One Month At A Time

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.

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.


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.

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!)

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:

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.

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.

Going Vegan: Pre-game

The trouble with going vegan was that I wasn’t the only person living in my home.
I broke the news to my boys that I was going Vegan just before Christmas. I told them, starting January 1, I wouldn’t be buying or consuming any meat, cheese or eggs, and would instead be cooking up lots and lots of vegetables.
My eldest said, “Good luck with that, Dad. I’ll just buy my own.”
And he could. He works at a grocery store.
The youngest just stared at me, wide-eyed and alarmed. He had no idea what that meant exactly, but it didn’t sound good.
“What will we eat?” He asked.
The 10-year-old is a notorious picky eater and not fond of my cooking unless it involves a lot of sugar.
I told him he’d be eating what he usually eats here –a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and fresh fruit.
The kid likes apples and will eat them by the bushel sometimes.
I also promised that if he wanted cheese I’d get it for him.
People at work asked me what I was going to do in the meantime –as if somehow doing this was a lifelong commitment and not one that lasted around 30 days. They wanted to know, what was going to be my last meal? What was going to be the last piece of meat?
Well, with about a week to get it done, I ate all the animals. I ate their eggs. I drank their milk.
I cooked a pork loin, served it with rice and then and made sandwich after sandwich after sandwich. I fried omelets for breakfast, filled them with cheese and pork. I bought exotic cheeses –one of them was some kind of soft cheese cured with wood ash and aged in a remote cave somewhere in Eastern Europe, probably Transylvania.
I sliced it thin, ate it on toasted bread with an artichoke spread.
That’s what I ate on Christmas Eve while watching Albert Finny and Obi Wan Kenobi in the 1970 musical “Scrooge.”
On Christmas day, the boys and I made our usual pilgrimage to my favorite Chinese buffet. I ate chicken, beef, pork, and whatever they use in their sushi. I had crab Rangoon stuffed with cream cheese and would have eaten the greasy, little sausage dumplings (my personal favorite), but they didn’t have them.
Just after Christmas, I visited my sister and her family in Tennessee. On the way down, we grabbed cheeseburger at a hamburger joint. On the way back, we got drive-thru burritos at Taco Bell.
In between, my sister fed us bacon for breakfast, took us to lunch at fusion food place that served shrimp and gyro tacos with feta and then a German place for dinner, where I ate chicken schnitzel and potatoes fried in butter and ham.
Somehow, I also managed to wedge in several bowls of chocolate and peanut butter ice cream, and a steak grilled medium rare.
I’m not proud of any of this, but this is what I did in the days leading up to quitting meat. I made a complete pig of myself.
And I was going to pay for it.