Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs

Vegan Family Meals by Ann Gentry

Posted on: Thursday 30 June 2011

I’m entranced by Ann Gentry‘s accent. There is something soothing about the dulcet tones of a Southern drawl. Hosted by Myra Kohn, Ann was in Seattle to promote her second cookbook, Vegan Family Meals.

I have some friends who are vegetarians but I don’t know much about vegan food. Ann spoke eloquently about how her diet evolved to be a vegan one and the story of opening her first restaurant in Los Angeles, Real Food Daily. Ann recalled being asked for advice on opening a vegetarian or vegan restaurant and her response was ‘find a location near a yoga studio’!

She grew up in Memphis and became interested in macrobiotics in New York. It was her light bulb moment to find balance in her diet and motivated her to cook. She endearingly described her initial cooking effort as a burnt, overcooked, sloppy mess. A determined woman, she persisted. Ann considers herself to be a ‘good home cook’ and not a chef.

Acting aspirations brought her across the country to Los Angeles, a city she thought would be the Mecca of natural foods. She became the personal chef of Danny DeVito, affectionately remembering the experience as ‘me, Danny and a Winnebago’. It was at this time that she got serious about cooking with a meal delivery service operated out of her home kitchen. At its peak, she was cooking meals for thirty-five people daily!

Ann wrote a business plan and took the risk to open Real Food Daily in 1993. In its eighteenth year, she is proud that Real Food Daily is beyond a restaurant, it is a community. She relied on ‘family, friends and fools’ for the capital to open the second restaurant. She is passionate about changing the expectations of vegan restaurants from ‘gruel, beige and chewy’ to wholesome, delicious food. She wants her customers to feel virtuous about eating local, sustainable and animal-free food.

Ann explained that Vegan Family Meals developed from the ritual of the dining table, how food brings families together. She commented on the culture of ‘supersized, value driven meals’ and the need to trust ‘it’s okay to eat one or two things’.

Ann shared two recipes from her cookbook with us – BLT tartines and almond jam thumbprint cookies. The ‘bacon’ in these open-faced sandwiches was made from tempeh, fermented whole soybeans. I have no qualms about soy and the crispy maple tempeh bacon were flavoursome and a good source of protein. Apart from a stovetop smoker that is required to make the maple tempeh bacon, it is a simple recipe that highlights the quality of the fresh produce.

These cute button shaped cookies were a crowd favourite! Made with almond meal, oat flour and whole wheat flour, the cookies were moistened by maple syrup and apple juice. I call them jam drops, possibly just an Australian or British term, and they were slightly crunchy on the outside and with a chewy texture on the inside. The cookies were perfumed with almond and cinnamon, and the thimble of jam held just enough sweetness.

Andrews McMeel Publishing generously gifted each attendee a copy of Vegan Family Meals. Ann writes passionately about her profound belief in a plant-based diet, and a clean, green and sustainable lifestyle. And yet she is not didactic, she encourages us to include and increase vegetarian and vegan meals in our diets as a powerful statement to healthier living.

Flipping through the pages, the cookbook is colourful and beautifully photographed. There is commentary on techniques, nutrition and pantry items within each section, the layouts are clear and the recipes are concise. Most of the ingredients used are available in mainstream supermarkets. Seitan is an example of an ingredient that is obscure to a meat-eater like me and there are detailed notes on what it is and where to find it.

Ann’s cookbook is a practical introduction to vegan cooking. Bangers and mash and many other classic dishes are adjusted with a vegan twist. From the back cover blurb, ‘Vegan Family Meals gathers everyone – meat lovers, vegetarians and vegans – around the table to share in accessible and appealing vegan recipes that will inspire readers concerned with the ethics and health of their food choices.’

I’m not a vegetarian or a vegan. I will not forgo peeling a bucket of prawns on Christmas Day or a hot pot dinner with my family. But, I will strive to make small changes and be conscious of my choices as a consumer. And bake those jam drops!

A sincerely thank you to Myra for inviting me, and to Ann for her advocacy and sharing her love of real food.

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1 Response to "Vegan Family Meals by Ann Gentry"

[…] in the cookbook and Sarah brought some of the ingredients with her. My first taste of tempeh was Ann Gentry‘s BLT tartines. A fermented soy product high in protein and fibre, Sarah likes to grate it […]

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