Food is one of my favorite things in the world. Aside from being imperative to our existence, I spend countless hours each week learning about all of its wonders. I think I’ve always been a foodie, even when I was a small child. I loved going out for nice meals, or preparing ones at home with my family. As a teenager I was obsessed with the process of baking. I would watch cooking show after cooking show about techniques, recipes, restaurants, etc.
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When most of my friends were shopping, hanging out at the mall, or cooing after boys, I was either climbing or baking. And by the time I was 17, I had all the pots, pans, tools, and gadgets to outfit an entire kitchen, I just needed an actual kitchen. I just wanted to cook. I remember one of our family friends telling me to read some of the blog posts on PreparedCooks.com. She told me that there are so many useful tips on that blog for people passionate about cooking. I learned a lot from there.
Around that time, I started looking at colleges to apply to. My parents and I did all the tradition of driving around to different campuses to see which ones I might be interested in. Of course, at the top of the criteria list, was a good climbing gym nearby, but not far off was a good grocery store and good restaurants. I couldn’t imagine myself living somewhere for four years and ‘date night’ was at Denny’s. On the list of colleges, I also put down a couple of cooking schools. I’ve never been good at sitting still, and the life of a baker/chef fits that mold perfectly. It was my dream to open my own restaurant near the Scarborough beaches. With its windows overlooking the seas and the kitchen outfitted with the best restaurant equipment from Nella Toronto (or a similar store), I even imagined the feeling of being complimented by customers on my turkey dishes. A little too specific for a dream, isn’t it?
So, I made an early appointment at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. I timed it so I could get the tour, meet some of the faculty, and still get in a full training session at Mission Cliffs afterward. I’m not naturally a city girl, the hustle and bustle of city life is something I have to train for. I figured aside from that, I could imagine living in San Francisco to go to school.
Butterflies filled my stomach as I walked into the lobby to meet with a man named Frank. A tall man with brown hair greeted me with a firm handshake. He had on a chefs outfit and I immediately wondered if it was a school uniform. We loaded in the elevator to look at some of the Academy. At each stop, a student or two dawned in the chefs outfit would step into the elevator. Pretty soon I was surrounded by them. I felt like a fish out of water in my jeans and Marmot fleece. Smashed in between white chefs outfits I started to notice something: all the students were slightly portly. Each white uniform jutted out around their midsections. “Crap,” I thought, “I’m going to get fat if I go here!” Stepping off the elevator and into the large room in front of us, my fears were solidified: everyone was chubby. Because my future as a professional climber was looking brighter than my future as a chef, I thanked Frank very much for the tour, and promptly trained my butt off at Mission Cliffs.
Fortunately, my experience at the CCA hasn’t deterred me from my love of baking. Not only do I love the process of creating something, but I love doing nice things for people. Baking has often been my fallback rent when I am traveling for climbing. I spent countless days climbing at Smith Rock and repaid Jim Karn in various forms of butter for the spare bedroom.
Unfortunately, about five years ago I developed a severe intolerance/allergy to dairy. Yes, dairy. The most important ingredient in anything yummy. I have always been one to find any ‘healthy’ form of baked goods sacrilege. Why on earth would you ruin such pure goodness with applesauce or protein powder? That’s what salads are for people. Cookies are for sugar and butter and decadence, not to build muscle.
But, I found myself in a predicament: I couldn’t eat anything I made. Unless I was in the bay area or at a Whole Foods, dessert was not an option. I ended up having an intolerance test done so I knew exactly what would upset my body. This way I could avoid the problem foods and keep a healthy diet. I had to experiment with oils and came up with cookies or scones that got a passing grade, but nothing that would send me into a food coma like my old butter counterparts. That is, until the glorious day I found Earth Balance. Now, to you butter eating people, it’s a far cry from the real thing, but to people like me, it lets us be whole again.
So, for this Thanksgiving, I made four pies, three of which were dairy free. We had about fifteen people for dinner, which meant that everyone could have a quarter of pie for dessert, a perfect ratio in my mind. I’ve included my pumpkin and pecan recipe. Sorry to all the vegans out there, I used eggs. I’m not a pure vegan, just a meat eating one.
Dairy free pumpkin pie:
1 can organic pumpkin
3/4 cup sugar (I used Turbinado)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup soymilk creamer
Combine first two ingredients in a bowl. In a separate bowl combine the dry ingredients. Mix the two and then slowly add the creamer. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, then reduce to 350 degrees for 40 – 50 minutes.
1 cup pecan halves
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup melted butter
1 cup dark corn syrup
2/3 cup sugar.
Bake at 350 for 40 – 50 minutes.
Is there any pecan pie left?
David Chao (Twitter: @davidchao)
Pumpkin pie all the way. Plus it's the healthiest of the three.
Yes Justin, there's lots and lots.