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If No Meat or Dairy, No Ravioli?

(post, Trista Cornelius)

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Becoming veganish taught me to love food.  I've always loved to eat, but now I love food in a robust, three-dimensional way.  Not only do I pause to admire the look of my food--its color and sheen and shape--I smell it too.  I never used to smell my food.  I mean, sure, I'd smell it as it cooked, but only in a second-hand, passive sort of way.  I don't conduct some elaborate ritual like you might see at a wine tasting, just a curious, eager, long sniffffffff before the first bite.  

Cutting familiar foods from my diet made me think again about what's for dinner and WHY.  It made me pay attention in a way I never had.  This put a shine back on all of our pots and pans and a spring in my step at the farmers' market and local grocer.  "Ohhhhh, purple potatoes" I purred one weekend.  "Those will look gorgeous with some rainbow chard" I said when I rediscovered the potatoes the other day.  "These taste creamy and amazing with the chard and Tofurky sausage," I confirmed after my first bite of Wednesday's lunch.  

Often, it seems like sooooo very much work to make a meal.  And yet, the further down this veganish road I go, the more expectation I have of restaurant food, and the more patience I have for preparation--realizing it takes as much time and energy to get to a restaurant, wait for a seat, order and hang tight until it arrives as it does to make a meal at home.  Restaurants always win, however, when it comes to cleaning up.  Plus, the more elaborate the meal, the more mess it seems.  

My man's been home half-days lately.  He used to love to cook, but life took him mostly away from the kitchen these last couple years.  Being more the occasional, passionate chef, not the everyday-quick-what's-to-eat chef, he dreams up elaborate dishes fearlessly.  When he's in the kitchen, the house reverberates with a soothing cacophony of clattering and dinging.  He has a habit of clanging metal utensils together in a repetitive techno-beat when he pauses to think through his next culinary move.  Just now the metal bowl sang out twice--he's quadrupling this week's masterpiece for a birthday party tomorrow.  The masterpiece?  Homemade ravioli--veganish.  

He made the dough from a Good Housekeeping cook book my maternal grandmother gave me when I was quite young (I remember feeling mature and flattered that she might think of me as talented enough to handle such a hefty reference book).  Not wanting to mess with the recipe too much, my man used the egg called for in the pasta recipe, but used the whole egg instead of just the yolk.  Soon, he'll try using "egg replacer" and see what happens (neither of us have used it yet, but you can buy it from Bob's Red Mill).  So, the egg in the pasta dough is the only animal product.  

After rolling out the dough in thin, flat planes, and cutting it into big squares, he scooped small balls of vegan ricotta cheese onto every other square.  Firm tofu, cashews, garlic, lemon juice, oregano, and salt processed by Spike create a thick, rich, savory "cheese."  Patiently, he set a square of pasta dough on top of the pillow of ricotta cheese and crimped the edges with a fork.  Miraculously, not a single one spilled out when boiled into soft, chewy ravioli dressed in a rich tomato sauce with pine nuts.  

I grew up eating homemade food almost exclusively, the Kraft macaroni and cheese and Campbell's soups the only "prepared" food in our house.  Nevertheless, my man's sauce reminded me exactly of Chef Boyardee's canned ravioli.  I remember having that rich, meaty, salty stuff at a friend's house once; its uniqueness stayed in my palate's memory after all these years.  Do I tell my man that his homemade sauce made from home grown tomatoes tastes like the canned stuff?    

"This sauce is amazing," I tell him.  He prompts me for more, wanting to know if my description matches his goal.  "It reminds me of Chef Boyardee," I say.  

"Sweet!" he cheers triumphantly--exactly the flavor he was going for!  This prompts some reminiscing of childhood foods, at least for the few moments we're not chewing and I'm not exclaiming, "This is sooooo good."  

I don't know how we're going to transport a quadruple serving of this to the birthday party tomorrow without eating at least half of it on the way there.  I'll do my best to fill up on oatmeal, but I'm still hoping at least one square splits while boiling and must be consumed on the spot.