One Month At A Time

Going Vegan: Mission Savvy foods

When I did my visit with Mission Savvy and spoke with Jennifer Miller, she was kind enough (nay, incredibly generous enough) to load me down with a bunch of vegan meals.

The thing about that story is that our visit happened relatively early in the month, but didn’t run until late –kind of the nature of things. So, by the time we got to releasing the story, I’d had some time to get some experience preparing vegan meals.

For instance, today’s lunch was a couple of fairly decent hummus and veggie wraps (with way too much onion), but back then, I had no idea what was even possible, really. I’d only put together a couple of new recipes.

Anyway, the meals Jennifer gave me were worth some sort of mention.

The first was a tuna-less tuna fish sandwich.

sammich

Made with nuts, spices, fresh vegetables, this was supposed to be the equivalent to a tuna sandwich, but really wasn’t, which was fine by me. I’ve never cared much for tuna. It used to be I’d crave a tuna sandwich about once a year, but that’s been ten years now.

I haven’t had a tuna sandwich in ages, but this was pretty good. It was slightly salty with an earthy sort of flavor, but had a meaty texture to it. This was not tofu or textured protein, but something made from nuts.

I liked it, actually, even if it wasn’t a tuna copy. I would prefer it over tuna, but that’s a pretty low bar to stumble over.

Next came the Bento box.

bento

This was a mix of different salads (one of them was a kale salad) and a cashew cheese pate that was pretty wonderful. I liked it enough to share it with a couple of co-workers. Doug liked it. Dawn did not.

When I ran out of veggie sticks to eat it with, I got a spoon.

Finally, there was the veggie tacos.

taco

This was the plate I thought was the most dubious –a cold taco made of veggies and walnut taco meat –but once I got past the idea of it not being the usual hot, greasy tacos I get at Taco Bell, it worked for me.

It had a good southwestern kind of flavor. The veggies were crisp and yes, it tasted an awful lot like your garden variety taco.

I ate this after I finished the bento box. I don’t apologize. I’m a big guy, and even if I’m eating vegan stuff these days, it still takes a bit to fill me up.

Anyway, Mission Savvy had some good stuff. I’ll probably head back at some point. You can only eat veggie subs from Subway for so long.

Going Vegan: Vegan fail

The thing about getting snowed in was it provided me with the opportunity to try some new things. Usually, breakfast is a half a cup of oats, 3 tablespoons of flax seeds, a handful of walnuts and some dried fruit.

I throw in some cinnamon and some sort of sweetener, and it’s pretty good, has a nice chunk of my daily recommended allowance of protein, but it can be sort of monotonous.

However, it’s fast. About two minutes in the microwave.

With plenty of time to cook, I thought I’d try out some of the fake meat and make a batch of apple fritter rings (The recipe was on Facebook).

sausage
Vegan sausage. Yay!

The good news is they look like sausage. The bad news is they don’t taste much like actual sausage, and they aren’t vegan. I figured that out after looking up the nutritional information for this blog post.

Sigh…

Purchased in the very elaborate healthy foods frozen section of the really nice Kroger’s, they certainly looked like what I was looking for. Made with mycoprotein (that’s protein derived from fungus), I thought I was getting an interesting treat for breakfast, but it also contains some egg white.

Once again, you have to read every single label. Just because the box says meatless and Non-GMO, and just because it’s found next to other similar products that are vegan, doesn’t make it OK.

Ah well, it’s not like the point of this was to see if I could go without for 30 days. The point was to try and adapt to the lifestyle and lots of vegans run into the same problem –you eat something that has some sort of animal product in it you didn’t expect.

It’s really kind of a hassle to constantly have to look.

But, it’s not like this is where I quit. Nope.

So, I tossed the rest of the box –and I tossed the beef patties, made by the same company because they also use egg whites.

At least, my beer is OK.

Anyway, I didn’t like the sausage. It was dry, had a weird texture, and a lingering aftertaste.

Maybe I’ll like the clearly marked Vegan Boca Burger -chicken patty things.

What I did like was this:

rings1
Junk food done right!

There is nothing healthy about apple ring fritters. My doctor would not approve, would probably remind me that blood pressure sucks, and that my blood work suggests I have more Ben and Jerry’s coursing through my veins than actual blood, but they were crazy easy to make.

You slice a couple of tart apples –Granny Smith works nicely. Slice through the core until you’ve got a stack of apple coins. Then take a small melon ball scoop (I, being your average dude, do not own a melon ball scoop. I don’t even like melons. So, I used the cap of a salt shaker) and remove the centers, which contain piece of the core.

In a mixing bowl, dump in about a cup and a half of flour, a teaspoon of cinnamon (more or less according to taste), and then a little over half a can of Sprite (the recipe on Facebook calls for Ginger Ale. I did not have Ginger Ale. I had Sprite and it worked fine).

Mix until you have a batter, adding flour or soda until you have something slightly thinner than pancake batter.

In a medium size skillet, heat a couple cups of oil (or use a fry daddy if you got one) over medium heat.

Coat rings individually (use a fork to flip them in the batter) and then drop them in the heated oil. I was only able to get about four in the skillet at a time.

Heat for about five minutes or so and then using a different fork, flip them in the oil.

rings2
Donuts!

Anyway, they turned out pretty good. The recipe I saw called for dusting with powdered sugar, but I didn’t have any of that. Dipping them in maple syrup was a possibility, but seemed excessive under the circumstances.

They were pretty oily.

Anyway, I ate a bunch of them and then shoveled my driveway.

 

Going Vegan: cornbread

Well, results for my vegan baking were sort of mixed.

cb1
Not exactly Martha White’s best moment.

On the one hand, it tasted very much like regular cornbread.The chia seed-based egg substitute helped bond everything together and using soy milk instead of the barely nutritive Hawaiian Tropic-flavored coconut milk gave it a decent flavor, but the bread did not rise, not at all.

cb2
My Aunt Joyce would weep.

So, it had the right flavor, but was very dense.

I followed the directions on the bag, as far as the mix, just allowing for the substitutions, but wonder if maybe the leavening agents need the egg or cow’s milk or something to react to? Or do I maybe need to add more baking powder or baking soda or something?

It tasted fine, of course. The cornbread worked with my crock pot of brown beans.

I was just a little disappointed.

Going Vegan: Snowpocalypse 2016!

silly snow pic

 

Like a lot of people (most people) in Charleston, before impending snowstorms, I tend to race out to the store to load up on essentials. That always seems to be the time when I remember I’m just about out of toilet paper –and yeah, I usually grab a gallon of milk, a dozen eggs, and a loaf of some kind of bread.

Not this time.

Mostly…

Because I expected I’d have some time on my hands, I collected a couple of vegan “meat” products to try.

I almost bought the coconut milk or soy-based ice cream, but that stuff is like five bucks a pint! My baser, stingier nature took over and said, “Bill, you could spend five bucks on some ice cream you know nothing about –and remember, it’s winter –or you could go back to Drug Emporium and for two dollars more, you could get some Big Timber Porter.”

DSC00102

It was an easy decision.

Still, over the next couple of days, I’ll be posting my thoughts on some of the things I bought (not the beer. I think that’s already covered).

But the fake meat is something I only have a passing familiarity with.

As I’ve said before, I was a very lousy vegetarian in college. I ate some of the Morning Star Farms products, which weren’t bad. I didn’t eat a lot of them, though. I remember liking the chicken patties (which I covered in cheese) and hating the fake bacon.

For this month, I’ve actually stayed away from the faux meat stuff, mostly, sticking with beans, nuts, and grains. It just sort of seems kind of weird to opt not to eat meat for ethical reasons, but then choose to eat something that is specifically crafted to imitate the flavor and texture of it.

true blood
Available next to the Tofurky.

During my grocery run, I also picked up a couple of new varieties of apples and some soy milk to help with vegan baking.

Funny thing: During the last 22 days, the only real craving I’ve had has been for cornbread –not steak, not General Tsao’s Chicken or barbecued ribs –but plain old cornbread.

So, today, we’re going to make cornbread.

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Going Vegan: Pancakes!

While I haven’t been overly concerned about missing obvious things like hamburger and bacon, I have wondered about some of the stuff nobody thinks of as being non-Vegan.

Yesterday, we said good-bye to Terri, one of our copy editors, who took a job out of state, and as is tradition, a cake was brought in to sort of commemorate the event (these are some times called “cake wakes”).

It was a very pretty cake, and being a large American, I like cake, but under the new rules, I cannot have cake. Cake contains milk and eggs. The frosting is (probably) made with butter.

So, after some nice words were said and Terri was made to cut the cake, I stepped away from the baked goods, went back to my desk, and finished whatever I was working on.

I didn’t really mind, but it did sort of illustrate the kinds of things that you can’t eat as a vegan. It’s not just the main dishes, but you have to be careful about the sides and desserts.

I know… seems like a lot of work.

But… there are options out there. You don’t have to give everything up.

Around the time I bought my vitamins, I picked up an egg substitute called The Neat Egg. Made with garbanzo beans and Chia seeds, it didn’t look like much –just a grayish powder.

I’d been planning to use it to make pancakes for a couple of weeks, but had my doubts about whether it would work. Who wants to eat garbanzo bean flavored pancakes? Sounds disgusting.

But I finally got around to trying it out today. I mixed The Neat Egg according to the instructions and then added my basic ingredients for pancakes.

The color was slightly off –probably because I opted to use vegetable oil instead of my vegan butter –but they tasted wonderful.

Yes, Virginia, you can still be a vegan and eat pancakes!
Yes, Virginia, you can still be a vegan and eat pancakes!

And this was even with the crummy coconut/almond milk blend I used.

I drenched the pancakes in syrup and served them with cooked apples.

The 10-year-old picky eater who doesn’t much like my cooking to begin with had seconds.

“These are good,” he said.

Next time, I’ll try them with the meatless sausage.

Going Vegan: At The Half-Way Point

It has now been about two weeks since I started eating vegan, which seems like a good time to mention how things are going.

As I’ve blogged, eating hasn’t been a problem, though I’ve noticed a few things.

I feel better.

I can’t measure this exactly, but I physically feel better than I felt two weeks ago, a month ago, or even six months ago.

Some of this might be placebo. I think I’m doing something healthy for myself, so, I feel healthier.

Part of this could also be because I’m not eating a lot of fats and oils, but I’ve also been hitting the gym regularly.

bieber
Actual sign at an actual gym I attend –and no, I didn’t do it. Honest.

I think it’s fair to say that exercise, which my doctor prescribed, is also having some effect, but I have more energy, my mood is much improved.

Still, two weeks to see results? I don’t know. It seems premature. Yet, I feel great.

Now, we get a little gross…

One of the things I expected to happen once I stopped eating meat and cheese and started relying mostly on beans and vegetables for my protein was that I’d get gassy. You know, “beans, beans the musical fruit…,” but that hasn’t really happened. In fact, it might be less than what was normal for me.

As a busy guy, who tends to make his lunches in a crock pot, stews, chilies, and just plain ol’ pinto beans figure into my regular diet. They’re easy to make and cheap, two things you look for when you’re trying to stay within a budget.

In order to prevent myself from blowing up like a balloon, from time to time, I’ve utilized some over-the-counter medicine to help deal with that, but I haven’t really needed it.

I don’t know what to make of that.

 

jabba
Sorry, ran out of Beano!

I’ve lost weight.

Again, some reasonable skepticism: Just before I weighed in, I’d spent a full week binging on fast food, junk food, and other things loaded with sodium, which can make you retain fluid.

The weight loss could be due to a natural correction. I cut back on the salt and my body got rid of the water.

Also, it’s not usual for most of us to rapidly lose 10 pounds whenever you start a new diet, but I’m down 12-15 pounds in 15 days, and my clothes are clearly, getting looser.

cap
Still me, but let’s just say the shirt fits a little better –just a little –than it does in this picture.

By now I expected by now to be having werewolf-like cravings for fried chicken, hamburger, or cheerleaders, but that just hasn’t happened. I’m not craving cheese, milk, or ice cream either. I’m not having huge cravings for sweets or bread or anything at all.

My appetite has been controllable, something that seems unusual.

So far, this has not been a struggle.

Again, some reasonable skepticism. I’m not eating a lot of sugar either. Sugar has often been blamed for increasing appetite, and it’s frequently used in sauces and seasonings, but I’m not exactly avoiding sugar either. The salad dressing I use is chock full of sugar. The jarred spaghetti sauce I’ve used twice for pasta on Mondays has plenty of sugar in it and I haven’t stopped my occasional beer (which is also sugar).

So, here’s what I know: I’m eating less without trying. I don’t binge. I don’t get ravenously hungry and I feel all around better than I have in ages.

Going Vegan: What are you eating?

Over the last two weeks, the question that’s been uttered over and over has been, “What are you eating?”

At first, I didn’t know the answer to that question. I did the barest amount of advance preparation and didn’t even buy ingredients until I had no other choice and the task was upon me.

But rest assured, I’ve eaten well. I’ve eaten surprisingly well. People have even given me food, which I’ve always loved.

Dinners have been all over the place. While I expected to be eating my weight in red beans in rice or pintos and rice, that really hasn’t happened.

Instead, I’ve had things like this –“Better than Takeout Tofu,” from a recipe I got from one of my vegan cookbooks. It tasted pretty good, about as good as the stuff you buy in the freezer section of your local grocery store (Though not as good as actual take-out, sorry. Main Kwong rules!)

DSC00136
This would look better if the photo staff took pictures of my food for me or if I had more photogenic dinnerware, but neither were budgeted for this project.

I’ve also had this:

meatless
Sadly, my cell phone takes better pictures than my crappy camera. I should have added some water chestnuts and red bell pepper. That would have been more festive.

This was a basic stir-fry using meatless meat strips from the frozen food aisle (marked down to $1.17 because eating vegan is cool). The kids weren’t particularly crazy about the stuff, but I liked it.

On the downside, I’m pretty sure this stuff was loaded with enough salt to preserve a walrus, but as an occasional thing, it was nice.

I also made a Shepherd pie. The filling was onions, celery, carrots and mushrooms with a little tomato paste. The crust was mashed potatoes made using Yukon Gold potatoes, the vegan butter, and some coconut milk.

DSC00163
Not terrible. I ate this for dinner and lunch twice. Also, this went down pretty good with Big Timber Porter, my new favorite beer.

My biggest regret on this was using the coconut milk, which made the potatoes taste weird. I ate it anyway, but I should have used something that didn’t make me think of sun tan lotion with every bite. Next time, we’ll use soy.

I also made risotto with smoked dried tomatoes, mushrooms and onions. I ate that with a spinach salad and some curried chickpeas. That sounds fancy, but it wasn’t. It also wasn’t photogenic, resembled prison food, but it tasted great.

Lunches have been a lot of leftovers or a salad (neither of which photograph well), and some stuff donated by Mission Savvy (They feature in the series). I’ll do a separate post about what I got from them. That seems fair. They didn’t have to give me anything and the stuff they do is a lot more advanced than my basic dinners.

Breakfasts have been a little bland. Except for a morning or two when I toasted a bagel to eat with peanut butter, I’ve stuck with a half a cup of oats with flax seed, walnuts, and cinnamon, sweetened with either sugar or Splenda. This works because I go to the gym in the morning and never eat before a workout. Throwing up while lifting weights is unbecoming. The oats are filling, though dull.

I did pick up an egg substitute from Healthy Life Market, which I hope to use to make pancakes this weekend. I also have a vegan butter, which tastes like the other stuff, and last I heard, Log Cabin syrup is purely vegan.

God, I hope so.

I want some pancakes. I deserve pancakes.

Going Vegan: Vitamins and minerals

Aside from suggesting I embark on some kind of exercise program to go with my brand new lifestyle-based diet, the doctor said I should take a multi-vitamin.
“Just in case you miss getting something,” he said.

That sounded easy at first. I’ve been taking One-A-Day brand vitamins for years, plus a fish oil capsule, which someone convinced me was good for my joints, my heart, my brain, my eyes and probably my karma.

Obviously, fish oil was out, but so were the One-A-Day vitamins. It turns out that lots of vitamins are chockfull of animal products –specifically gelatin, which is sourced from beef or pork.

OK, this is kind of gross, but gelatin is made from the boiled skin, bones, tendons and ligaments of animals.

Gelatin is commonly used as a thickening agent and shows up in everything from old-fashioned Jello and Candy Corn (which I’ve always hated) to shampoo, makeup, and gummy bears (which I like a lot).

So, I tossed out the One-A-Days and went looking for a supplement that was Vegan certified. I did not find one at my local grocery store, which has a pretty decent selection of vitamins and minerals with claims not evaluated by the FDA.

Finally, I went to Healthy Life Market at Drug Emporium in Kanawha City.

They had plenty, but many of them were kind of pricey. Fifty bucks for some pills my doctor recommended that may or may not prevent me from getting scurvy or rickets or whatever weird disease comes from not eating meat seemed like a bit much

…but I kept at it and found a reasonably priced bottle of a Vegan approved multivitamin for about seven bucks.

I also picked up a four pack of Big Timber Porter on the way out. It cost about the same.

Tasty and probably Vegan --the folks at Big Timber haven't gotten back to me.
Tasty and probably Vegan –probably. The folks at Big Timber haven’t gotten back to me.

So, I guess the lesson here is you’re going to avoid consuming animal products, you have to read the labels.

Also, Drug Emporium has around 200 varieties of beer to choose from.

The beer guy told me that, and I believe him.

Things I’m not eating

Over the last week, a lot of people have asked me to clarify what it is I mean by vegan.

By definition, a vegan is someone who abstains from the use of animal projects. So, here’s what I’m not eating.

1- Meat, which includes, but is not limited to meat. Meat is defined as tissue or material taken from any animal (alive or dead) whether it crawls, walks, runs, scurries, trots, saunters, hops, rolls, slithers, or lies perfectly still.

In addition, this also includes creatures that fly, swim, burrow in the earth or cling to rocks, trees, or the bumpers of minivans. Specifically, this means beef, chicken, pork, fish or anything even vaguely similar like deer, ducks, hamster or snake –plus bugs, but I didn’t eat insects to begin with.

2-Eggs. Any egg from any creature, regardless of it’s place of origin is considered forbidden.

Hypothetically, I could try to eat a dinosaur egg, which over millennia has been petrified and turned to stone. I think 100 million years is a reasonable statute of limitations on organic matter, but I’m not going to eat a rock because that’s silly.

3-Milk and products made using milk. Milk can be defined as a nutritive liquid manufactured by (mostly) female mammals to feed their young. If milk can be derived from lizards, it’s also off-limits. I do not know if lizards can give milk. I suspect not, but honestly haven’t checked.

Milk products include cheese, cheese sauce, sour cream, yogurt, more cheese, and the types of ice cream most people consider worth the trouble of eating to obliterate any diet.

4-Animal by-products. This is harder to pin-point because, generally speaking, they all sound horrifying to the average person. For instance, isinglass, is made from the dried swim bladders of fish. It’s used in the clarification of some beers. Isinglass sounds pretty benign. On a can of beer, “Made with isinglass” sounds OK, maybe even cool. “Made with dried fish bladders” probably only appeals to people who rely on fish for a large portion of their diet and aren’t so squeamish –like 8th century viking warriors.

5-Brussels Sprouts. I just hate ’em.

Vegan: Day One

My first vegan meal was nothing special. It was Kroger brand oatmeal prepared with a little peanut butter and some sugar.

This was sort of an unremarkable beginning to being a vegan. I’d considered starting off with something more exotic, something that loudly declared, “I am a Vegan,” but it was 9 o’clock in the morning, New Year’s Day. Loud noises were to be avoided at all costs.

I had some other elaborate vegan/health-conscious sounding food in the house. While visiting my sister in Tennessee, she’d gifted me with all kinds of stuff from her kitchen, including “Super Oats Chia nuts and seeds” hot cereal blend and two bags of Simply Balanced Rainbow quinoa.

The quinoa vexed me a little. I wasn’t entirely sure on the pronunciation, and I’d had a bad experience with it.

A couple of years ago, after the weird grain became a super food darling, I bought some and tried to prepare it. The package I bought indicated you were supposed to wash the quinoa before you cooked it. So, I rinsed it off and strained it through the only thing I had –a plastic colander, like the kind you’d use to drain spaghetti.

Most of the tiny, atom-like grains poured right through the colander with the water and went right down the drain.
My sister laughed, and then gifted me with a small sieve.

Oats and other things.
Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy

I wasn’t quite ready to try it out, so, I stuck to the oatmeal.

It was filling and not all that different than what I typically have –boring, but oats are good for you.

Lunch was just some fruit. I really wasn’t that hungry, but dinner, I thought, needed to be something special.

The day before I’d settled up my 40 cent fine with Kanawha County Public Library and gone on a binge in the cookbook section of the downtown branch.

They had a really decent selection of vegan cookbooks. I checked out “Hearty Vegan Meals For Monster Appetites,” “The Joy of Vegan Baking,” and “Vegan with a Vengeance” because the cook on the cover looked a little punk rock and cool, like a roller derby girl –and I wanted to be cool, too.

I also picked up “Vegan on the Cheap,” because I am who I am, which is often underfunded.

Honestly, despite the pretty pictures, many of the recipes were kind of daunting, used ingredients I wasn’t really familiar with or wanted to dive into right off. I’m all for an adventure, but somehow marinating tofu for a stir fry seemed a little depressing.

But I took my time and found something in the “Vegan on the Cheap book” called Peanutty Pumpkin Stew. It had a bunch of ingredients, but none of them were particularly exotic –unless parsley comes across as exotic. Nothing came from the specialty section of the grocery store and none of it cost very much –a can of crushed tomatoes, a can of light kidney beans, a can of pumpkin.

I might have spent four bucks on the ingredients.

The book said it could be eaten by itself or served over rice. Making rice seemed like a pretty good backup plan. I could always heat up some frozen broccoli and drench the stuff in soy sauce or something if I failed, but the stew seemed like a pretty good bet.

And it was easy. Outside of chopping up one onion, one potato and one carrot and mincing one clove of garlic, it was mostly just empty a can of this or a can of that into the soup pot and remember to stir.

Other than having to go back to the grocery store to buy a can of pumpkin (I thought I had one left from Thanksgiving), the recipe went off without a hitch, and was awesome.

Regretfully, the photogs for the Charleston Daily-Mail do not live in my house. The picture would like nicer if any of them did.

The stew was a really interesting mix of textures and flavors which included peanut, curry, chili peppers and peas.
According to the notes, the recipe made four to six servings, but with the rice, I got quite a bit more; and ate it for lunch and dinner the following day.

I’ll try to get permission to post the recipe.