Hi, I’m Ellen Vaagen
After experimenting with vegetarianism as a child, I stopped eating meat altogether at age 17 because I was “sensitive” to the torture and slaughter inherent in flesh consumption. At age 19, after watching the documentary “Earthlings” for extra credit in a college sociology course “Animals and Society,” I, feeling both buoyed and overwhelmed by my newfound knowledge, decided to transition to a vegan lifestyle. It was a difficult change because, as you may know, cheese seems to be the main ingredient in most “vegetarian” dishes and eggs and dairy are abound in most baked goods. And back in 2008, vegan options at Midwestern restaurants were basically non-existent.
Wary as she was, my sweet mother, Patsy, intervened and insisted I must learn how to cook for myself if I was going to eat a plant-based diet and she started buying me cookbooks. I, who had never cooked much before and had the palate of an 8th grade Scandinavian french-fries ONLY eater, had to learn the magic ways of vegan cooking via trial and error. Early inspiration came from geniuses Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero in their book Veganomicon, Donna Klein’s cookbooks, Student’s Go Vegan Cookbook by Carole Raymond, and many more to follow. After slogging through recipe after recipe and learning from my mistakes, I finally developed my saucy skills.
Firmly vested in my lifestyle choice, I hit the road to investigate plant-based diets around the world. I was lucky enough to study abroad in India which, for religious reasons, is predominantly vegetarian. I took cooking classes from a sassy woman named Dolly who taught me the basics of Indian cuisine and helped me learn to make vegan substitutions for dairy in classic dishes. During this time I was residing with a host family with two daughters, Nidhi and Puja, who were happy to have me help them prepare dinner every night. It was at this time I learned about the virtues of the pressure cooker and how to make roti from scratch and sabzi (vegetable curry) out of pretty much anything. Read more about my experience in India here: http://ellen-visionsofindia.blogspot.com/
My next culinary adventure took me south of the border to our lovely neighbor country Mexico! After struggling through year after year of seemingly endless winters in Duluth, MN, I decided to skip a winter. I wound up in the small, colonial city of San Cristobal de las Casas nestled in the Central Highlands of Chiapas. While there I volunteered as a vegan chef in a vegetarian restaurant La Casa del Pan (The House of Bread). The owner of La Casa del Pan wanted to veganize their menu and I quickly acquired the duty of making the vegan main entree for the daily lunch buffet. It was a sweet gig as I was able to be as creative as I wanted with an abundance of vegetables from a never ending growing season. It was a challenge, however, to learn the ropes in the kitchen with a palpable language barrier. Armed with personalized Spanish lessons and a strong desire to communicate, I wound up making great food, great friends, and learning some real life lessons. My travel bug is alive and well and I’d like to extend my list of culinary travel destinations to Thailand, China, Japan, London, Indonesia, etc.
I hope to use Vaagen’s Vegan Sauce as a platform to share my passion for spicy, sassy vegan food with the world. I will be posting about my culinary experiments, successes, failures, and inspirations. I also plan to do some vegan product and restaurant reviews on “The Dish” alongside my social commentary and journalistic inquiries. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions, desires to attend a class, host a private dinner party, or to make me your personal vegan chef (wink wink). Vaagen’s Vegan Sauce also hopes to move toward catering your special events, and maybe even creating a Vending Van.
Thank you for joining us in the plant-based revolution! The planet and your body will start thanking your right away!