06/09/2014 08:11 am ET Updated Aug 09, 2014

Meatless Monday: Boston Uncommon

Ellen Kanner

I'm right proud to have made The Boston Calendar's coveted list of Events That Don't Suck. Back at ya, Boston, it didn't suck for me, either. It was wonderful.

I got to speak at Wellesley Books, a great indie book store, and at the Boston Athenaeum,, a great indie library dating back to 1807. It's the home of George Washington's library -- not too shabby. I didn't lop off a finger while chatting and chopping during the vegan food demo, didn't screw up my power point presentation in which I managed to link literature (Nathaniel Hawthorne, one of my favorite authors) and music (Morrissey, one of my favorite vegans) with what doesn't suck about being vegan -- i.e. everything. The best part for me, though, wasn't talking, or even cooking, it was connecting.

I met people like George, who's been vegan for 45 years. He's 82, looks great, still works and takes no meds. I met Andy, who's been vegan for a year. He's 12 and has more gravitas than I've ever had. Both these guys are my role models.

While I love my vegan peeps, I write for and attract a mainstream audience. I'm glad -- I like free thinkers. I'm the vegan inviting everyone to the table, and as you know, the best conversations happen over food.

Vegans and nonvegans bought copies of my book "Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith and What to Eat for Dinner" (for which I thank you). I really get into life and faith part, but you don't get too far without a meal that nourishes you, and that's what people wanted to know about. They asked questions, like Is soy okay? Whole soy like tempeh, tofu, miso and edamame is more than okay, it's terrific. Choose that rather than the shattered and scattered soy isolate, a filler in much processed food. My mantra -- eat less processed, more produce. How do you get a restaurant or friend to accommodate you eating vegan? By giving everyone an early heads-up. Tell the restaurant you're proud to be plant-based diet -- that means lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and beans, no meat, no dairy, no animal anything. Tell your friend the same thing, and if you're gathering for a meal or a party, bring plenty of food, so there's enough for you and enough to share. I've converted more than a few folks with great vegan eats. I wish I could have invited all of Boston back to Miami for dinner.

Any time I'm invited to speak or cook anywhere, I say yes, I love to, I want to meet you, I want to be best friends. Then right before the event, panic and dread kick in. This is to say I can be kind of neurotic right before I speak, but then I loosen up. Boston made it easy. It totally didn't suck.

Boston Brown Bread

Gotta say, spring in Boston feels weirdly like winter in Miami, so I found myself jonesing for a cup of hot tea and a slice of Boston tradition -- Boston brown bread. It's steamed in a can, not baked in a loaf, because the frugal Bostonians reused cans to use as cooking vessels. Wheat flour was expensive in colonial days, so the Bostonians baked with cheaper flours including cornmeal and rye. The result? A tender, sweet bread that's cheap to make and high in whole grains, yet amazingly ooey-gooey, thanks to molasses and raisins. It's a classic example of Yankee ingenuity.

1 cup unsweetened soy milk
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rye flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Generously oil a clean, empty 1-pound coffee can.

In a small bowl, mix together soy milk and cider vinegar. Mixture will curdle slightly. Don't fret. Set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together whole wheat flour, rye flour, corn meal, baking soda and cinnamon.
Add soy milk mixture and molasses. Stir briefly, until just combined. Stir in raisins.

Spoon batter into the coffee can. Cover the top tightly with lightly oiled foil and secure foil with twine. Set coffee can inside a large oven-safe pot or baking dish. Pour water into the baking dish so the can is half-immersed.

Steam for 90 minutes. Snip off the twine and remove the foil. Bread will have risen quite a bit and should be dark, sweet-smelling and spring back when touched.

Let cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the inside of the can to free the bread. Gently unmold. Your bread isn't interested in budging? No worries. invert the can and open the bottom using a can opener. Push the bread out through the top of the can.

Serves 4 to 6.