Notes from a Virgin Vegan, Part Four: What’s next?

I have come to my last installment in my four-part series on learning how to cook vegan dishes. For my final lesson, Vicki Chelf, local vegan chef and author of the book Vicki’s Vegan Kitchen:  Learning to Cook with Sanity, Compassion, and Taste visited my kitchen. She basically approved of the set-up but suggested eliminating some of the clutter. This led me to ponder: Why do kitchens become repositories for mail? (But then I realized I had improved dramatically from my first apartment in Manhattan, where I used one of my kitchen drawers to store my socks!)

The menu for my last lesson was black beans and rice, sauteed spinach and homemade salsa.  Oh, the simple pleasures of freshly-cooked food!  We used my brand new pressure cooker, which my husband researched and purchased last week. Vicki recommended the Presto model, as you may recall, but my husband went off the reservation and decided to try a new brand from Spain called Magefesa. He perused the vegan websites and discovered that this one met with the most favorable reviews. I was concerned, but Vicki liked it so much that she vowed to buy one herself.  Bravo, Mike! He also raved about our meal to all of his friends on Facebook. Success all around!

After my month-long staycation in my own kitchen, I’m not sure I’m quite ready to throw a dinner party — but I do feel my cooking skills have improved. I feel more at ease with the all-important knife skills as I cut and chop vegetables. I’m more comfortable reviewing recipes and more fluid with my menu choices. As I prepare to continue cooking on my own, Vicki gave me some fantastic parting advice before she heads up north for a book tour. She suggested that I ought to “cook with my nose.”  She also said that when you are cooking, you must look at the food itself, “not at your watch and not at the recipe.”

I thought this was brilliant and empowering. Basically, you have to use your intuition when you are cooking and release yourself from external influences. For me, the takeaway from Vicki’s cooking lessons is that we should follow our own internal monitor when making decisions and not be forced to live by someone else’s recipe book. Cookbooks are a great start, but they can only take you so far. You must use them to follow your own path in the kitchen and in life. And after all, isn’t vegan cooking all about making a positive life choice?

Vicki and I are exploring continuing our journey together with a national publication. I’m envisioning a vegan version of the 2009 film Julie and Julia, where I learn from the master and improve my health and the health of my family in the process, instead of tirelessly cooking heavy dishes such as souffles and aspic as Julie Powell did while following Julia Child’s recipes. I also plan to keep ThisWeekInSarasota readers updated on my progress in the kitchen. For those who want to work with Vicki, you can contact her on Facebook or at to arrange private or group cooking lessons. I’d love to get a group together to cook with Vicki, enjoy our prepared lunch and connect with other healthy eaters. Feel free to get in touch with either of us, if you are interested! 

Here are a few of Vicki’s favorite local establishments:

Mi Pueblowhich serves organic and raw food in addition to regular menu items (particularly good for families with divergent tastes).

Vega vegetarian and seafood restaurant in Gulfgate.

Simon’s Coffee Housewhich offers vegan, vegetarian, and raw dishes.

Sahara Cafe and Mediterraneanwhere you can order “the Vicki,” a vegetarian sampler plate.

Chutney’swhich offers Indian food with some vegetarian choices.

My Mother’s Gardena local, certified organic grower that has a stand at the downtown Sarasota Farmer’s Market.

Peter Burkhard’s standalso at the Sarasota Farmer’s Market.

Worden Farma nationally-recognized organic farm run by a husband and wife who each hold a doctorate (in crop science and ecosystem management, respectively) in Punta Gorda.

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