Photos: JSquared Photography
Most actors hope to have even a single successful series to their credit, but Mayim Bialik can boast two, albeit 15 years apart. The one-time “Blossom” moppet is now in the ensemble cast of the hit CBS sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” with one SAG award and two Emmy nominations to her credit. The divorced mother of two sons, who holds a doctorate in neuroscience from UCLA, is also longtime vegan who has written a new book about raising a family on a healthy plant-based diet.
“Mayim’s Vegan Table,” co-authored with pediatrician and childhood nutrition expert Dr. Jay Gordon, also a vegan, contains more than 100 recipes for full meals, desserts and snacks, using plant products and easily obtainable substitutes for dairy, eggs and meat. In the book, Bialik includes nutritional information, tips for stocking a vegan kitchen, and compelling health, environmental and ethical reasons for going vegan, plus lots of mouth-watering photographs. She talked about the book at an appearance at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books’ L.A. Times Stage.
Bialik was inspired to write it by the response to her blog posts about cooking and vegan lifestyle at Kveller. “There was interest from the readership to publish my recipes, the ones I most frequently make for the non-vegans in my life, things they ask for more of and say, ‘Are you sure this is vegan?’ Recipes I’ve fooled my parents with.”
Explaining what sets the book apart from other vegan cookbooks, Bialik emphasized that she’s a “regular mom” and “not a fancy celebrity chef. A lot of the recipes are not fancy at all. I tried to include recipes that don’t involve ingredients you have to get at unusual places or that you’ve never heard of.” With the exception of a risotto that calls for mirin, for instance, “the ingredients are available at any standard supermarket or can be modified with things you already own.”
Many of the recipes have been in Bialik’s family for years — including her mother’s banana bread and her aunt Lidia’s Thai pasta recipe — and there are a variety of ethnic dishes, among them a few traditional Jewish foods like latkes, kugel and sufganiyot, the jelly donuts served at Hanukkah. Bialik stressed that in addition to healthy choices, the book includes a few decadent recipes, some relying on processed products, that she doesn’t prepare very often. “We eat simply. We save rich and processed food for special occasions.” For expedience, the same goes for the more time-intensive recipes. She also prepares recipes in small batches and freezes them to save time.
While her aim wasn’t to convert non-vegans —“you can put cheese on top or serve it with steak if you want to,” she says of her recipes — Bialik does endeavor to clear up “myths and misperceptions about veganism, even vegetarianism. One thing that’s assumed is that it’s a really expensive way of life. Highly processed vegan foods like imitation hot dogs and bacon do tend to be more expensive. They’re delicious, but you shouldn’t be eating them every day.”
Bialik’s recipes include both soy-based substitutes and non-soy products like Daiya cheese. But she tries to limit her soy intake. “There are issues with estrogen producing qualities so I don’t eat a lot of soy, It hurts my tummy if I eat too much of it,” she said, adding that when she does use it, “I use pure tofu or edamame.”
Her sons Miles, 8, and Fred, 5, have been raised vegan since birth, and Bialik admits that is often a challenge, conceding that the hardest thing for them is social events like birthday parties.
“There’s a tremendous amount of anxiety about feeding children and I‘ve done my best considering that they don’t eat the things most kids do. I didn’t want to create a relationship where we’re always fighting about food,” she said, noting that her elder son is the pickier of the two. “He wants ketchup on everything.” Both love vegan versions of pizza, mac and cheese, and chicken fingers, but aren’t very interested in the cooking part of it, unless mom is making cookies or something involving an old rotary beater, for the mess aspect. “They love that because it makes stuff go everywhere.”
Bialik is well aware that her boys might not stick with veganism when they grow up, just as they may defy her no-cursing policy or “listen to pop music that I don’t think is as good as Bob Dylan. I raised them as Jews, but they might rebel against that. The point of parenting is not to micromanage and shelter a child so much that the child is you, but to give them enough reasons and understanding of the choices you make that they have a platform to build from when they’re confronted by the big bad world out there. At some point, I won’t have a lot of control and they’ll do what they want to do, but I’ve emphasized why we make these decisions nutritionally and ethically and why it works for our family,” said Bialik. “You give them wings so they can fly.”
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