What Is This Shit?!
To me, cooking has always been an act of love. My grandmother cooked and my mom cooked. I dated chefs, I married a chef, and then I dated a few more chefs after that. It wasn’t until I fell in with the fitness guy that shit really started to go sideways. But that’s a story for another time. What I’m saying is that food is a gift of the earth and the act of preparing food is an offering of love.
When I was working with a full stable of ingredients, it was pretty easy to whip up an act of love and spread it around. Everybody loves cake and if you make a good one, even the strictest of dieters will waver in their resolve. Fat, sugar and gluten simply makes everybody happy. So does cheese; you literally cannot go wrong with cheese….
The basics of amazing food are really…..basic. They hit the tongue in all the right places and make it sing; it is a natural marriage of giver and receiver. Fat. Salt. Sweet. Sour. Hit these base notes and you have a winner on your hands. Throw in the high notes of Bitter, Pungent, Acidic, and Spicy, and you then have made a symphony of flavour. The crafting of a well balanced dish is an art.
But it requires the right ingredients. Fat. Dairy. Gluten. Salt. Sugar. All the big bads need to be in the toolbox. You can try to do a lot of dancing around this fact—and a lot of people have made careers out of this cha cha—but the reason we ooh and ahh over a meal ain’t because it’s a good fake. You can make amazingly healthy meals even if these so called “bad” ingredients are used; the trick is simply moderation. A little fucking cheese on your broccoli is NOT going to be the death of you.
Now. Imagine my chagrin when the man gets diagnosed with a mild wheat allergy and has to go gluten free. And then the acupuncturist tells him that he has to give up dairy. And his children are allergic to eggs, citrus and nuts. I looked at my toolbox with raised eyebrows, realized that I was going to need a crash course in substitution cooking and hit the internet hard.
I learned a lot. Ironically, the first thing I learned was about the art of good writing. Mostly by reading bad writing. For real, y’all, stop telling me how delicious this is going to be. I honestly do not need to be sold on your recipe, or the health dangers of everything you are avoiding in this masterful creation you are presenting. You do not need to tell me about the yum factor of whatever nut you are using or how horrid current farming practices are.
Odds are, if I’m already looking for a gluten free, organic and vegan pumpkin pie recipe, I probably have those issues well in hand. Right? How about you give me the low-down on all the weird ways this thing might go sideways, because a huge number of “amazingly delicious”, “my husband licked the bowl clean” recipes I have found out there have gone from the stove/ oven and straight in the mf trash.
Ask the man about the Barley Biscuits, or as we lovingly call them, the Clay Blobs. He still won’t let me live those down. Or the Cashew Snot that was supposed to be “Mozzarella”. That one was charming. Give me enough wine and I will tell you the tale of the Mutant Alien Breakfast Puffs. I could go on. This list is endless. And believe me, I have tried almost all of it, and almost all of it has failed. Like, not kinda failed, failed failed. Even when whatever recipe comes out exactly the way the enthusiastic food blogger claims, it still failed. Gluten free, sugar free, dairy free, egg free substitution cooking is chemistry, not art. And I failed chemistry. I also failed Latin, but that isn’t relevant here.
Substitution cooking is bullshit. Ima gonna go ahead and drop that shit right out there. On the internet. It’ll probably piss a few people off, and that’s okay. It needs to be said, because we need to make a really profound shift in how we are thinking about different ways of cooking. Food is food, and if you can’t eat wheat, don’t eat wheat. There are about a bazillion other ways you can get your carbs, and a number of them are tasty AF. Same goes for cheese. Or sugar. Or eggs. If you can’t do it, don’t do it.
But please. Do not pretend that your vegan “cheese” is cheese. Your gluten free “biscuits” are not biscuits. Your vegan “pizza” IS NOT PIZZA.
Call it what it is, and understand that some of it—a lot of it-- is dang good in its own right. Nut spread is fucking delicious. It can hold some space for cheese, but it is in no way cheese. A raw strawberry and date honey tart will melt your socks off its so yummy. But its no pie, y’all. And if you roll into the experience expecting a pie then you will be prepping for disappointment. Trying to make things into other things is a disservice to both you and whomever you are feeding. It creates an expectation that can only fall short.
Just be honest about it and then get creative. Here, in the House of Much Substitution, we are big fans of the Cauliflower Vegetable Disc with Cashew Blobs. Try it. Love it. But don’t ever think its a Pizza.