I grew up on a cattle and pig farm in Woodbury County.
We had meat at every lunch and dinner and sometimes for breakfast. I was in 4-H and showed pigs at the Woodbury County Fair. At the end of the fair, the pigs were sent to slaughter.
My dad mostly raised feeder cattle, meaning he bought them after they were taken from their mothers on a different farm and brought to ours. They would bawl for their mamas when they arrived.
I watched as the calves grew into cattle and were eventually sent to slaughter. While I felt sad when I saw my 4-H pigs (who I loved) and the cattle head for slaughter, this was a way of life for us.
I really didn’t think about how my choices could be different until many years after I left home for Iowa City to go to college and where I stayed after I graduated. I knew from a young age that I loved animals, especially cats, and I was heartbroken whenever I saw any animal suffering. I knew that farm animals have loving relationships with other animals, love their babies, have unique personalities, and feel pain.
Still, I continued to eat meat.
When I became more involved in animal rescue, including volunteering at a shelter for cats with special needs, I began to understand that I could no longer love and cherish some animals while eating others. I became a vegetarian.
I was aware that I was being hypocritical by continuing to eat dairy and eggs, since chickens and dairy cows are subjected to the same cruelty as animals raised for meat consumption, but I wasn’t ready to give them up. Finally, a few years after I gave up meat, I stopped eating dairy and eggs as well.
The hardest part about becoming vegan wasn’t giving up cheese, as it is for many people; rather, it was giving up baking as I knew it. I grew up baking with my mom. We had traditions that were important to me, such as baking rhubarb cake and chocolate zucchini cake in the summer, cutout cookies and peanut blossom cookies at Christmastime, brownies to share at potlucks or to take on family vacations, and preparing my grandma’s no-bake cookie recipe, which was a family favorite.
In my first year of 4-H, my mom and I spent the summer trying various chocolate chip cookie recipes in an attempt to find the perfect one for me to take to the fair. Those cookies earned me a blue ribbon.
These traditions are especially important to me since my mom died from cancer shortly after I graduated from high school. I have her recipes, some of them handwritten, and baking these recipes helps me feel closer to her.
When I became a vegan, I started searching for vegan recipes for some of my favorite baked goods, and the first recipe I looked for was one for chocolate chip cookies. I was so happy when the first one I tried was yummy.
I continued to look for good vegan baking recipes and was excited when I found the website Nora Cooks (https://www.noracooks.com/). She has become my favorite vegan blogger, and I have prepared many of her recipes for cookies, cakes, bars and frosting.
I was also thrilled when I found Country Crock Plant Butter. It comes in sticks and is an easy and delicious substitute for butter in baking.
As I found more delicious vegan recipes, I realized that I don’t have to give up my family baking traditions just because I am vegan. I can still make cutout cookies and peanut blossoms at Christmas, brownies and no-bake cookies to share with friends and family.
I have carried on these traditions with my own daughter, and we have made new traditions, such as baking and decorating cutout sugar cookies for Valentine’s Day and the Fourth of July. I put the frosting on, and she does the sprinkles.
Vegan baking has become one of my passions. I love to bake for family and friends, and it is a way to relax after a stressful day. I am so happy that vegan baking is not only fun and delicious, but it is also cruelty-free.
I prefer to find vegan recipes rather than make them up myself, but I did decide to try veganizing my mom’s rhubarb cake, and it came out well. I prepare it by using plant-based butter and a flax “egg.”
I enjoy sharing this cake with family and friends. It brings back fond memories of baking with my mom, especially the sound of chopping rhubarb. I don’t have a garden full of rhubarb like we did when I was growing up, but this time of the year and throughout summer, rhubarb is available in most grocery stores and farmer’s markets.
This cake is very moist, as is true for most cake recipes prepared with fruit. It was our favorite rhubarb treat when we were growing up. It’s a delicious offering for a picnic or potluck.
Rhubarb Cake by Nancy Holcomb
For the cake:
- ½C vegan butter
- 1½ C sugar
- 1 flax “egg” (1 tablespoon of ground flax seed mixed with 3 tablespoons water; let it sit for a few minutes to thicken)
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- ½ tsp. salt
- 2 C plus 2 Tbsp. flour
- 1 C sour milk (1 C plant-based milk mixed with 1 Tbsp. Vinegar)
- 3 C chopped rhubarb
- Brown C brown sugar
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cream the vegan butter and sugar until well combined, using stand or hand mixer. Add the flax egg and mix until combined. Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the sour milk. Mix just until combined; do not over mix. Stir in the rhubarb.
3. Pour into an oiled and floured 9×13 ”pan. Mix the brown sugar with the cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over the cake. Bake for 35-45 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Chocolate No-Bake Cookies
(Adapted from “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Vegan Baking” by Donna Diegel)
My most requested recipe is my no-bake cookies. Even though this isn’t my grandma’s recipe, I think of her every time I make them. I still have her handwritten no-bake cookie recipe, which I will always treasure, and I am grateful that she introduced me to the magic of these cookies. They are a delicious combination of chocolate, peanut butter, nuts and coconut that you will find hard to resist. Beware, you will not be able to eat just one, two or even three!
- 2 C sugar
- 4 Tbsp. cocoa powder
- ½ C vegan butter or coconut oil (I use coconut oil)
- SoC soy milk or other plant-based milk
- Pinch of salt
- SmoothC smooth or chunky peanut butter
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 3 C rolled oats
- Chop C chopped walnuts
- ¾C shredded coconut
1. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. In large saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar, cocoa powder, butter or coconut oil, plant milk and salt. Bring to a boil. Boil for 30 seconds; then remove pan from the heat.
2. Using a large wooden spoon or spatula, add the peanut butter and vanilla; mix well. Add the rolled oats, chopped walnuts and shredded coconut, and stir well. Allow cookie mixture to cool slightly.
3. Using a cookie scoop or spoon, place the warm cookie dough on prepared baking sheets. Press down slightly with your fingers to make a flat cookie. (I put them in the freezer to cool and firm up, but it’s not necessary.)
These cookies can be stored in the freezer or at room temperature in airtight containers or Ziploc bags. I prefer to store them in the freezer, because when they are stored at room temperature, they are a bit crumbly. When you are ready to eat or share them, they do fine at room temperature. I frequently take these cookies to bake sales, potlucks, and to treat my friends and co-workers.
Amy Holcomb lives in North Liberty and works as a supported community living counselor at Goodwill of the Heartland. She shares her home with her dog Fluffy and several cats. She volunteers for the Johnson County Humane Society, the Iowa Humane Alliance and the Iowa Farm Sanctuary.
For questions or comments regarding the Vegan Community of Eastern Iowa, email [email protected] or visit www.veganeasterniowa.org. Everyone is welcome to join the VCEI on Facebook and MeetUp