Neman: How I came to love vegan baked goods | Food and cooking

Neman: How I came to love vegan baked goods | Food and cooking

He slithered his way around a chair, proffering a cookie as if it were an apple.

“Try it,” he hissed. “Try it, and you will gain knowledge.”

And so the photographer reached out with his thin snake’s arm and handed me a cookie that was made without butter. It was a vegan cookie.

“Try it,” he said again, flicking out his tongue to taste the air. “It’s surprisingly good.”

I have nothing against vegans personally, sometimes. In fact, the cookie in question had been brought to the newsroom as part of a farewell party for a photographer intern who was himself a vegan and was a perfectly nice fellow.

I missed the party, but circumstances required that I make a brief visit to the office the next day. On a table were a few leftovers from the party, including the last two vegan cookies and a bag of Oreos.

I decided against the Oreos. I know what they taste like. I love them, of course, but I really don’t need the extra calories these days. And I was successfully listening to the angel on my shoulder about the vegan cookies until I talked to the photographer. He made them seem so … tempting.

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At this point, I should probably state for the sake of accuracy that the scene did not play out exactly as I am writing it. I took a leftover cookie from a local baker’s box. A minute later, a photographer mentioned that the as-yet-uneaten cookie was vegan, and that it was surprisingly good.

Truth, I’m sorry to say, is duller than fiction.

I bit into the cookie, and it was excellent. It was as good as any cookie made with butter, and better than most.

My world was rocked. Everything was topsy-turvy. Black became white, day became night and the guys that women prize were just silly gigolos.

It had been perhaps the only incontrovertible rule in my life that cookies were not worth eating if they were not made with butter. They were not even fit to be called cookies.

But this cookie, which came from Aria’s Cookies and Confections in Edwardsville, has turned my flimsy world on its head. (I hope to profile 17-year-old Aria herself in the very near future.) According to the company website, the cookies are made with vegan butter and almond milk.

Vegan butter has apparently progressed remarkably since the days of margarine, although the idea is the same. Both are made from vegetable oil (margarine can also technically be made from animal fat) mixed with water.

Vegan butter is also made from vegetable oil mixed with water, but as I understand it, the oils used (avocado, palm kernel or coconut, for example) are fancier, or at least more flavorful, than the ones used for margarine (corn, cottonseed, soy).

And almond milk is a relatively new ingredient, if you consider the 13th century relatively new. But it only became widely available in the last several years — and I have been avoiding vegan food throughout most of those.

Obviously, many — if not most — foods are naturally vegan. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich is vegan. A falafel is vegan. A baked potato is vegan, if you don’t put anything good on it.

What I have been largely avoiding have been vegan versions of non-vegan foods. Vegan milkshakes. Impossible burgers. And, of course, vegan chocolate-chip cookies.

But now, I have been to the mountaintop. I have seen the Promised Land. Vegan cookies are in my future.

But not the one I ate at the office. Most of that one broke off in my hand and fell to the floor.

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