A few years ago, when I was eating vegan, I tried every kind of plant milk available in my local grocery store: soy, almond, coconut, and cashew (oat wasn’t in the big stores then). This was a considerable expense for me at the time, but I bought a carton of each so I could try them side-by-side and make a real comparison.

It turns out, I like them all. None of them taste terrible to me. This is great because then I can just buy whichever one is on sale. But each of them have their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to use.

The other week, I decided to try out the soy creamer, made for coffee. It’s not cheaper—it comes in a smaller container for the same price as the 2L—but I do enjoy cream in my coffee. After a lifetime of pouring milk out of 4 gallon jugs, and then a handful of years pouring soy out of 2 litre cartons, I have a somewhat heavy hand. When I drink almond milk in coffee, I want more than when I use soy. But with the creamer, I need a lot less. That’s not a knock on the product, just muscle memory.

Another negative against buying soy creamer: it’s not the best product for cooking applications. It’s specifically formulated for coffee, and I’m not sure how well it would work with a roux for a béchamel. Same with the kind of coconut milk made for drinking; it’s tasty, but it’s distinctly coconut milk. I would only use it when I wanted that exact flavour.

I had to stop eating vegan when my mental health took a downward turn. Food is such comfort for me, such a part of my identity, that limiting myself didn’t feel healthy anymore. Today, I’d describe my diet as plant-based. I eat eggs and meat at home occasionally (though far more often this year, for ~reasons), and when I eat out, it’s usually indulgent. But I decided fairly early into the pandemic that a lot of rules were moot.

I didn’t miss cheese as much as I had expected, though. Turns out, it’s the creaminess I like, more than any one flavour. And creaminess is easy to replicate with any number of vegan ingredients. I just bought some cheeze/fauxmage powder made by Vegan Canteen, right here in the Lower Mainland. (There’s a sale happening right now when you buy more than one package—try both flavours!) I cooked up the smoked applewood flavour for the first time last night, using the salted pasta water, but you can use your favourite plant milk. It’s a great product, super flexible. I’m already thinking about different ways to use it.

There are some staples that I need to have in my kitchen to feel comfortable. Salt and pepper, all purpose flour, oatmeal and peanut butter, some vegetables in the freezer—and if I can’t come up with something to eat out of all of that, I usually have a tin of protein bars in the cupboard. (I bought my current stash some time in January, wanting to be prepared for all those hikes I planned to take in 2020.)

And I need milk in the fridge. I woke up Friday morning and remembered I had finished the soy creamer the day before. I cannot drink black coffee—I’ve tried! And most of my favourite teas—chai, Earl Grey—are far better with. So Friday morning, I made a pot of regular orange pekoe tea. I grew up with Tetley, like my dad did before me. (My mom’s mom buys Red Rose, which I just don’t like as much.) Orange pekoe isn’t orange-flavoured. It’s a word to describe a grade of tea leaf, but particularly for the British tea trade, not the Chinese. Wikipedia says Lipton popularised it, but the etymology is disputed.

The traditions one grows up with stay with us for longer than we know. Before I really learned to make and enjoy coffee, I drank tea every day, and during my vegan years, I often drank it without milk. But on Friday morning, that cup of black tea only tasted sad. It didn’t taste like the milky tea I drank as a child. It didn’t taste like the tea my granny served on her brown-stained tray with her lumpy tea cosy and cups with tiny handles. It wasn’t what I wanted.

So that’s what I’m making for breakfast this morning. I don’t know what I’ll be eating, but the kettle is on, and I have milk in the fridge. My teapot is a fat Brown Betty from my grandma, sitting on a Mrs. Tiggywinkle trivet from my granny. This cup of tea on a Sunday morning is going to taste just right.