One Month At A Time

Going Vegan: Updates

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

 

candy1

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.

Improv Comedy: Getting to Know You -Stuart Frazier

Our profiles in comedy (name changes depending on my mood) series continues with Stuart Frazier (no relation to the tree). Stuart is with the No Pants Players, who perform Feb. 11 at Mardis Gras Casino at 7 p.m.

The group has been promoting the show extensively on Facebook. However, a press release to the local newspaper is still in development.

Anyway, it’s free show, and there may be gambling on premises.

Maybe check it out.

Name: Stuart Frazier aka, Colonel Such ‘n’ Such aka, The Favorite aka, Jeff Bukovinsky
Age: 33 and looks amazing
Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio
Occupation: Marketing Coordinator for Kanawha County Public Library/Taxi Driver/Lazy Batman

stuart
Stuart’s the one on the right. Probably.

What’s your life like outside of comedy?

Pretty good. I do enjoy the time to just chill and I also like exploring the city and the world around me. Eating at new restaurants, seeing movies, going to concerts. I have a lovely wife and beautiful two-year old daughter, who by the way, is a lot more entertaining than most people I know. So Hollywood agents reading this, call me!

How did you get started in Improv/Comedy?

I pulled a sabre from a boulder and was thoroughly disappointed. No. I’ve always enjoyed the stage since I was a kid, performing in all sorts of school and church plays. Got some real performance training in a couple theater classes in high school and discovered improv in college. I really enjoyed the camaraderie and freedom that improv provided. The ability to make up your entire world has a certain appeal. With some encouragement, I joined the No Pants Players and have been reveling in the journey ever since.

What was your first workshop or show like?

My first performance with the No Pants Players was special because it was a gig we did for Read Out Loud and the emcee of the event was Chris Sarandon (yes, that Chris Sarandon). So I really wanted to impress him so he would adopt me. Only one of those things happened. But it was a lot of fun!

In comedy or the improv comedy world, who do you look up to?

My comedic heroes would probably be Richard Pryor, of course. No comedian/actor would ever say otherwise. Dave Chappelle is hilarious and speaks the truth. I really like Hannibal Burress, too. I love his style and delivery. There’s really too many to choose from, Paul Mooney, Katt Williams, Maria Bamford, Jim Gaffigan, Chris Rock, Wayne Brady, Kevin Hart, Issa Rae, Debra Wilson, Mitch Hedberg, Chelsea Peretti, Wanda Sykes, Key and Peele….like I said, there’s so much talent out there, so many funny people, I couldn’t possibly choose one.

What’s the best part about what you do?

I really like making people laugh, making them happy. I’ve always felt that comedy, laughter, are powerful tools. You can change a person’s entire attitude by making them laugh and I hope that’s what I bring to audiences when I perform.

What’s the hardest part?

The hardest part for me is being harsh judge of my own performance. I can almost always point out something I did or didn’t do that could have been better, could have been funnier, clearer in delivery, etc. But I think that pushes me to try to improve my skill for next time. It forces me to make adjustments, study more of the art, and try different things and experiment. Remember kids, comedy is serious business.

What’s (almost) always funny?

The No Pants Players. Eddie Murphy’s “Delirious.” A small child saying a curse word. Yo mama.

Advice for someone who might want to do improv?

Try not to over-think it. Be as adaptable as possible, and if all else fails, be Beyoncé.
Are two drink minimums necessary or are they just a rip off?

Not necessary, but certainly do help. Alcohol makes us funnier….not you, us.

Do you believe in Santa Claus, unicorns or global warming (choose one)?

I believe Santa Claus needs to stop denying the existence of global warming which is caused by unicorn flatulence.

If you could ask Drew Carey one question, what would it be?

What have you done with the bodies?

Is prison really as bad at they say or is that just the media?

I’ve only been to prison one time….as a performer…..doing improv for prisoners. Let me tell you, no one appreciates a show like a room full of non-violent drug offenders.

How good is your spelling?

Absolootlie perfektt

Do you have any time/money saving tips for our readers?

Come watch the No Pants Players, the funniest people on stage with the cheapest ticket prices in the city! (And they’re performing Feb. 11 at Mardi Gras Casino in Cross Lanes)

Have you ever been to Ohio?

It was literally the first place I’d ever been in my life.

Improv Comedy: Getting to Know You -Jenna Skeen

Another one from the No Pants Players, who have a show on Thursday at the Mardi Gras Casino in Cross Lanes. They’d be OK with it if you wanted to come to the show, if you wanted to…

 

Name: Jenna Skeen

Age: 28

Hometown: St. Albans, WV and now reside in Charleston, WV

Occupation: COO at Loved Ones In Home Care and owner of Midnight Justice Films

Jenna
One of these people is Jenna Skeen. The rest are part of a ragtag group of survivors who are living through the worst frozen yogurt recall in history.

What’s your life like outside of comedy?

I perform in local theatre and enjoy traveling, filmmaking and all things geek

How did you get started in Improv/Comedy?

Attended the No Pants Players audition (It was only my second time publicly performing improv)

What was your first workshop or show like?

First workshop was terrifyingly funny and first show was MCing a West Virginia Power Game with the troupe so as a plus size female I was completely in my element.

In comedy or the improv comedy world, who do you look up to?

Steve Martin, Bill Murray, Martin Short, Eddie Murphy, Sid Caesar, John Candy, Robin Williams, Andy Kaufmann, Adam King and Jeff Bukovinsky

What’s the best part about what you do?

Hearing the laughs

What’s the hardest part?

Being funny

What’s (almost) always funny?

Bodily functions and/or politics – Completely interchangeable

Advice for someone who might want to do Improv?

Just do it! –Shia LaBeouf

Are two drink minimums necessary or are they just a rip off?

I think a healthy mixture of both.

Do you believe in Santa Claus, unicorns or global warming (choose one)?

Global warming due to Santa Claus’ reckless use of unicorns.

If you could ask Drew Carey one question, what would it be?

Do I know you?

Is prison really as bad at they say or is that just the media?

Depends are we talking Martha Stewart prison or 1920s chain gang prison?

How good is your spelling?

Perfeck

Do you have any time/money saving tips for our readers?

Quit cruising the As Seen On TV aisle.

Have you ever been to Ohio?

Once

Improv Comedy: Getting To Know You -Brian Hatcher

We continue our series of (very lazy) profiles about different faces in local comedy. Here’s another member of Charleston’s own, No Pants Players.

Name: Brian Hatcher
Age: 49
Hometown: Beckley WV
Occupation: Professional Raconteur

brian
From left to right -Dude with glasses, girl with glasses, Brian and T-Rex.

What’s your life like outside of comedy?

When I’m not putting fire in my mouth or talking to the dead for fun and profit, I am creating charming little nightmares for adoring readers.

How did you get started in Improv/Comedy?

A good friend, who believed in me more than I did myself, talked me into going to a No Pants Players audition. I left a Saturday book signing and headed straight to St. Albans with no idea what I would be in for.

What was your first workshop or show like?

Nerve-racking. Both cases.

In comedy or the improv comedy world, who do you look up to?

Jonathan Winters. He is the gold standard for improv comedy.

What’s the best part about what you do?

Being surrounded by and performing with great friends.

What’s the hardest part?

Learning to get out of my own way and let the comedy happen.

What’s (almost) always funny?

Jokes which stem from tragic events.

Advice for someone who might want to do Improv?

Learn to listen. Funny comes later.

Are two drink minimums necessary or are they just a rip off?

If you’re being charged at the door to get in, total rip off.

Do you believe in Santa Claus, unicorns or global warming (choose one)?

I believe in global warming. It’s caused by Santa Claus fighting unicorns.

If you could ask Drew Carey one question, what would it be?

“How did you lose all that weight?”

Is prison really as bad at they say or is that just the media?

It’s worse. Much worse.

How good is your spelling?

I’z speel rel gud, cuz I’z a righter.

Do you have any time/money saving tips for our readers?

Taco Bell is cheap, but here’s a way to make it even cheaper: https://youtu.be/okKIBTcU2Ug

Have you ever been to Ohio?

Many times. But don’t tell anyone.

Going Vegan: Vegan Potluck

Probably, not everybody got the memo, but the Kanawha Valley Vegan Potluck is Sunday night… Sure, sure, I know, this is also Superbowl Sunday and many people will be swilling beer, watching football, and trying to avoid another argument with your Uncle Leroy, who keeps going on about how fantastic the Chicago Bears were in the 80s and like the Superbowl Shuffle is a legitimate dance, which IT. IS. NOT.

Anyway, best of luck with that.

But if you’re not into football, if you can hold off on having a beer until slightly later in the evening, check out the potluck. It gets started around 6:30 p.m at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 520 Kanawha Boulevard W. Everybody, so far, has been nice. No fights broke out last time, even though there were a couple of carnivores on the premises, hogging the lentils (which were pretty awesome, actually).

vegan2
Tasty stuff to try.

 

The food is pretty good, and if you’re a little interested in trying a plant-based diet, this is a good place to start.  You can also talk to other people who are vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians, and other folk, who are just trying to eat in more healthy ways, reduce their impact on the environment and/or just don’t want any animals to die to become food.

Those are pretty much the reasons, in no particular order.

I’m going, in case you were looking for an excuse to come have an awkward conversation with me at some point.

cap
This is me. I promise to be 50 percent less squinty.

And the potluck is free, though bring a couple of bucks to help out with the plates and napkins, if you happen to have it to spare.

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Have dinner, make a friend. It’s a pretty good deal.

Improv Comedy: Getting to know you…

As a way to get to know some of the comic players in our state and get a better idea about why people decide to take on improv, I sent a questionnaire out to The No Pants Players and to The Fearless Fools with hopes they might give me some insight into why they do what they do.

Also, it was easy.

Name:  Adam King

adamking
Adam is the blurry one toward the back.

Age:  37

Hometown:  St. Albans, WV – The Twin City

Occupation:  President of the No Pants Players, Regional Vice President: Agent Pipeline, Millionaire Stuntman/Half-Narwhal

What’s your life like outside of comedy?

Outside of the troupe I like to design, work on photo/video editing and write scripts which many people that haven’t read find funny.  I am an avid rock climber.  My 8-5 grind is sales oriented and I work with some great folks – I also find multiple times a day for bathroom breaks to catch up on my cell phone games.

How did you get started in Improv/Comedy?

I have always thought I had the ability to entertain but couldn’t find the right outlet.  I’m not a trained actor and that’s apparent.  One day many moons ago I was having lunch at the Town Center and I happened across Kevin Pauley (whom I’ve known since I was in 2nd grade) and he mentioned there were auditions for the troupe and they just happened to be looking for someone who had zero experience on stage, zero performance experience and zero knowledge of improv comedy.  And bam, I worked my way in.  I really thank Sarku of Japan for putting me in the right place at the right time.

What was your first workshop or show like?

Well, I decided to learn/practice for six months prior to putting my talents on stage so I could gain some confidence, also the elder troupe members forced me to.  The NPP has so much amazing talent and they welcomed me with open arms and decades of experience.  It culminated in a series of games where I stood on stage, virtually immobile, whispering to the old lady in the last row.  And it felt amazing.  I knew this was what I wanted to do.

In comedy or the improv comedy world, who do you look up to?

My favorite comedians growing up were Chris Elliott, Martin Short and David Letterman.  I, maybe unfortunately, also looked up to Weird Al Yankovic but I struggle fitting a food theme into everything I say.

What’s the best part about what you do?

My strongest skillset comes with physical comedy.  I’m somewhat gangly and can make some real hideous faces which crowds seem to enjoy.  When I get a little older this handsomeness will probably resemble a cross between Larry David and Lyle Lovett.

What’s the hardest part?

The hardest part for me is character development.  I have characters that work, when I stick to them.  But my lack of stage acting experience can hinder me because I may go from the straight sarcastic guy, to the train-hopping hobo, to a Cockney bartender – all during a scene involving a Latin American astronaut.

What’s (almost) always funny?

Jeff Bukovinsky.  I’m not sure if he’s a what, or a who.  But he’s the kinda funny, that if you could bottle it, would sell like crazy at TJ Maxx.

Advice for someone who might want to do Improv?

Just try it.  Don’t be scared.  Well, do be scared becuase it’s terrifying.  But let yourself go.  Forget about everything that makes you feel insecure because that’s going to be some of your best material.  Find some like minded folks who also think they’re funny and you’ll be surprised what you come up with.  That or you’ll be awful which also rules in the world of YouTube.

Are two drink minimums necessary or are they just a rip off?

Two drink minimums are only worth it prior to the noon hour.

Do you believe in Santa Claus, unicorns or global warming (choose one)?  Since these are all Finnish myths I believe in every one since both of my parents are Laplanders.

If you could ask Drew Carey one question, what would it be?

I’d ask him what it feels like to be funnier than Carrot Top but slightly less so than Gallagher.

Is prison really as bad at they say or is that just the media?

All of my prison knowledge comes from watching Locked Up, Shawshank Redemption, and having gone to St. Albans High School prior to the renovations.  So I’d say it’s pretty bad.

How good is your spelling?

My spelling is akin to the Infinite Monkey Theorem, if the end result is never Hamlet.

Do you have any time/money saving tips for our readers?

All my money is tied up in Vertical Farming and finding a cure for nail biting so ask me again in 30 years.

Have you ever been to Ohio?

I saw an Ohio quarter when the government launched that series back in 2002.  And I read a book about Tecumseh in college.  So, basically.

Going Vegan: Feedback

One of the cool things about doing this whole vegan trial run is the feedback. Over the last month, I’ve received regular, and generally positive, feedback from all kinds of people.
As a writer and occasional journalist, you love that kind of thing. It’s nice to be read. It’s nice when people are talking or thinking about what you’ve written. My point wasn’t precisely to convince people to take up the broccoli, but maybe take away some of the anxiety and mystery of such a thing.
I’m doing pretty well with not eating meat –and let’s be perfectly honest, if I was miserable, I’d have quit this Monday morning with an steak and cheese omelet from Ihop. At lunch, there probably would have been a cheeseburger and ice cream before and after dinner.
I’m just fine without it.
Still, I have enjoyed the curiosity about Veganuary and going vegan, though some of it has been a little strange. In all my years of writing, I’ve never had conversations with naked people about something with my name attached to it in the local paper. This happened twice in one month in the locker room of the YMCA, which has to be some kind of a milestone. I’ve been approached in parking lots and gotten several emails from all over the place.
This one was, perhaps, the most surprising.
Dear Bill,
Thanks for the column, you may inspire quite a few people to give vegan eating a try.  I hope you stick with it, for you, for your family, for the animals, for the earth, oh a bunch of good things.  May I recommend a website and some books that are all about health.  Exercise is good, but the vegan diet alone, unless you pile on the oils, will do it.  www.PCRM.org  is the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine website.  PCRM does NIH-funded studies into health, diabetes reversal, etc., and all with a vegan diet which they have found works wonders.  Dr Neal Barnard is author of several books, the names of which escape me, but they are all to be found on www.pcrm.org so I hope you find them really useful, and they all come with recipes galore in the back of the books.
Rooting for you, and if we can help in any way, please holler, don’t quit!   Show the way to all the others who may end up, without that nudge, in the ER, or the nursing home.
Kind regards, Ingrid Newkirk, president, PETA
Anyway, I wanted to say thanks to everybody who has followed along with this and to everyone who has sent me an email, called or stopped to talk to me (even those sans clothing). Thanks for the support and check back every now and again. I think there’s more to talk about with this vegan stuff.
For instance, I need to find a decent chocolate bar.

 

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.