Welcome to “The Best Vegan Thing I Ever Ate”! This monthly feature on GirlieGirl Army is inspired by a show on the Food Network where “famous” chefs are interviewed about their favorite foods, including where to get it and in some cases, how to make it. In this feature, Kathryn Hostettler will be interviewing awesome and influential vegans each month about their absolute favorite vegan dishes.
The minute I heard my first love story, I started looking for you, not knowing how blind that was. Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere, they’re in each other all along. – Rumi
Valentine’s Day is over and done, but I continue to be softened by the story of Annie and Dan Shannon, vegan sweethearts, animal activists, and the mastermind’s behind Meet the Shannons. Inspired by Julie Powell (of Julia & Julia fame) and the quintessential home cook, Betty Crocker, the Shannons have set out to veganize every last recipe in The Betty Crocker Cookbook. I spoke with them recently about their love for vegan food and of course, for each other.
KH: Tell me how you became vegan.
TS: We both went vegan in high school for basically the same reason. We hate bullies and we didn’t want to support cruelty like animal testing and factory farming. Dan used to go to a lot of punk-rock shows in Boston, and first got exposed to animal rights by some local folks who used to pass out leaflets outside of shows. Annie used to skateboard on a college campus, and met her first vegans that way. For both of us, after we learned about the cruelties of factory farming, which was all we needed to know! We were both completely vegan by the time we hit college and never looked back.
KH: How did you meet and what is your vegan love story?
TS: We met when we were both campaigners for PeTA. Annie used to work on the Ringling Brothers campaign, and Dan worked on the KFC campaign and on other factory farming issues. On Annie’s first day on the job, they sat her down at the empty desk next to Dan’s. Some people think it was love at first sight because we bickered pretty much from the second we met and somewhere in all that witty banter we became best friends. Like any great love story, it only took us years to realize that everyone around was right. This was love and we are the luckiest people in the world to have found each other. On the blog we describe our love story as the definition of an epic romance filled with the witty banter of a Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy romantic comedy, the passion, drama and stubbornness of a Shakespearean courtship, the nail-biting anticipation and undeniable chemistry of Mulder and Scully and of course, two spoiled kittens. Yeah that’s about it.
Annie and Dan Shannon on their wedding day
KH: How did you get the idea to veganize the Betty Crocker Cookbook? What was your inspiration?
TS: The Betty Crocker brand has a well deserved reputation as being the very best at teaching American amateur chefs how to use products and ingredients to their full potential. When we were putting together this project, we really wanted to help people see how easy it is to be vegan, and that you really can make anything vegan once you know the tricks. I do have to admit that the little girl in me who still worships Laverne & Shirley is enchanted by everything Betty. This project not only encourages me to make some outrageous casseroles and use all these crazy kitchen gadgets, but also gives us an opportunity to share with other people how easy a vegan lifestyle can be. The inspiration for the blog started as what we now describe as an angry fit that started while Annie was watching the Lobster Killer scene in the movie Julie and Julia. It was a really hard thing to watch because up until that moment she liked Julie Powell. I mean Julie wasn’t vegan but Annie could relate to not being happy with where she was in her career and her frustrations with where she lived. This movie celebrates finishing what you start and that’s a great thing but when it comes at the cost of overcoming your conscience, well that’s not a good thing. So we wanted to start our own project about finishing what you start and finding yourself through food and cooking that everyone – even the lobsters – could enjoy.
KH: This looks like a lot of work! Do you have day jobs? Do you sleep?
TS: We both work in the animal rights movement and anyone who’s chosen that career knows it is something that becomes more of a lifestyle than a 9 to 5 gig. Dan is the Director of Youth Outreach and Campaigns at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and Annie is the Manager of Online Communications and Development for In Defense of Animals. We try to cook every night and write the posts before work in the morning (hence all the typos – especially since Annie gave up coffee). There is some sleeping in there but not nearly enough!
KH: You are throwing a fantasy dinner party. Who is invited and what are you cooking?
TS: When we first sat down to answer these questions we had this pretty impressive list of intellectuals and great authors of American Literature but after some thought we had to edit because let’s be honest as much fun as that dinner conversation would be, this one would better. We could list why we would invite them but really I think once you see the list you’ll agree it needs no explanation. This is a party!
The Guest List: Charles Barkley, Bob Dylan, Bill Murray, Oscar Wilde, Julia Child, Fabio Viviani , Angelina Jolie, and Dorothy Parker.
KH: What’s the Best VEGAN Thing You have Ever Eaten and Why?
TS: Dan is in love with Vegan Chicken Pot Pie. Annie’s favorite changes every day. Today it is either White Chili or Vegan Beignets.
KH: It’s almost Valentine’s Day. How are you celebrating?
TS: Last year, Dan surprised Annie with mixed berry pancakes with raspberry sauce, a box of chocolate and a dozen red roses. It was lovely. Dan has informed Annie that this year’s Valentine’s Day will be a surprise. We can give you a hint. Keep an eye out for some red velvet something on the blog.
KH: Sounds exciting! We can’t wait!
Reprinted below is my suggestion for the perfect Valentine’s Day dessert, their veganized New York Cheesecake.
New York Cheesecake (or Pleasecake – there’s no cheese in there!)
- 1 Cup Flour (don’t use self rising flour for this recipe)
- 1/2 Cup Margarine
- 1/4 Sugar
- 1 Tablespoon Applesauce
- 5 Packages vegan cream cheese (softened)
- 1 3/4 Cup Sugar
- 3 Tablespoons Flour (don’t use self rising flour for this recipe either)
- 1 Tablespoon Orange Peel (grated)
- 1 Tablespoon Lemon Peel (grated)
- 1/4 Teaspoon Salt
- 4 Tablespoon Applesauce
- 2 Tablespoon EnerG Egg Replacer
- 1/2 Cup vegan sour cream
- Vegetable Shortening to grease the Springform Pan
Heat oven to 400. Lightly grease 9-inch springforn pan with vegetable shortening. In a bowl, mix the Crust Ingredients with a fork until dough forms; gather into a ball. Betty says press 1/3 of the Dough evenly on the bottom of the pan. I ended up using 1/2 of the dough. Place on a cookie sheet. Bake for 5-6 minutes or until light golden brown; cool. Assemble bottom and side of the pan; secure side. Press remaining dough 2 inches up side of the pan. Heat oven to 475. In a bowl, beat Vegan Cream Cheese, 1 3/4 Cups Sugar, 3 Tablespoons Flour, Orange Peel, Lemon Peel and Salt with an electric mixer on medium speed for about 1 minute or until smooth. Beat in Applesauce, Egg Replacer and Vegan Sour Cream on a low speed until well blended. Bake 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 200. Bake for an additional 1 hour – no longer. Cheesecake may not appear done, but if a small area in the center seems soft it will become solid when it cools. Don’t do the toothpick/bamboo skewer test. Turn off oven, leave Cheesecake in the oven 30 minutes longer. Remove from oven and cool in a pan on a wire rack away from drafts 30 minutes. Without releasing or removing side of the pan, run a metal spatula or a butter knife carefully along the side of the Cheesecake to loosen. Refrigerate uncovered overnight at least 9 hours but no longer than 48. Run metal spatula or butter knife carefully around the side of the Cheesecake to loosen again. Remove the side of the pan. Leave the Cheesecake on the bottom to serve. Top with Betty’s Raspberry Sauce.
Betty’s Raspberry Sauce
- 3 Tablespoons Sugar
- 2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
- 1/3 Cup Water
- 1 Teaspoon Lemon Juice (this isn’t in Betty’s recipe, but I would recommend it to brighten the raspberries)
- 1 1/2 Cups Frozen Raspberries (defrosted and undrained)
In a saucepan, mix Sugar and Cornstarch. Stir in water and raspberries. Cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir for 1 minute. Cool and pour over sliced cheesecake. Great on lots of other desserts too!
Kathryn Hostettler is a social work graduate student, pet nanny, animal advocate, and a little bit less of a cynic after this interview. She volunteers for Rogers’ Rescues, a virtual dog rescue group located in NJ and PA.