Dining With the Ravens

Every single time I go see my family doctor she has a time out to discuss a vegan/plant-based diet. She's kind of obsessed. And every time I'm all like but what about cheese? And every time she's all like but what about your health? And I'm like but what about cheeeeeeeese????

On the one hand I feel like becoming a vegan shouldn't be that difficult. After all there are plenty of cultures that don't eat dairy at all and only eat meat rarely. There should be loads of recipes out there for delicious, delicious plant based meals. Unfortunately when I start looking I always end up finding all these recipes that call for seitan (made from wheat), tempeh, tofu or other types of soybean-based ingredients. I personally cannot tolerate any type of fermented food and I'm not supposed to eat soy because of my ridiculous propensity to develop blood clots. I don't want meat substitutes. I just want delicious plant-based food.

Anyway what all this is leading up to is that I'm always excited to find a recipe book that includes plant-based meals that eschew processed meat alternatives. So when I was offered the opportunity to get an e-ARC from Net Galley for a vegan cookbook called Dining With the Ravens I was quite excited. But when I started looking through it my spirits sank. The recipes looked so complicated. And they call for equipment that I just don't have. On the other hand they look amazing. What a quandary.

Dining at the Ravens features 150 vegan recipes from the Stanford Inn, a world-class resort in California. One of the only, or perhaps even the only, vegan resorts around, the Inn features a restaurant called the Ravens. The menus change constantly to reflect the produce available in the resort's substantial, organic garden. Using sustainable methods, the Inn raises the majority of their food, sourcing the rest of it from ethical, organic, sustainable sources.

So what does that all mean? It means that the food is made from the freshest of ingredients. Which also means that it's about as tasty as food can be. Eating at the Ravens is a somewhat expensive experience, with reviewers stating that meals run in the $30 to $60 range. But for you to recreate them on your own will be significantly less expensive, presuming that you have the proper kitchen implements. The authors strongly suggest you have a Vitamix or a Blendtec so you can prepare things like cashew crème, which is an ingredient in quite a few of the recipes. (There is a “Tips for Cooking Success” section of the cookbook that discusses this.)

Like most cookbooks the book is divided up into types of meals. Desserts, breakfasts (called morning foods), breads and baked goods, sauces, dips and spreads, appetizers and sides, salads and dressings, soups, entrees etc. But there are also some foods sort of hidden away where you wouldn't expect to find them, for instance the Mexican rice and refried pinto beans, two staples for some of my favorite meals. These are not found under side dishes or entrees; instead they are listed under pantry basics.

You can find a couple of sample recipes at the Green Vegan Living site; one for Potato Leek Soup with Drunken Leeks and one for Sour Creme, which I imagine would come in handy for many a dish not in this book, especially if you are an omnivore trying to cut back on cholesterol, etc. http://www.greenveganliving.com/2016/02/dining-at-ravens-cookbook-review...

The text is a bit repetitious but maybe they didn't expect anyone to read every word of the text? There's quite a bit about the philosophy behind the resort, the reasons the owners became vegan, thoughts behind the importance of sustainability in organic farming. This is where the repetition comes in. But you can always skip the parts that you already know.

If you are even thinking about trying vegan cuisine, give this book a shot. If nothing else it will expand your notion of what is available. And the pictures are pretty. Be sure to give the crabless crab cakes a try, especially if you, like me, are allergic to shellfish.

One last thought regarding the Inn; the owners carry their animal friendly philosophy throughout the resort, which means you can find plenty of animals on site, including donkeys and llamas. But that's not all; they also welcome your pets with open arms. In fact you can ask to have your meals served in the lobby so your furry, feathered or scaly friends can sit with you while you eat. More info about the pet policies can be found here: http://www.stanfordinn.com/mendocino-bed-breakfast-hotel-lodging-rooms/p...

Bonus Treat:
This week's bonus treat is only good for this week. Longtime readers of this column know that I am a big fan of writer Joe Hill. The title story of his collection 20th Century Ghosts is available for free this week. In addition it comes with an excerpt from his brand new book which will be out in May called The Fireman. You can find it here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B001QIGZQS/