Thursday, February 3, 2011

Vegan flapjacks

Some mornings I feel as if age has no meaning. Other mornings, I wake up and feel every month, hour, and second of my thirty-six years. Sometimes the thirty-six-ness is concentrated in certain body parts (in this morning, my right shoulder). Other times my sense of is more diffuse, and is experienced a general stiffness—or just a sense that life is short and I should be doing more with my existence.

However, while some days I feel old, I do know that I have never felt as old, as I did when I was twelve. I’ve written before about that annus horribles. I remember feeling as if my survival depended upon getting out of New Jersey as soon as possible. Thus, I concocted a plan to become a child actress, given that I would no longer have to go to school and just have a private tutor who would obviously let me do what I wanted—read entertainment biographies and write poetry—until I became sixteen and could quit school entirely.

I have to say that my mother was actually pretty sensible about my plan. Instead of reacting with horror, she suggested I try out for some local theater productions. Twelve to thirteen is a rather difficult age for a child actress, unless you’re particularly winsome and cute ( I was neither). However, fortune smiled upon my stage dreams, and a local dinner theater put out an open call for its dramatic production of Wait Until Dark.

Wait Until Dark, famously made into a film starring Audrey Hepburn, is about a blind woman who is terrorized by a gang of thugs, over which she ultimately triumphs by breaking all of the lights in the house, giving herself an advantage over their nefarious schemes. She makes her disability into a weapon and looks fabulous doing it, because she is Audrey Hepburn!

A secondary character is a mouthy, obnoxious girl named Gloria who first torments the blind heroine by rearranging the furniture, but eventually helps her defeat the evildoers. Gloria is a slightly tubby, awkward, bespectacled girl with few friends and an Attitude.

Please don’t think I’m being overly self-aggrandizing, dear readers, but let me assure you that in middle school, I was born to play Gloria.

Most dinner theaters cater to little old ladies and serve cake during intermission, but this dinner theater was in a Japanese restaurant called the Kobe, in a rather sleazy strip mall. The club was noted for its elaborate and incredibly strong tropical drinks and excellent sushi. Of course, my mother was always there during the rehearsals, but as I was the only child amongst adults in what was effectively a dive bar, the experience convinced me even more that I was very worldly and knowing.

“I take my coffee black,” I’d say as we sat in the green room at 10pm, bolstering ourselves with caffeine as we suffered through yet another run-through of the play.

The cast members were very nice to me—I remember one man was one of twelve children and had many interesting stories to tell about life in a large family that were nothing like Cheaper by the Dozen. Another man taught me how to use chopsticks to eat rice. But there was one night I distinctly recall that still surprises me.

I forget how the subject of vegetarianism came up—I was a vegetarian when I was twelve—it must have been when we were eating dinner. When they asked me why, I explained to them how much I was opposed to the cruel and inhumane conditions animals raised for food.

The guy who was playing the villain was aghast. “That’s not true,” he said. He was a bit of a Southern New Jersey cowboy type. “They’re treated just fine. Cows aren’t penned up. They run free until slaughter.”

“No, they’re fattened in feed lots,” I said. “And what about veal?”

The rest of the cast turned on me, pointing out the usual arguments about how animals eat other animals and blahblahblah.

What shocks me, looking back is that you must understand that I was TWELVE at the time. The venom that was directed against me by ever single member of the production astonishes me in retrospect.

I mean, there I was, feeling oh-so-sophisticated, wearing a sweatshirt that depicted a cartoon rabbit wearing roller skates. There was a friggin’ rainbow in the background of my puffy paint rabbit sweatshirt because it was still the 80s. My hair was in braids. I wore thick glasses. Surely the appropriate response, even if you are a devout meat-eater is: “Look, she's probably going through a phase and at least she’s not crushing on Ricky Schroder from Silver Spoons.” Yes, I thought I knew everything at the time, but isn’t that as much a symptom of being in middle school as acne?

Having been involved in the food Internet scene longer than I’d care to say, it still amazes me, even as a decidedly non-devout ‘pro-sustainability/meat reduction’ type of vegetarian, the venom that the topic can stir up, rather than reasoned disagreement.

While the cast and I never quite ‘made up’ about the topic the next day one member was reading a magazine with an ad from PETA, featuring a baleful looking cow in a veal pen. As a kind of apology, he put it up the advertisement in the green room, and there the photograph remained, watching the cast do the things that middle-aged actors do backstage—strip half-naked to squeeze into costumes behind sofas that smell like cats, tell inappropriate jokes, and complain about their weight.

I’ve written about this easy British oat cookie before, when making a version of it from Bon Appetit. If you need to make a vegan treat quickly, this is the perfect solution. The following is my recipe (approved of and requested, even by my Greek meat-eating family). Flapjacks can be made with either butter or a vegan buttery spread (like Earth Balance). Oddly enough, my British friends have always said to me that flapjacks are much better when made with margarine, and in a side-by-side comparison, I did find the vegan version to be slightly better.

Note: I know that Lyle’s Golden Syrup is rather an unusual ingredient in the United States, but it is available at most supermarkets in the baking section, and it has a wonderful flavor that is rather essential to the taste of a ‘real, proper’ British flapjack. This is after all, a four ingredient recipe, though you are of course free to substitute. For vegans, acquiring a jar of Lyle’s is particularly worthwhile, because it makes a great stand-in for honey.

Vegan British Flapjacks
The vegan kind made with Earth Balance is on the left. Right is non-vegan, with butter.


1 stick of Earth Balance or regular butter
1/2 cup of organic brown sugar (make sure it’s not filtered with bone char if you’re serving it to vegetarians or vegans)
1/4 cup Lyle’s Golden Syrup
2 cups quick-cooking oats
Earth Balance sticks are shorter but fatter than regular sticks of butter.  Don't be freaked out!

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a 9 inch round cake plate with parchment paper.
2. Melt the butter in a saucepan, stirring in the sugar and syrup. When the mixture is smooth, stir in the oats. Remove from the heat.
3. Pour the oat mixture into the saucepan. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, until the mixture begins to bubble. Remove from the heat, and allow to cool for 5 to 10 minutes.
4. ‘Score’ into 8-12 triangles. Mixture will still be soft. Wait several more hours (preferably overnight) and then cut and serve.
Easy, and full of crispy, oat-y deliciousness, regardless of what kind of butter you use!


  1. Anything with Lyle's Golden Syrup and I'm sold. :)

  2. @Peabody--yay! Glad to see you at my blog! I agree--it's strangely wonderful stuff!