in a 9×13 greased (with vegan margarine) pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the top is no longer shiny. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting into squares.
Deadly brownies, vegan or no. I guess you can’t go wrong with that much oil and sugar. On the first morning I brought them in, one of the lovely make-up artists asked me if there was a lot of sugar in them. I blinked and said “Uh. Yes. But definitely no eggs. No sir.” Oh shit. So I only just this second read some of the online reviews that came with this recipe…one claims that these brownies are only vegan if you use raw sugar because animal bone char (what?) is used in the bleaching of regular white sugar. Seriously? So uh, sorry folks. Maybe they weren’t vegan. And as I can’t afford to buy raw sugar for all my baking needs, I guess I won’t be baking for vegans anymore. And if this fun-on-the-farm fact is actually true, we’re doomed as a species anyway. Just when I was feeling sorry for the bees.