Moving towards a plant based diet has been a yearned for but steadily slow process over the years for me. While cooking meals both as a chef and at home have most often centered around vegetables, apart from a few years of being a relatively un-healthy vegetarian in my late teens and early twenties (more on that later), I had adopted more of a 'flexitarian' model of eating in the past. While I ate animal products here and there I have always been deeply in love with plants and always looked to plant based families with quiet envy.
When I met my partner I delighted in incorporating as many vegetables as possible into feasts and taking the focus away from the meat when we cooked together - it felt like a dream . Despite being a devoted animal lover he had been advised by his doctor to avoid eating too many vegetables and instead eat bland, low fibre, high animal protein foods (again, more on that later!). This was a whole new world for him and we loved it! So much so that we decided to challenge ourselves to 12 months of vegetarianism. What stared as a temporary challenge, very quickly we both knew within our selves that this was becoming more and more a part of the way we wanted to live. It was a forever thing. We did not watch the traumatising Netflix documentaries, we did not get into heated discussions with our friends and family who mourned our dietary loss.We mourned it too. We just wanted to be kind. Kind to animals, kind to the environment and kind to ourselves.
As most new vegetarians know cutting out meat meant we needed to replace it with something. More often than not, for us it was DESSERTS! When going to a restaurant in New Zealand vegetarian options mostly consist of option A: Fries and option B: Dessert and there are only so many fries one person can eat. Oh the cakes. Oh the ice cream. Oh the creme brûlées and cheese platters. It was like my birthday every day.
This too did not take very long to change.
The more we thought about it and the further along we got in our plant-based journey the more it felt right to choose to cross all animal products off our shopping list.
This was hard both physically and emotionally and I found it especially difficult. I felt that cheese and cream and butter was almost part of my personality, they had held so much value in my life.
Dairy represented much more than just the act of consuming it. It wasn't necessarily the taste but the situations and occasions it was consumed in. Cream was so significant in my family that people were shocked if we did not turn up to a gathering with a big platter of cream puffs or had any less than 500ml of cream in the fridge at any given time. A glass of wine and plate of cheese at 5pm on Fridays has been an institution in my family for years - a way for the aunties and uncles, cousins and grandmas workmates and friends to come together, re-connect and all take stock of our busy weeks. Whether we are physically together or not we can count on the rest of our crew being somewhere, doing the same thing and thinking of each other. Cheese is a big part this. It really did feel like I was turning my back on family traditions , values and the family culture we have created. I love my family and I love our customs so was not a step I took without intense thought.
So dessert, baking and sweets in their traditional form were out! Not a bad thing but when you have little people in your house it can be quite a challenge to keep your home within your values whilst acknowledging you do not want anyone missing out on things that are a 'essential' part of childhood.
But this is the fun part! The opportunity for creativity and innovation that comes with plant-based cooking can be very exciting and its one of my favourite parts of my work. There are disasters..many disasters and as a self confessed 'bit of this, bit of that' experimental chef it takes more tries to get something right than it used to. I've always thought it complete BS that baking is a science and you need to be precise and meticulous but with plant based baking it certainly helps to write measurements down if you want to replicate it the next time.
So here is my quick and extremely easy no-fail (yet!), no refined sugar, no strange ingredient, vegan school lunch box cake that keeps on the bench from Monday till Friday without drying out AND means no missing out for the little people.
Easy Vegan Chocolate Cake
Penelope (BDes(hons), BCA, ND, Dip. Med Herb) is a trained chef, medical herbalist, naturopath and holistic nutritionist and has recently completed her design thesis which focused primarily on methods of incorporating plants, medicine and feelings of joy into culinary products and experiences.