One Month At A Time

Triathlon: Gu!

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With the upcoming race, the subject of eating has come up.

While my race isn’t all that long compared to an Iron Man, it’s long enough. It’s been suggested that it wouldn’t hurt to have something between the bicycle portion and the running race (only a dork eats in the pool).

The problem is: I can’t eat and run.

I’ve tried, but even a piece of toast is too heavy for my stomach. It becomes something that restricts my breathing and makes running longer than 200 yards next to impossible.

So, I don’t eat, but with the swimming, biking and running, there’s a good chance I could “bonk,” become light-headed and groggy, which isn’t good either.

Probably, if I was a lighter American and not wildly overweight, I could handle a short sprint triathlon with nothing more than a mineral water and a stick of gum, but I’m an ox.

So, I began looking into things I could take along –and discovered GU.

GU is basically a flavored sugar gel that also contains amino acids and probably caffeine.

allgu

I hit up the Cycle Shop in Kanawha City and bought three different types to try out. The idea was that I could give them each a shot and then hopefully have one or two to choose from on race day.

First, the good news: They’re all vegan, including the maple bacon.

Second, the bad news: There’s a reason they come in opaque packages. You don’t want to look at this stuff.

On the charitable side, it looks a little like shampoo. On the uncharitable side, just don’t look at it.

gu1

Of the three, the peanut butter tasted the best. It tasted a little like some kind of peanut candy, but it contains no caffeine.

Also, I couldn’t tell if it improved or assisted my performance since I wasn’t actually training, but typing in the newsroom. I did like the flavor, however. It was yummy.

gu2

The maple bacon was a novelty. I haven’t actually tasted bacon since December, and Andrew at the bicycle shop sort of warned me about this one. He said, “If you can think of it as like wine tasting. It’s very up front with the maple and then the bacon is at the end.”

I didn’t taste a lot of bacon.

And after a short while, I felt vaguely angry. That could have been the 20 mg of caffeine talking, but that’s barely half a cup of coffee.

I wasn’t overly impressed.

gu3

The Tri-Berry was highly recommended. My triathlon mentors seemed to like it, but it tasted like candy with a vague chemical aftertaste –sort of like Runts, maybe.

Unlike the maple bacon, it didn’t fill me with hate.

That was a bonus.

So, I figure I’ll bring along the peanut butter and the Tri-Berry, in case I need a bigger pick me up than just some sugar and peanut goodness.

If I do something like this again, I’ll look into some of the other flavors –you know, after I get a better bike.

Going Vegan!: Well, maybe

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A while back, I took a trip to the other Charleston, which is very nice, if you like beaches, peaches and whatnot.

One of the things I really enjoyed was a place called “Smoothie King,” which offered a bunch of vegans smoothies.

Keep in mind, I haven’t had anything like a milkshake since last fall.

The smoothies I had were fantastic –and I’ve never been a real hardcore smoothie kind of guy.

Smoothie Stop seems promising, but… there’s a lot of yogurt and whey on the menu, and I don’t know if the sherbet is vegan or not (Sometimes, it is… Sometimes it is not…).

Anyway, since I go to the Y a lot, I’m hopeful.

I hope it opens soon.

 

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Going Vegan! At Long Last!

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Ben&jerry

Walk (and by walk, I mean walk slowly or maybe skip entirely), don’t run toward this stuff.

I was so excited when I heard Ben & Jerry’s was doing a non-dairy line.

I wanted to try it. I ranted and raged when I couldn’t get it. I sent emails to their headquarters complaining that my neighborhood store wasn’t part of their distribution chain. I wanted to have vegan ice cream that was just like the real thing, and I thought, if anybody could pull it off, it had to be to Ben & Jerry’s.

Yeah, about that…

This stuff is sweet, but kind of thin. It is reminiscent in taste to grocery store brand ice milk. It’s not remotely as creamy or as rich as the regular stuff. The brownie chunks taste ok, but have the grainy texture of the inside of an old, foam pillow.

It’s like diet vegan ice cream for people who hate themselves a little.

Honestly, they should have skipped the almond milk and gone with cashew milk, which does taste good in vegan ice cream. I had a pint from the SO Delicious company a few weeks ago, and it was pretty fantastic.

This was not great.

I don’t like it, and don’t see myself buying more –or, really, any of Ben & Jerry’s other products. If Ben & Jerry’s non-dairy frozen desserts are all made with almond milk, they’re all going to have the same base problem, regardless of whatever flavors they jam into the carton.

I am so disappointed.

I bought this stuff at Target, if you want to give it a shot.

Going Vegan! Tamarack

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I was sorting through my options at the grille at Tamarack and not finding much when an attendant approached.

“If you need any help, let me know,” she said, cheerfully.

I raised my hand slowly, indicating that I had questions.

“I’m a vegan,” I told her.

She laughed. I was hilarious, but when I didn’t laugh with her, she asked, “Are you serious?”

“Yep,” I told her. “I’m a vegan, and I’m having some trouble figuring out what to get here.”

She stared at the menu, started looking, too, and began asking me the usual questions: Do you eat cheese? Do you eat eggs? Do you drink milk? What about fish?

I shook my head.

On its face, stopping at Tamarack for lunch sounded like such a good idea. I wanted to check for something that might be Virginia Diner peanuts (the best peanuts ever), take a look at the art (always, I’m looking for a story), and get a bite to eat. I was coming back from Virginia, hadn’t really had the heart to wade into a chain restaurant and try to find something that wasn’t a handful of iceberg lettuce sprinkled with Styrofoam-like carrot slivers.

Bon Apetit, loser. Want a plain baked potato and an ice water to go with that?

Dining out as a vegan can be rough, but Tamarack seemed promising.

With the artsy, tourist-y nature of the facility getting a reasonable vegan meal seemed like a pretty safe bet. While vegans probably don’t roll through every day, they’re bound to happen along occasionally. Surely, they had a black bean burger tucked away in the freezer, maybe a festive citrus salad with nuts or even grilled eggplant?

That would have been great, but nope.

What they had was a collection of sides, most of which looked like they were probably cooked with butter or pork or deep-fried. While I’m not overly fussy about meat contamination, I worked in restaurants enough to know that cross pollination between fryers is pretty common. I didn’t want cheese or chicken in my French fries –and also, I can get French fries at your better gas stations.

Dining out is supposed to be a little special. At least, dining out at someplace like Tamarack, I thought, was supposed to be special.

Finally, I said, “You know, I’m just going to go with the peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the Kids’ menu and maybe get a salad.”

Helpfully, she added that the vinaigrette was safe.

tamarack
Unofficially, the vegan option at Tamarack.

It wasn’t bad. The peanut butter was room temperature instead of ice cold and clotted. I got the sandwich on my choice of bread, which was wheat. The salad, while nothing to write home about, was at least a step up from the bagged and tagged stuff you see at your lower tier fast food places.

On the plus side, the fountain drinks came with free refills (I had two cokes), and the little restaurant was located just across the way for The Greenbrier store. I got some peanuts there. They weren’t as good as the Virginia Diner peanuts, but they were pretty good. I had a couple of handfuls of those with lunch, too, and found two artists I kind of want to write about.

So, not exactly a rousing success.

Meanwhile, I’ve heard great things about Sheetz. More later.

Going Vegan: Vegan Cheese!

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Over and over I’ve heard from people about going vegan, “I would, but I could never give up cheese.”

I completely understand. One of my favorite things when I was out shopping was to hit the cheese aisle at Celebrity Kroger’s or look through the cold case at the Wine and Cheese shop at the Capitol Market. There were always a dozen tasty (if pricey) options, and more often than not, I walked away with $15 worth of creamy Latverian goat cheese –or about a quarter pound.

It was good stuff. I remember cheese, even if I don’t particularly crave it these days.

Still, I miss having the occasional grilled cheese sandwich, and would like to have a pizza sometime that isn’t just carpeted by mushrooms, peppers, and olive.

That seems a lot more possible than I would have expected.

ChaoCheeseLG
Honestly, it’s amazing.

Eric Eyre brought me a package of this stuff and told me to give it a try. It was hands down awesome, tasted pretty much like the stuff made with milk –and it melted. So, this weekend, I made a portabello mushroom burger (yes, those are edible) with lettuce, peppers, veganese (yes, it’s a thing), and a slice of CHAO cheese.

I nearly wept. It was that good.

Looking around, CHAO is available at Healthy Life Market for about five bucks a package (I think), but you can probably find it anyplace that sells a lot of vegan/vegatarian food items (Pretty much a couple of Kroger stores and Walmart).

I’m going to be buying more of this.

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I’m working on some meaningful things to write about yoga. The trick with this is that there are few pictures. I keep bringing a camera, but it’s hard to take photos when you’re doing downward facing dog. Basically, you’re not shooting anything anyone wants to see in a family friendly newspaper. I could let the instructor shoot photos, but imagine that might interfere with teaching the class.

Also, I’m pretty sure the paper wouldn’t pay them for the pictures.

In any case, what I can talk about is where we are with classes. At this point, at The Folded Leaf, I’ve taken Basic Hatha, Yin, Gentle Yoga, Basic Vinyasa, Saturday Early Bird and the potluck community yoga class, which varies according to the instructor I think, but is probably generally sort of gentle.

The goal is by the end of this month to give hot Vinyasa and Hot yoga a shot, but I’ve also got to fit in some classes at the YMCA and at the Elkview Community Center –that’s my neighborhood yoga.

I actually meant to go to Elkview Community Center last week, which, according to the web, is about six minutes from my house.

It’s also conveniently located near a Dairy Queen, which would have mattered a lot more a few months ago, but I didn’t know this when I went out looking for the community center last Tuesday. Nope, I just glanced at the screen on my laptop, grabbed my purple mat, and dragged my 10 year-old to try some local yoga.

If things went well, we could stop and get the boy a cone. I might try one of the Orange Julius things. I’ve read some of them are vegan, which is probably mostly wishful thinking. The only place less vegan sounding than a Dairy Queen is a Lonestar Steakhouse.

Luckily, things went very badly.

Ten minutes into the drive, I started swearing and openly wondering where I’d missed my turn.

The kid, meanwhile, stared out the window at the passing landscape wistfully while I ranted about the $#@%* internet and then Elkview.

This is not the first time I’ve gotten turned around while looking for something in the vicinity of Elkview. For me, the place is like the Bermuda Triangle. I’ve lived near Elkview for years, but have no idea where anything is. At Christmas, we missed making cards with the Cub Scouts because I drove us around for half an hour before finally giving up and going home. Holiday team and craft building exercises would be damned, I said.

Afterwards, there was quite a bit of grumbling then, along with eventual apologies for once again screwing up Scout night.

The kid just sighed and said, “It’s OK.”

So, we drove around until, fed up, I plugged in the GPS and the preceded to guesstimate the address.

That went not-so-well, too, and took me halfway to Clendenin until I drove back toward Elkview and looked the address up on my phone. From there, it only took a minute to find the place, but we were half an hour late.

So, no local yoga. We went home, where I sulked while he watched cartoons.

But tonight, I’m going. I got my directions. I know how to get there. I’m bringing the kid. There may be a frozen treat afterwards, if not for me, then for him.

I can do this.

Going Vegan: Another Vegan Potluck

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So, we have another vegan potluck at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation (520 Kanawha Blvd. W.) today (March 6). The eating gets started around 6:30 p.m. You don’t have to be a vegan to come eat. You don’t even have to be a Unitarian. They’re OK with just about anybody.

Probably, you shouldn’t bring your leftovers from a recent Critter Dinner or your Mom’s meatloaf. Save that for lunch tomorrow with your co-workers. They’ll love you for it.

Anyway, something to do. No pressure.

Going Vegan: Dining out

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So far, the vegan thing is working out just fine. I’m still dropping weight at a modest pace –a pound or two every week. I’d like for the weight to fly off, but I also like to have a beer once in a while, and eat cookies.

Weight loss, while encouraged by my doctor, is a secondary effect of this whole project.

So far, the hardest thing has been dining out. Meals out are somewhat limited. When my father was in town last weekend, we didn’t do our annual pilgrimage to the local Chinese buffet. About the only thing I could safely have would be the iceberg lettuce on the salad bar, which almost nobody actually touches in the first place. Chinese restaurants use fish sauce, oyster sauce, chicken stock, pork and eggs in all kinds of things.

So, Chinese food is kind of on the no-fly list until I find a way around it.

We actually ended up eating at a Ryan’s, which wasn’t terrible. I constructed a really decent salad, had a baked potato drowned in salsa, bread, and fruit. I went ahead and ate the breaded okra, though who knows if it was cooked in the same oil as the chicken nuggets, the fish sticks, the cheese sticks, and God knows what else. You have to be a little bit realistic, I think.

Probably the Ryan’s in Los Angeles has an organic, fair-trade vegan island with a harvest-your-own mushroom bar.

Anyway, I checked in with several websites about vegan-friendly places (they barely exist in West Virginia) and even chain restaurants which have vegan options. At most of them you can find a salad, some kind of potato (served dry), and maybe bread (if you ask them not slather it with butter), but I reached out to a few to ask –“Hey, have you got anything that a vegan would like to eat that isn’t a salad? Maybe a nice veggie burger?”

Some places ignored me –like TGI Fridays, Lonestar Steakhouse and Dunkin Donuts, but I did hear back from a few people.

From Applebees.

Dear Bill,

Thank you for your e-mail. We’re always looking for new ways to provide great guest service, and comments like yours help us to do that. We appreciate your concern about the availability of vegan-friendly dishes at Applebee’s. Our Menu Development team regularly reviews our menu and creates new items throughout the year. Guest feedback is an important part of that process. Thanks again.

If you have any other questions or comments, please give us a call at 888-592-7753.


Sincerely,

Matt
Sr. Guest Relations Specialist

Case # 1905883

Notice how they didn’t just say, “Uh, no. Go graze in the parking lot, lawnmower man.” Instead, they answered my question by not actually answering my question, which sort of feels worse.

Outback Steakhouse referred me back to the menu.

Hi Bill,

Thanks for contacting us. Attached is a PDF that can help you with the ordering process. We would also advise speaking with a manager to see what other dishes the restaurant can prepare for you.

Sincerely,

Andrew

The PDF basically lists salad, bread, potato and the grilled asparagus, but I should probably ask the cook about whether they can cook that in something besides animal fat. You can also get steamed broccoli, which is typically limp, tasteless, and the most pointless thing to order when you go out to dinner.

But Outback is steakhouse. What could I expect? They serve steak!

I told them I’d stick with the beer.

Locally, I had better luck.

Rocco at Muriale’s said he could work something he thought I’d enjoy. Bricks and Barrels pointed out that they have vegan options on their menu, and Paterno’s said they’d catered to vegans before. I should maybe speak to the chef, they said, but really, who does that? Not me. If I’m talking to the cook, usually, I’m complaining. That’s just my history.

When I go out, I’m not looking to do a full-on interview or be someone’s lab rat. I just want a couple of easy choices. If I want to get all tricksy with my meal, I’ll stay at home and cook it myself. That way, if I hate it, I can toss it in the trash, make a peanut butter sandwich, and not feel like I’ve betrayed someone who was trying to help me out.

 

I checked in with pizza places, which vary considerably.

You can eat vegan at the chains, if you know which crust and which sauce to order. It’s assumed you specify “no cheese,” and choose veggie toppings, but I wanted to know if my neighborhood pizza joint could accommodate. So, I wrote an email to Husson’s Pizza and asked about their crust and sauce.

Greetings!
There is nothing in our sauce or dough from an animal.
So enjoy!
Thanks for the inquiry,
Nick Husson

I ordered pizza that very night and it was glorious.

Eventually, I’ll check in with Lola’s and Pies and Pints.

 

However, Sarah’s Bakery was a no go. She uses butter in her pie crusts.

I’d make you a pie crust with crisco, but it goes against everything I believe in

That’s OK, I said. Some sacrifices have to be made.

I think it’s awesome she does what she does.

 

The absolute winning find was Bluegrass Kitchen.

Pathetically, I wrote Keeley Steele and asked her what kind of vegan things they had.

Bluegrass Kitchen

We have a lot actually. If you 86 dairy & chicken you can have the tostada or chimi (you can add tofu too)
Our new mock “chicken & dumplings” are vegan
Our housemade veggie burger is vegan…just get it with no cheese and not on brioche
Tofu wings
Fried Pickles
And Monday is meatless monday…we have a few vegan regulars so we try to make sure we have something vegan running on that evening. 
Tricky Fish:
Tofu tacos with no dairy
veggie dog
Starlings:
We have vegan cheese, bacon & sausage for our breakfast sandwiches.
Let me know if you have any other questions
ks
I ended up going out to the Civic Center last night where they were having the Small Farm Conference and a winter farmer’s market. Keeley and company had set up a stall and were selling Tofu Buffalo wings and they were wonderful –if you like tofu.
Not every vegan does, but it’s OK by me.

Going Vegan: Hostess Fruit Pies

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People who know me know I have a long love affair with Hostess Fruit Pies. I’m particularly a fan of the cherry and apple varieties. When the Hostess company went through hard times and essentially dropped off the market, I bemoaned the fact to anybody who’d listen.

After they came back, under new management, I bought ten pies and handed them out at the office.

I also ate two.

With being a vegan, I’ve slowly been going through my list of junk food favorites, looking for things I can still eat.

Hostess Fruit Pies is an early casualty.

I found the ingredients online:

Wheat Flour Enriched(Flour, Ferrous Sulfate, Niacin Vitamin B3, Thiamine Mononitrate Vitamin B1, Riboflavin Vitamin B2, Folic Acid Vitamin B9), Apples Diced, Vegetables Oil Shortening(Soybeans, Palm, Cottonseed Oil Partially Hydrogenated), Corn Syrup High Fructose, Corn Syrup, Sugar Water, Sugar Brown, Corn Starch Modified, Contains 2% or less of the Following: (, Soy Flour, Salt, Whey Sweet, Whey, Soy Protein Isolate, Calcium Caseinate, Sodium Caseinate, Calcium Carbonate, Calcium Sulphate, Agar, Locust Bean Gum, Dextrose, Sodium Phosphate, Vegetables Oil Partially Hydrogenated, and/or, Animal Shortening, Contains One Or More Of The Following(Soybeans Oil, Cottonseed Oil, Canola Oil, Beef Fat), Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Citric Acid, Corn Starch, Lemons Oil, Red 40, Sodium Propionate, Sorbic Acid, Sorbitol, Yellow 5, Flavors Natural & Artificial, Lemons Juice Solids, Tricalcium Phosphate
The beef fat sort of clenches it, but the animal shortening doesn’t help. Still, when I found this list, I thought, “Wait. They’ve changed hands. This list is a couple of years old and a lot of companies are actually removing animal products from their mixes.”
Guinness Stout, another favorite, is replacing the dried fish bladder that they use in their beer, and will be vegan friendly at some point over the next few months.
I look forward to having a pint by summer.
But Hostess Fruit Pies… Well, I had to know. So, I reached out to the company, explained that I was a vegan who used to love their pies and wanted to keep eating them.

Here’s what they wrote back:

Dear Bill Lynch ,

Thank you for your inquiry.

We are always happy to help our consumers with their research. We are not considered Vegan.  If you would like to speak to someone further  please contact us at 800-483-7253. Our office hours are 8:30am-4:30pm, Monday Thru Friday, Central Time.

Again, thank you for contacting Hostess Brands, LLC..

 

It’s kind of depressing… I may call to ask why they have to use the beef fat or the animal shortening. I mean… why? I can make an apple pie at home without using either. It would be good just to know why they’d need to do that. Is it cheaper, maybe?

Going Vegan: Updates

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Here’s the weekly update on my vegan progress and whatnot.

First thing:

People have been giving me chocolates lately. If you grouse about how chocolate is made with butter, bacon, and baby chicks, somebody will take the time to find you something you can eat.

I got three chocolate bars over the last week or so.

candy2

 

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Two of the bars came from Healthy Life Market (where Bill buys his Big Timber Porter beer). They’re made with rice milk instead of the usual milk taken from a cow.

I don’t know how rice milk is made. I don’t know if Snap, Crackle and Pop are somehow involved in a side business, but it was pretty good stuff. The flavor was similar to some of the Cadbury chocolates I’ve had (very sweet), but the bar had a crisp, almost hard candy snap to it.

The third bar was something called Pascha.

candy3

This one came from the clearance table at a TJ Maxx and with the bold announcement that it contained no peanuts, nuts, eggs, soy, or illegally harvested human organs, it didn’t seem like a lot of fun. This thing was USDA Organic, Non-GMO verified and Certified Vegan. It’s also free of eight major allergens, has full ingredient traceability, and sort of makes you shudder to think why that might be important to anyone.

The box even goes to the trouble of explaining what Maca is. According to the packaging, “Maca is a nutrient dense root vegetable from the Andes. It adds a slightly creamy texture and is blended with 60% dark chocolate.”

Good to know.

A picture on Wikipedia makes it look like a kind of turnip.

They also helpfully point out that alpaca manure is used to fertilize the maca. Why they needed to mention this is something of a mystery.

Anyway, this one was pretty great and tasted like a luxury chocolate bar. It had a great flavor, and I didn’t really detect any alpaca. I shared this bar with the rest of the newsroom, and no one else complained that it had even a mild alpaca flavor. People seemed to like it.

Second thing:

I’m still losing weight. I appear to be down around 25 pounds, according to my scale. The scale at Spring Hill Primary Care would probably only say 18 pounds, but it’s a hard-hearted and stingy scale.

I still feel great. My mood seems a lot more even, and one of the librarians at KCPL said I “seem more smiley.”

As a way to keep track of what I’m eating, but not to really rein in my meals, I downloaded an app for my phone called Spark People, which figures that if I keep up at my current pace I could be 200 pounds by July 11. Who knows? A little farther down the road and I could have abs. If I get abs, I promise to post pictures of them on the blog, as well as Facebook, and probably Twitter.

A more immediate issue will be getting a new belt. I think I’ll need a new one before Easter.

Last thing:

Ben & Jerry’s new vegan-friendly “ice cream” is supposed to be in stores next week. I’m looking forward to giving that a shot, though I imagine it will cost as much as a car payment.