Leslie Dunkin's food blog has a vegan focus

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 17, 2012

By Katie Scarvey
The big change started 10 months ago as an experiment for Leslie Dunkin and her husband, Dr. Jim Dunkin, pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Salisbury.
Jim, Leslie explains, has been diabetic for 44 years, diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 11.
Although he’s handled his diabetes quite well, what used to work in managing the disease when he was young doesn’t work as well in middle age, Leslie says.
Although they ate healthfully, she says, they decided to re-think their diet. She had been hearing a lot about Kathy Freston, and had downloaded her book “The Veganist.”
She talked to Jim and proposed that they try to eat a vegan diet for 21 days. That meant plant-based nutrition, with no animal products — including dairy and eggs.
“I figure you can do anything for 21 days,” Leslie says.
The results were so positive they decided to go for another 21 days. And then another 21.
And now, 10 months later, they’re still on the vegan bandwagon.
Jim is Leslie’s biggest fan and counts himself lucky to be a beneficiary of her culinary skill.
“I am truly married to the greatest and most creative cook this side of the Mississippi (and the other side as well),” Jim says. “I have always been grateful for her help with my being a diabetic … and now with her new direction and our new choices I have cut my insulin consumption drastically and I feel so much better.”
Jim reduced the insulin he needed by half after just the first 21 days, Leslie says.
But improved lab numbers aside, the vegan diet has also made a huge difference in how they feel.
“We have more energy,” Leslie says. “We feel so much better. I don’t know how to explain it, but you just feel lighter, somehow, without that heavy, sluggish feeling.”
Someone even complimented Jim recently on how good his skin looked. “I don’t think anyone has ever said that to me before,” he told Leslie.
Veganism just seems to be in the air lately. Former president Bill Clinton, known for fast food binges while he was in office, is one of the most high-profile converts. Then there are the cautionary tales that prompt people to consider something overhauling their Standard American Diet (SAD). Paula Deen, for example. The queen of butter-laden Southern cuisine admitted yesterday on the Today Show that she has had Type 2 diabetes for three years.
More and more baby boomers, it seems, are re-thinking the diets they grew up with and choosing not only to forego meat but to eliminate all animal products from their diets. No more hamburgers, sure, but also no more cheese, butter or eggs.
The Dunkins’ new plant-based way of eating has inspired Leslie to start a blog called “Table-Food.” As Leslie explains in the blog, she has “moved from pabulum to table food.”
It’s much more than a recipe blog. Leslie wants to communicate about the spiritual aspect of cooking, about the important connection between mind, body and spirit. The table has always been a sacred place to her, she says, and it saddens her that many people have lost a meaningful sense of connection to food.
The blog is a way for her to share her life experiences through recipes “to create a more thoughtful way of living.”
Leslie — the daughter of a pastor and the wife of a pastor — includes this paraphrase of scripture in her blog to explain her changing awareness: “When I was a child, I ate like a child. I thought like a child. I seasoned like a child. When I became an aware woman, I gave up my childish ways.”
Besides eating in a more mindful way, she wants to encourage people to look for “glimpses of the divine” in an ordinary day, to be “open and sensitive to moments we should be grateful for and not miss.”
“Table-Food” was prompted in part by friends asking Leslie, “What in the world do you eat?” She’s happy to share that in an organized and inspiring way.
Food has always been her passion, says Leslie, who has worked as a caterer and who for more than a year ran the Caniche Tea Room.
Leslie has been blogging now since October, and her postings includes recipes for mockingbird cake, Christmas Wellingtons and veggie sausage, among other things.
She likes the “puzzle” of trying to recreate “normal meals” without animal products that nonetheless have a similar taste and mouth-feel. That, of course, can be challenging when dairy and eggs are off the table.
People sometimes comment that her recipes have a lot of ingredients, and Leslie would agree. Most of her recipes are not of the 20-minute, four-ingredient variety. “There’s too much emphasis on speed in cooking,” says Leslie, who believes that time spent in the kitchen is well worth it.
She’s always on the lookout for great vegan products —one favorite is a pepperjack almond cheese available at Whole Foods. The Earth Balance and Galaxy vegan brands are available locally, she notes, as more and more grocery stores are becoming aware of vegan buying power.
Helped by a background in art and design, Leslie takes a lot of time photographing her creations, as well as other aspects of her life that dovetail with her cooking. For example, in a November blog entry, she shares photos from a trip to Colonial Williamsburg, which inspired her upon her return to make a vegan version of the peanut soup that she noticed on many restaurant menus there.
Friday, Leslie was experimenting with the food that would show up in her next blog entry — she normally posts on Tuesdays. Although she hasn’t been blogging long, 350 people follow “Table-Food,” including fans from Russia, Latvia and Brazil.
“It’s been well-received,” Leslie says. “It’s fun to get comments from people and interact online.”
This week’s recipes are for Orange-Studded Rye Focaccia and Deeply Rooted Winter Soup.
Late afternoon sunshine provided good lighting as Leslie took photos of her creations, arranged simply but artfully.
In photographing food, she often moves it around the house, in search of the best available light, since she doesn’t like to use flash.
Shooting food can be challenging, she says.
“It gives me a better understanding of food stylists and what they go through, using paint and glue to make things look good,” she says.
Leslie’s food looks good without such artifices. And more importantly, it tastes good — not at all like deprivation. When her daughter visited over the holidays with her boyfriend, he commented after one meal that he couldn’t tell he wasn’t eating meat.
Going completely vegan may not be the route people want to go, Leslie says, but she likes the idea of people thinking more about what they eat and instituting practices like “meatless Mondays.” Small changes can lead to bigger ones, she says.
You can find Leslie’s blog at table-foods.blogspot.com.