by Victoria Barrett
In 1992, when soon-to-be First Lady Hillary Clinton made a crack about not making cookies, certain circles of SAHMs raged, Family Circle magazine challenged Clinton and Barbara Bush to a recipe contest (Clinton won), and baking became a staple if tongue-in-cheek expectation of the first spouse. Now, noted vegan Bill Clinton is going to need to learn to make some cookies. Novelist and committed vegan Courtney Elizabeth Mauk has just the recipe.
Courtney Elizabeth Mauk is an accomplished writer, teacher, and mom. Her vegan chocolate chip cookies are so good that I once dropped one on the floor and then ate it anyway — and I'm not even a vegetarian, much less a vegan. Lucky for me, Courtney is always patient enough to answer my questions about being a vegan, including last week, when we talked about being a vegan mom, chocolate chip cookies, and what it will mean to have a vegan in the White House.
Courtney is the author of three novels, most recently The Special Power of Restoring Lost Things, out from Little A on October 1. (Full disclosure: I served as editor and publisher of her first two novels, Spark and Orion’s Daughters through my boutique fiction press, Engine Books.)
But first, the recipe:
Vegan Chickpea Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from The Joy of Vegan Baking by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau
Makes about 18
- 4-1/2 teaspoons Ener-G Egg Replacer
- 6 tablespoons water
- 1 cup vegan butter (like Earth Balance)
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
- 3 tablespoons chickpea flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 (12 ounce) package of nondairy semisweet chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Whisk Ener-G Egg Replacer and water until creamy. Set aside.
- Cream butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla. Add egg replacer mixture and combine.
- In a separate bowl combine flours, baking soda, and salt. Add to wet mixture and blend. Stir in chocolate chips.
- Drop spoonfuls of dough onto a baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes.
And a Conversation About Vegan Life, Cookies, Writing, and Bill Clinton
VB: Where did the cookie recipe come from? What did you love about it before trying it? Do you usually make items that involve vegan substitutes for animal products (as opposed to just avoiding the types of foods that usually include animal products), or were these outside your usual approach?
CEM: The recipe was something of an accident. I was making my usual chocolate chip cookie recipe from The Joy of Vegan Baking and discovered that I was out of flour. I had chickpea flour on hand for another recipe, so I made up what I was lacking with that. The first try tasted a little off, but my husband, Eric, and I were intrigued enough to keep playing around with the ratios until we found the winning combo. The chickpea flour adds a great hint of flavor, sort of nut-like, plus it's a protein boost!
For baking, I've always used vegan substitutes. You can veganize almost any baked good by using egg replacer and vegan butter. I've made old family recipes this way and people can hardly tell the difference.
With cooking, though, I tend to avoid subs. Meat alternatives that try to too closely resemble meat gross me out, so when I cook, I'm heavy on the veggies, legumes, grains, and soy that isn't too meat-like.
VB: That process of experimentation sounds like a lot of fun. Are there other recipes you've honed that way that you love?
CEM: I rarely actually stick to a recipe. Right off the bat, I double, or triple, the vanilla whenever I bake. My mom did that, and so did Eric's, so it's a perfect union. The banana chocolate chip muffin recipe from The Joy of Vegan Baking is another big favorite of ours. I've modified it to our tastes by reducing the sugar by two-thirds, adding an extra banana, and doubling the chocolate chips.
VB: For many writers, the process of making stuff is a good companion practice or metaphor for writing. Is there a relationship between cooking and writing for you?
CEM: I enjoy the creative process of both but find them satisfying in very different ways. Writing is such a long-haul process, with so much backtracking and self-doubt involved. Cooking is much more immediate, the results concrete and easily shareable. You can experiment and half an hour later end up with something tangible that's either good or bad, and if it's bad, you can throw it out and start over. Which is true for writing too, but can be harder to see (although healthy and freeing to admit).
VB: What are some of the joys and challenges of vegan pregnancy and motherhood?
CEM: Being vegan forces you to really think about what's in your food and where it comes from. I'm mainly vegan for ethical and environmental reasons, although there are great health benefits as well, and I like feeling that the dietary choices I'm making every day have a positive impact beyond myself. I had to become an even more conscious eater while I was pregnant, and I loved thinking about macronutrients and trying new foods in new ways. I didn't find vegan pregnancy hard, probably because I'd already been vegan for eight years when I became pregnant. Many people have asked if I craved meat, and no, I never did.
In my family, after a lot of discussion and soul searching, we decided not to raise our son as vegan but as an ethical omnivore. A big reason for this is that Eric is an omnivorous foodie and I didn't want to deny him the experience of sharing his food joys with his son. That being said, our son's diet is largely plant-based, and we're making a big effort to expose him to nature and explain where food comes from. The dairy and meat he eats is as ethically sourced as possible, but he'll have the cupcake or pizza slice at a birthday party. We're not going overboard on strictness, but we're laying a foundation of awareness. Someday he may choose to be vegan too.
VB: The awareness of where our food comes from has become a political practice in our culture — perhaps it's been politicized to all of our detriment. What do you think is the most important way to practice this awareness, even for omnivores?
CEM: Eat as close to the source as possible. This means whole foods and foods with recognizable ingredients. When I look at a food label, I ask if I know what each thing listed is. If I don't, or if the list is a mile long, I don't buy it. Be informed — if you're wondering what an ingredient is, look it up and see where it comes from and if you're comfortable putting it into your body. Also, do some research into the practices of the companies you buy from. You may be surprised, and your dollar always speaks.
VB: Do you know of effective ways to counter the detrimental parts of that politicization?
CEM: Open dialogue, with the emphasis on education, not judgment.
VB: What are some of your son's favorite vegan foods? What are your favorite things to share with him? What are the things he asks you to make for him on a regular basis?
CEM: He loves pasta, so any pasta and veggie dish is a winner with him. Other favorites: hummus, baba ganoush, and guacamole. I make him buckwheat pancakes, which he really likes and I enjoy because pancakes were one of my favorite foods growing up. And every single morning, very first thing, he asks for a banana. I get him up and changed and then we get his banana and sit down on the living room floor with his stuffed monkeys and have a banana picnic.
VB: You are the last person anyone would describe as militant or a vegan warrior. You mentioned that you think having Bill Clinton in the White House now that he's a vegan could do a lot for veganism's public perception. What would that look like? Can you talk a little about why you think that's important?
CEM: I think of myself as a quiet vegan warrior. In my own life, I hold myself to a very high ethical standard, but personality-wise, I'm a live-and-let-live sort of person. I'll explain my choices and try to set an example by them, but I don't push them off on others. Or maybe I do, but in more subtle ways. [EDITOR'S NOTE: SHE TOTALLY DOES NOT PUSH, THOUGH SHE MIGHT GENTLY PULL A LITTLE.] I've introduced a lot of people to vegan food by taking them to vegan restaurants. I serve vegan snacks (like my cookies) in the writing classes I teach. Our wedding was entirely vegan, and so was our son's first birthday cake. For many guests, those were eye-opening experiences.
I believe that a world that consumes less meat is a kinder, more sustainable place. In the years since I went vegan, I've already seen a shift in a positive direction. It is so much easier to find vegan food now, wherever you are, and there are part-time vegans, Meatless Monday people, those cutting back on meat consumption in general. And while many do this for health reasons (which is great!), there's also an increased awareness of the cruelty of factory farming and the negative effect it has on the planet. Still, vegans are often seen as over-the-top, a little crazy, and there's a misunderstanding of how a diet can be balanced without meat. The number of times I've been asked, "Where do you get your protein?" My answer: SO many places!
As First Gentleman, Bill Clinton would have the opportunity to normalize veganism and educate the U.S. about leading a less meat-centric lifestyle. I'm envisioning something along the lines of Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign. He could go even further, combining this campaign with animal rights. And of course, we could watch his example. How would a vegan First Gentleman change the White House menu? How do the Clintons eat on a daily basis?
VB: Former President Clinton has credited his vegan diet with saving his life, and with changing it. That's certainly an enormous endorsement, and one he's not shy about making in media appearances. What are the ways in which you can say the same?
CEM: Like many women, for a long time I had a difficult relationship with food. I had an eating disorder in high school and relapsed several times in my 20s. Becoming vegan changed that. For me, veganism has its roots in empathy, and that empathy has extended toward myself. I look at food differently now, not as something to battle against but as life-giving, joyful, fun, a way of doing good for others and myself.
VB: You wrote a little bit about vegetarianism in Orion's Daughters. Do you deal with vegetarianism or veganism in the new book? Are there literary depictions of either that you love or hate?
CEM: I don't in the new book. I considered it, and always consider it, but ultimately, it didn't suit my characters. I have to be true to them first, on message second. Some would disagree and say that I'm missing an opportunity to educate. I try to do that in other ways — like this interview, on social media, etc. — and I will in my fiction when it's right for the story.
Honestly, I can't think of a lot of literary depictions of veganism or vegetarianism that I feel strongly about, which says something not just about veganism in literature but the place of food in general in literature. A couple nonfiction books that were influential for me: In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan and Hope's Edge: A New Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe and Anna Lappe.
VB: Being a vegan must impact your perspective in every way. Do you think your food-related practices impact your writing even when you're not explicitly including them in your work?
CEM: Yes, I think so. Being vegan has increased my empathy and sense of interconnectedness, which I'm sure feeds into my work, whether consciously or not.
VB: Do you think you'll ever write more explicitly about food awareness and the cruelties of meat farming? Or related issues?
CEM: At some point, yes, I'd like to make it more central. I tend to write about characters and situations very different from myself and my experience, but these issues are so important to me, personally and politically, that I do want to address them.
VB: Do you snack while you're writing? What are your favorite writing snacks?
CEM: When I write at home, snacking always happens! I eat a lot of hummus with rice crackers and veggies. I also like plain almond milk yogurt with strawberry jam or some raisins stirred in. And there is always tea.
VB: What are some of your other favorite vegan recipes? What makes them so good?
CEM: Those banana chocolate chip muffins from The Joy of Vegan Baking. Other favorites: my grandmother's sugar cookie recipe, veganized; tempeh tacos, which I eyeball every time and are super simple and satisfying, basically just tempeh and veggies simmered with salsa; macaroni and "cheese," based on a recipe from American Vegan Kitchen but which I've made my own over the years and which our son adores.
VB: You've mentioned The Joy of Vegan Baking a few times. What are your other favorite vegan cookbooks?
CEM: Isa Does It and Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, both by Isa Chandra Moskowitz (also, her website Post Punk Kitchen). The Happy Herbivore by Lindsay S. Nixon. Vegan Eats World by Terry Hope Romero. VegNews magazine has lots of delicious stuff, and so does the One Green Planet website.
VB: What's a great dish we can slip to our omnivorous friends to make the vegan case?
CEM: The chickpea chocolate chip cookies are a great introduction! I think baked goods are a good way to seduce non-vegans because 1. who doesn't love baked goods? and 2. the vegan version tastes so similar to the non-vegan version. Other recommendations: the Golden Vanilla Cupcakes or Your Basic Chocolate Cupcake in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.
Victoria Barrett's fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Glimmer Train, Salon, PANK, and other outlets. She lives and writes in a house full of men and boys (even the pets) and tries not to feel too bad about it.