One Month At A Time

Going Vegan! Tamarack

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.

Let There Be Yoga! Brother, can you spare a mat.

The Elk Community and Education Center is a re-purposed elementary school, nestled away from the main road, and hidden back behind a bank and a Dairy Queen. It acts as the local senior activity center. They serve breakfast, offer a few classes, and a group of old men meet most days to shoot pool, which is probably as good a thing for them to do, and cheaper than sucking down bitter, lukewarm coffee at a burger joint.

Tuesday nights, they have a yoga class. Some nights, the class is oversaw, unofficially, by a man named Bruce, who isn’t licensed to teach yoga, but has practiced it for years.

Terry, who helps run the center, explained, “He’s been everywhere. He’s been to the ashrams in India. He knows his stuff.”

Bruce was in California this week, however.

So, what we had was a television, a VCR, and an old beginners yoga tape that looked like it came from the waning days of the Clinton administration.

Terry apologized for the low-tech, low-rent situation. They would love to have an actual instructor.

“But there’s no money.”

We did the best we could with what we had. A half dozen of us practiced poses while standing on mats and bathroom towels, but without the benefit of props like straps, blocks, or bolsters.

I had a little bit of an advantage. While I haven’t learned enough to be useful to anybody else, I did know how to adjust into most of the poses, and felt fairly confident I was getting them right. I understood what the television guru was talking about when he started explaining about the breath and controlling it.

I don’t know about anybody else.

What was a little heartbreaking was the people who came out were earnest. It was a humble community program in a center that caters to older people, the kind of people who might really benefit from the stretches, the strength training, and even the mental exercises that yoga offers.

There’s just no money to hire someone to teach, and not much of an incentive to get someone to take the center on. Building a class of even low or non-paying students wouldn’t be instant. It would take time and a lot of patience.

To me, it seems like their problems with their community center and yoga seem like a metaphor for the entire state of West Virginia. There’s some decent space to work with, some people interested in doing some kind of work, but little means to attract the investment or energy to try to make it work.

I’d love to help them. I’m not sure how.

Maybe I’ll have some ideas after next month.

DSC00173

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: Dining out

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

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: 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.