Carnegie Library to host vegan cooking class
by Bradley Hartsell
Newnan Carnegie Library is no stranger to food being a part of its many events, including a “Tuscany at the Table” Italian dinner party held in February.
The Carnegie will expand its programming on Aug. 21 with a vegan cooking class taught by Chef Michael Laidlaw of Newnan’s Good Food Good Fuel. “Everyday Gourmet, The Vegan Way!” will be held at 2:30 p.m. Call the library, 1 LaGrange St. at the Court Square, at 770-683-1347 to reserve a spot.
Laidlaw will have two main jobs at his cooking demonstration. One will be to serve delicious plant-based food to those at the Carnegie Library, and another will be to educate those same people on a vegan diet. Laidlaw admits he’s not there to browbeat anyone with vegan ideologies, but he hopes to explain the health benefits of plant-based diets. After all, he says, more people than not these days seek to eat better but just don’t know where to begin.
“People are familiar with vegetarian, but aren’t quite sure on veganism,” said Laidlaw. “I’ll be sharing some of my favorite plant-based recipes and cooking tips, and answer any questions they may have, and they usually do, about veganism.”
Laidlaw hopes to be a warm welcome to veganism, rather than preach it to everyone around him – even his wife, Tammy, is not a vegan. Laidlaw, beyond veganism, also sees value in helping those who eat meat to incorporate more plant-based foot in their diets strictly for their health, which is something he’s come across often in his profession.
“There might be people at the Carnegie strictly for veganism, but there’s a variety of different people, and some who may still eat meat but are looking to increase their plant-based diet,” said Laidlaw. “I’m not there to wave a magic wand to make everyone vegan, I just try to educate people as best I can, to present some tasty, healthy food. People don’t know where to get started, so I’ll try to teach them good starting points.”
Laidlaw started as a vegetarian 10 years ago and became a vegan nearly five years ago. He says he’s been cooking his whole life, thanks to his mother. But he began professionally as a chef at Whole Foods in Durham, NC.
“I’ve been into cooking pretty much all my life, and my interest in food has always been tied with my interest in nutrition. It’s a creative outlet for myself, too,” Laidlaw said.
When he reconnected with an old college friend seven years ago, Laidlaw says he and that friend – Tammy – hit it off and got married. Tammy lived in Newnan, and because she working with AirTran, she couldn’t transfer, whereas Laidlaw could.
“Love led me to Newnan,” joked Laidlaw.
With the experience he accumulated at Whole Foods, Laidlaw wanted to start his own business. In the two years since starting Good Food Good Fuel, Laidlaw sees it as a way to primarily tell people about the health benefits of a vegan diet. If a person keeps in contact with him and brings up ideology, he’s more than willing to share his philosophy. But to Laidlaw, beyond his personal philosophy, veganism starts with the most important thing – health.
“‘Do you invest in your pantry or your medicine cabinet?’ I always ask people,” said Laidlaw. “Most people who file bankruptcy, file because of medical reasons, not because they bought swampland in Florida. So, the discussion starts as a health discussion.”
Laidlaw has gotten his wife to increase her health food intake by cutting beef, pork and chicken. The two have a 4-year-old daughter who has been vegan from the day she was born, while Laidlow’s stepson, Donovan, continues to ask questions and increase his awareness about veganism. In fact, Donovan took to veganism for his track and cross country seasons at Northgate High School because, according to Laidlaw, it would make him a better athlete.
Between having a 4-year-old vegan daughter and a vegan-curious stepson, Laidlaw is getting experience in his personal life he can employ often in his professional life. He knows there are vegans in Coweta County, but there are even more local people curious about eating healthily but just can’t grasp what it means for their diet. Laidlaw sees it as a place where he can educate.
“Most people you talk to you’ll hear, ‘I was vegan for a while but it didn’t stick.’ I usually find it’s because they don’t do it right,” he said. “People want to eat healthy but they just don’t know how to start it. Most people eat the same six or seven things every week. What I try to do is give people different recipes and food items to insert into that rotating list of foods
“One of my favorites is serving cauliflower steaks. They’re very easy, four or five ingredients, and they can be used as a main dish or an appetizer if you’re hosting a party. Educating people and giving them options is the main thing.”
CARROT CASHEW SPREAD
• 3 carrots, chopped
• 1 cup raw cashew pieces, divided
• 15 dried apricots, quartered (about 1/2 cup)
Put carrots into a small pot and cover by 2 inches with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes. Add 3/4 cup cashews and apricots, cover and continue to simmer until carrots are very soft, 5 to 7 minutes more; reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water, and then drain well.
Transfer carrot mixture and reserved water to a food processor and purée until smooth. Chill for at least one hour, and then spread onto crackers, garnish with remaining cashews and serve. This spread is also delicious for breakfast or a snack on toasted slices of whole grain bread. Also makes a great pie filling.
CUCUMBER CUPS WITH ROASTED RED PEPPER CREAM
The dish is edible when you use cucumbers as the dish for this cream.
• 4 ounces extra-firm silken tofu
• 2 green onions, chopped
• 1 roasted red pepper (water packed), drained and chopped
• 1 cup cooked no-salt-added white beans, rinsed and drained
• 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Cucumbers, striped and cut into 1 ½ inch slices then scooped out with melon baller. (Save scooped out cucumber pieces for a salad or eat with cream on top.)
Purée tofu, green onions, red pepper, beans and mustard in a food processor until smooth; cover and chill for one hour. You can make the red pepper cream a day or two in advance, stir well and assemble just before serving. After placing cream in cucumbers top with black olives, black lentils or capers.
For more information, visit Laidlaw's website: http://www.goodfoodgoodfuel.com