Hi, everybody!  This entry has been much delayed, and I’m sorry for my long silence.

Veganism has become part of my everyday, and it’s no longer a big shock to basically anyone I know that I don’t eat meat, dairy, eggs, etc.  It’s become…normal.

We’ve also figured out all of the workings of family meals.  Everyone’s eating a lot more beans and whole grains and veggies.  We’ve even been making fairly decent use of our CSA vegetable share…though we’re still pretty persistently overwhelmed with leafy greens.  (A girl can only eat so much salad.)

Hardships?  Meh, not really.  Most restaurants have been excellent with preparing something for me, whether it exists on their menu or not.  (I haven’t set foot in a Friday’s or a fast food place, nor do I plan to, so I can’t speak for them.)  We’ve become regulars at our local vegan pizzeria/Italian restaurant.  I occasionally need to run to Wild by Nature to buy some (seemingly terrible for you but also delicious) vegan brownie cookies.  Mostly my junk food cravings are appeased by an amazing bread pudding recipe I found (http://vegetarian.about.com/od/quickeasydesserts/r/breadpudding.htm), the amazing Chocolate Silk Soymilk, homemade fruit salad, or some sort of sweet vegan pancake.  (Pumpkin is my fave.)  I’m not as ravenous as I had been, but I still do find that I need to eat more often than I did pre-veganism.  All said, I’ve lost about two pounds at this point.

I’ve forsaken cold cereal entirely.  (I ate it every morning for years!)  Now I find it doesn’t fill me at all in the morning.  I need something more substantial.  Some days I’ll have two (homemade) vegan pancakes filled with some kind of fruit (blueberry banana or pumpkin, usually).  Other days, I just have a giant glass of chocolate soymilk.  With either one, I’m good until noon.

I’ve been doing tons of cooking, and the mystery is gone from remaking standard recipes vegan-style.  My next posts will include some of those and some other recipes I’ve created or reworked.  The dogs have happily transitioned to vegan dog food, which makes me feel better having learned a thing or two about what’s in the standard versions.  My soon-to-be third grade son is even experimenting with more new vegetables.  He’s a fan of tofu, but beans are a battle I haven’t won yet.

Tonight, we had a family barbecue.  We had hamburgers with cheese for the omnivores, but we also had grilled green beans, red peppers, zucchini, and carrots, vegan baked beans, and Dr. Praeger’s Bombay Veggie Burgers.

I’m two days away from two months vegan, and I don’t miss milk, cheese, or eggs at all.  I thought they were going to be the hard part in all of this, but my stomach can’t even handle heavy things anymore.  On Friday, I had a peanut butter sandwich for the first time since going vegan, and it was just too heavy.  I couldn’t even imagine eating cheese.  Soy milk has been just perfect.

So that’s where I stand at the moment.  Just wanted you all to know that I haven’t deserted you…or the cause.  🙂  Still going strong and hoping some of you will give veganism a try with me.

I wish you all an amazing Monday.  🙂

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Today’s blog post is inspired by my lunch this afternoon with a friend from work. He knows that I went vegan a bit over a month ago.  Today, I brought my lunch to work with me and heated it in the microwave in the office kitchen.  As it happens, I brought a peanut-tinged chickpea curry with cauliflower, broccoli, and carrots, plus some jasmine rice.  Since it was curry, the scent filled the room and – it seemed – caught his attention.

Friend – “That’s some plate of curry you’ve got there…”

This led to a discussion of a barbecue he’d helped host recently.  The barbecue had vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores in attendance.  He was manning the grill.  (A tricky situation even for those well-versed in vegan do’s and don’ts.)  The vegans and vegetarians in attendance were willing to eat vegan burgers cooked on their own section of the same grill so long as they had their own spatula and plate, etc.  (I.e., no meat or meat juice touched the veggie burgers.)  He was curious what my take on the above situation would have been.  (I.e., would I have eaten the burgers?  Would I have used the microwave?  Did I care if a meat patty touched the veggie patty?  Etc.)  This led to a discussion about a whole array of vegan things.  I’ll include some of those thoughts – and also some questions I’ve heard from others – below.  This might not be the most useful post for those of you who are already eating vegan, but I thought I would post some of the questions I’ve been getting from friends and family as they learn that I’ve gone vegan.  All in all, I’ve been asked some really great and respectful questions.  Here we go:

Would I have eaten the burgers from the barbecue?  Probably not.  But not because of anything that was done to them.  Thus far in my vegan experience, I’ve assumed that vegan food would not be available at social gatherings like this that are not held in a restaurant.  I would probably be especially disinclined to expect to be able to eat anything at a barbecue for a group consisting primarily of omnivores – if only because I would anticipate that the whole grill would be covered in meat-related stuff which I would not want to eat.  (Moral of the story?  I would probably have eaten at home before going.  Had I not, I would have been happy to eat a vegan patty cooked apart from the meat.)

Sidenote:  Meat no longer smells like food to me.  It just smells like…burning…

What does it mean to be vegan?  Well, firstly, it means that I am deliberately trying to make choices that will prevent the death and/or reduce the needless suffering of animals used for food or human entertainment and consumption.  Secondly, it means that I don’t eat animals or things that come from animals including meat, dairy, eggs, cheese, or fish.  (Yes, I know cheese is generally a dairy product and fish are animals, but these seem to confuse people at times…)  For me, it also means that I hope to be an advocate for this lifestyle and for the animals it protects. 

What made you decide to become vegan now?  What changed?  Well, it was almost by accident.  I had become a completely devoted runner.  And – in so doing – I ran myself, completely of my own fault, into an achilles tendon injury.  Suddenly unable to run but accustomed to burning around 2,000 calories per week running, I thought I had to change what I was eating to prevent excessive weight gain while I was healing.  I immediately cut out all animal products because of their potential to be high fat and high calorie.  Immediately, I felt better.  Feeling better – and managing to avoid gaining weight – I began reading about vegetarianism and veganism.  I started with The China Study and found the health aspects pretty compelling.  I continued reading and read Eating Animals, Vegan Freak: Being Vegan in a Nonvegan World, and Obligate Carnivore.  I also read MANY vegan blogs, material from PETA and Vegan Outreach.  This video is a very graphic depiction of the experiences of animals on factory farms, but I think it is important for all of us to see so that we know what we are assenting to when we eat meat, dairy, eggs, etc.  After learning about all of these things – and actually thinking about animals as animals rather than as food – I just couldn’t see eating them or using them for food production any longer.

What do you eat now?  Honestly, lots of things.  A much wider variety than the handful of meat and/or dairy-centered meals I cycled through in my omnivorous life.  Breakfast is usually a vegan cereal with vanilla soymilk and banana.  If I have lots of time, I make old fashioned oatmeal with vanilla soymilk and add a sprinkle of cinnamon.  Lunch is usually either a spinach salad with kidney beans and avocado (and other veggies), sliced carrots and red peppers with hummus and pita, or leftovers from the previous night’s dinner.  Dinners vary, but my favorites include those focusing on chickpea curries and brown rice, bean or lentil soup, or whole wheat pasta with white beans and a good tomato sauce.  I’m also a big fan of tofu.  Formerly, I mostly ate meat only at dinner unless I bought a meat-based sandwich at the deli.  So my evening meals have changed, but breakfast and lunch have only included slight adjustments (i.e. soymilk instead of dairy milk for breakfast, never meat at lunch, etc.)  The biggest change has been with baked goods and breads.  Since animal products often hide in these in the form of casein or other milk or egg ingredients, I now generally have to plan ahead to have access to these things, which – for me – seems to just prevent my downing lots of extra empty calories worth of sugar-laden baked goods.

Do you think I’m a bad person for eating meat?  After spending the majority of my 28 years eating meat and dairy, I would be pretty hypocritical if I did.  I don’t believe animals should be used for food, but I am aware that we have all been acculturated in a society that teaches us that this is not only acceptable but expected, a sign of prosperity and success, a tradition, and a connection to family/heritage/faith/etc.  There is a lot to get around before we get to the thought that these were beings.  That could think.  And feel.  And fear.  And most of us have been told so often that a hamburger is a delicious food to share at a 4th of July barbecue and a turkey is the symbol of Thanksgiving to be enjoyed with family around the holiday table that we can’t even connect them to the animals that they were and the pain and loss that they also represent.

That’s all for tonight.  Sorry the posts were few and far between.  It was a busy week!  We spent Tuesday night at the LMFAO concert, and I’m just too old for weeknights that run that late.  😉

 

Sooo….it’s been one month since I began this vegan adventure, and still going strong.  🙂

Thank you to Samantha of ValidVegan for nominating me for the One Lovely Blog award now visible on the right side of the page!  I am absolutely loving learning about veganism and sharing whatever I manage to learn with all of you!

As per Samantha’s blog, the rules of this award are as follows:

  • Link back to the blogger who nominated you.
  • Paste the award image on your blog, anywhere.
  • Tell them 7 facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 15 other blogs you like for this award.
  • Contact the bloggers that you have chosen to let them know that they have been nominated.
  • Resume blogging your regular posts.

My Facts:

  1. I first learned about vegetarianism via Ann M. Martin’s The Babysitter’s Club book series and her character Dawn – a California girl with multiple ear-piercings and strong (if only briefly developed in the books) feelings about not eating meat.  While I always thought both Dawn’s ear-piercings and her vegetarianism were pretty cool, I always identified most with Mary-Ann – the bookworm/smart girl of the group.
  2. I am training for a half-marathon on October 6th.  I’ve been running pretty religiously for the past year and was up to around twenty miles about a month and a half ago when I injured my achilles tendon.  The injury was the immediate catalyst for my going vegan.  Suddenly unable to run to keep fit and burn calories, I cut out meat and dairy products to prevent crazy weight gain while I healed.  I found myself pretty much immediately eating better and feeling better.  In the meantime, I began reading up on vegetarianism and veganism.  As I learned the details of factory farming, I had a bit of an enlightenment moment.  I knew I never wanted to eat animals (or anything that caused their suffering) again.
  3. I have a small tattoo on the inside of my right ankle.  It’s often mistaken for an “R,” but it is in truth the Norse rune raidho.  The rune symbolizes a journey.  I selected that tattoo to symbolize what I felt was a crossroads in my life.  I went with the Norse rune to represent my Norwegian heritage on my father’s side.  The tattoo is on my right ankle so that I remember – on this journey – to put the “right” foot forward.
  4. I met my husband Sean when we were both fourteen and freshman at the same Catholic high school.  We were friends in high school and for the eleven or so years between meeting and going on our first date.  We danced together at our senior prom, though we were both there with other dates.
  5. I have been devoted to Asics running shoes since I began running about fourteen months ago, but my next pair will be Brooks as their whole line of running shoes is vegan.
  6. The first CD I ever bought (at eleven years old) was the soundtrack to Reality Bites – a movie I had never seen.  I chose that one because of the inclusion of Lisa Loeb’s song “You Say” – still one of my favorites.
  7. My cousin and sister-at-heart April and I watched the movie Clueless so many times in our younger years that there was a time that we could recite all of Cher and Ty’s lines by heart.  (I was Cher.  She was Ty.)

Blogs I Nominate:

I’ll be back to the standard vegan info and recipes/recipe tests with the next post.  In the meantime, I hope everyone had a great weekend!

Show me the food!

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Homemade black bean veggie burger with red onion on (vegan) whole wheat sandwich bun w/ side salad.

So, this isn’t my recipe, just my test run of what looked like a great recipe on another vegan blog.  Emily’s Vegan Bean Burger recipe was delicious.  Made these just as she instructed (though we only baked – no grill).  Next time, I might forgo the cinnamon and try adding some curry instead.

I haven’t missed meat, but I wanted protein and I was dying for ketchup.  These burgers seemed like the perfect thing.  Above, I ate the burger with just red onion and ketchup.  The side salad had romaine, green onions, roasted beets (info on this tomorrow), and baby spinach from our CSA vegetable share, plus tomatoes (supermarket – not impressed), avocado, and (vegan/gluten free) Annie’s Naturals Organic Papaya Poppy Seed Dressing.

The burgers were good the first day, but we made a few extra, so I tried something different on day two.  Day two was the burger with some lettuce, tomato slices, red onion, a bit of hummus, golden raisins (an all-time favorite of mine), and some of the poppy seed dressing on a whole wheat bun (sans salad since it was already on the burger).  I thought this combo really worked with the spices in the burger and would recommend that you give it a try.

The flavor from the burgers was great, but they were definitely on the crumbly side.  (Eat this over a plate!)

In other news, I bought vital wheat gluten (Hodgson Mill) and textured vegetable protein (Bob’s Red Mill), so I’m inching toward a stocked vegan pantry.  I’m waiting to receive the Evolution Diet I ordered for the dogs.  Sean (my wonderful husband) bought chocolate So Delicious Coconut Milk Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert.  It tastes amazing, but with 40% of your daily value of saturated fat in a single half-cup serving, it is probably the least healthy vegan food on the face of the earth.

But also delicious.  And chocolate.

🙂

So, I’ve been slowly but surely “coming out” as a vegan.  To family.  To friends.  To doctors when I question them about vegan versions of medication.  Occasionally by accident or coincidence to random strangers.

Initially, I was concerned about revealing myself because…well, I’ve done this before.  Meaning, I’ve been a vegetarian and…well…failed at it.  And, boy, was that embarrassing.  I was hesitant to tell anyone I was vegan for fear that I might someday not be and I’d have to eat my words with my (hypothetical) hamburger.

Now, about a month later, that concern has passed.  This is feeling like a life choice, and I couldn’t be less interested in a slice of pepperoni pizza.  Unless it’s Daiya (tapoica) cheese and seitan pepperoni.  🙂  I’m thinking about taking a few classes at The Natural Gourmet Institute and ordering vegan dog food and thanking my (amazing) husband for surprising me with a (DELICIOUS HOMEMADE VEGAN) dinner tonight.  Now, I have another concern.

Because I’m not the expert.  I’ve been doing a ton of reading about this.  And I’ve been experimenting with cooking techniques.  And I know to watch for whey in enriched bread products and that a good portion of refined sugar is processed with bone char.  But I am not the first or the last word on veganism.  I’m just someone who finally thought about eating meat for long enough to have trouble doing it.  Same goes for dairy and eggs.  (I’ll explain in greater detail in another post, but, while it seems no animals would suffer or die in milk or egg production, that is sadly not the case.)

Now that I’m this thing* that some people have never heard of and most people don’t know much about, I am the automatic expert.  And it is on me to explain why.  And how.

So I am thinking long and hard about why I’m doing this.  In my heart, the reasons are clear.  But they don’t always make it out of my mouth as beautifully as I’d like them to.  And I’m reading up.  Because this is an important movement.  And if I have to be the (closest thing we have to an) expert** in the room, I want to do good work for the animals this is all about.

*vegan

**In case you missed the title, I’m not an expert. 

English major. You do the math.
(But I’ll do the cooking!)

So, here we are approaching my first full month as a vegan. Happily, I’ve learned a few things.

#1 – They will stick animal products in anything. I am increasingly amazed at all of the weird names for animal based ingredients and the often disturbing products and stuff you can find those ingredients in. Examples? Downed cows and euthanized shelter animals in dog food?  Animal based glue in pianos and violins?  Crushed bugs for coloring in popular (and expensive) drinks?!

#2 – Most (non-vegan) people are polite and curious about veganism.  More than I would have anticipated.

#3 – Plan ahead when eating in unfamiliar locales or with new people.  I’ve negotiated a couple of those this week, and everyone has emerged unscathed.  (If you prepare ahead of time, these can actually be great opportunities to explain your views on (not) eating animals and offer friends a chance to try delicious vegan food!)

No sudden cravings for meat or cheese. Meat is looking increasingly gross, and – at this point – I really don’t want it anywhere near anything I’m going to eat. I’m not missing the flavors, either. Mock meats haven’t had any appeal for me, though I’m finding I’m a fan of tofu and beans and am planning to try out tempeh and seitan soon.

I’m not particularly repulsed by dairy or eggs as yet, but I’ve been very satisfied with the soy (milk, yogurt, and ice cream), tapioca (cheese), and rice (milk) replacements I’ve found thus far. I’m not as in love with vegan* cheese as I was with dairy cheese. It doesn’t melt quite the same and has a slightly mushier texture, but the only time I’ve really wanted cheese at all was on my vegan lasagna from 3 Brothers Pizza – and that was amazing. I would happily choose chocolate Rice Dream or Vanilla Silk Soymilk over dairy milk any day – vegan or not. I’m dying to try more of the (amazingly healthy) soy ice creams out there. I’ve also heard good things about the coconut varieties. Soy yogurt was just fine, but has – like dairy yogurt – a surprising amount of sugar per serving. I’ve been rethinking my yogurt addiction on that basis.

Overall, I think stocking a vegan pantry has been the key to approximately one month of happy veganism. And avoiding chain restaurants. I’m not at all convinced that they serve food, anyhow.

Running has been excellent and – as far as I can tell – has not suffered one bit from my switch to a vegan diet.  If anything, I feel healthier and more energetic. They were never high, but I’m so curious to know what my cholesterol readings would be now.

Book to recommend: Vegan Freak: Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World

New product I’m ordering (but have yet to try):  Evolution Diet Vegan Dog Kibble  (I’ll let you know how it goes!)

And everyone should try banana whip. (Honey is a no go for me, but 2 tbs. cocoa powder should do the trick.)

……or……What Do I Do with This Hunk of White Mush?

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Much more appealing…

I was lucky enough – in one of my earlier attempts at vegetarianism – to have some very positive encounters with tofu in some quality restaurant meals.  This way, when I came home and produced a wad of tasteless, watery goo, I knew the fault was not in the tofu but in my own lack of experience preparing it.

So how to prepare a good tofu dish?

For your dining pleasure, I’ve doctored and road tested a recipe for Indian Coconut Curried Vegetables from Jolinda Hackett at Vegetarian.About.com, changing out some veggies and adding tofu to create something similar to that first favorite tofu meal I enjoyed long ago.  We’ll call it…

Coconut Curry Tofu & Vegetables

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Ta da!

I used the following ingredients:

  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp. fresh ginger
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. coriander
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 2 1/2 tsp. curry
  • 2 broccoli crowns, cut into florets
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 c. vegetable broth
  • 1 can (or approx. 1 ¾ c) coconut milk
  • 1 tsp. salt, or to taste
  • 1 14 oz. package of tofu
  • Thai jasmine rice on the side (or brown rice if you have a few extra minutes)

For this recipe, I replaced the vegetables listed in the original with those that I had on hand.  The broccoli was especially fabulous because it caught so much of the sauce (as the cauliflower likely would in the original version).

Some people enjoy chewier tofu and thus will freeze (and defrost) tofu before cooking to help achieve that texture.  Chewiness isn’t terribly important to me – and I generally find myself running out to buy tofu hours before I make the recipe for which it’s required – so my tofu was unfrozen.

I used water packed tofu, and this required an additional preparation step.  Once you open the tofu and remove it from the water in which it’s packed (*Hint – Do this over the sink!), you want to press the tofu to remove the water it’s absorbed and make room for it to soak up the flavors of your sauce.  To do this, place the block of tofu on a plate on top of a small clean towel reserved for this purpose (or paper towels if that is all you have handy).  Put another layer of towel (the original clean towel folded over or another paper towel) on top of the tofu.  Place a second plate on top of that towel.  Place a large can (or similar small, heavy, but stable object) on top of the top plate.  I set the tofu up to press before I start chopping the other veggies.  Once the veggies are chopped, peel the ginger and use your food processor to process the onions, garlic cloves, and ginger. By the time the vegetables are ready to go and the onions, etc., have been pureed, the tofu is ready to be cubed.

Once you’ve cut your tofu into small cubes – mine are actually usually flattened out rectangles of sorts as you can see in the picture below – you’re ready to begin cooking.  Put the 2 tablespoons of oil in a large nonstick saute pan and turn the heat to medium-high (or 4.5 out of 6 on my stove).  Dump your collected tofu into the pan and arrange in a single layer.  Cook until the bottom side is a golden brown – about 2 to 3 minutes.  Once the bottom browns, begin shifting the tofu around to try to brown the other side.  (Once you’ve moved the tofu around in the pan a bit with a spatula, you can move individually pieces on which the top side is still not browned.)

Once you’ve browned both sides of the tofu, remove it to its original bowl.  (The joys of vegan cooking!  We would probably not be doing that with chicken…)  You can then add the mixture from the food processor to the pan (adding no additional oil).  Cook the onion mixture from the food processor for 3 to 4 minutes and add all spices to the pan to allow them to become fragrant.  When the spices are fragrant, add the vegetable broth and coconut milk to the pan and stir well.  Once the sauce is combined, you can add the veggies, cooking them with a cover on low (or 2 on my stove) until tender, or around twenty minutes as per the original recipe.

Once all the veggies are in the pan, it’s time to start the jasmine rice.  If you put the jasmine rice up to cook now, everything will be ready at about the same time.  I like to make 5 to 6 servings of rice to go with this recipe and find that the recipe makes about 5 to 6 good size dinner servings of rice and vegetables.

Once the rice is on, you will want to keep an eye on your vegetables and make sure that they don’t lose their vibrant colors.  (Broccoli is especially prone to turning that unappealing yellow-green color if cooked too long.)  For the last few minutes (3 or 4) of cooking the vegetables in the sauce, add the tofu back to the pan and stir/re-cover to heat through.

And voilà!  You have a delicious (and healthy) main course meal centering on tofu – one of the most often maligned vegan ingredients and one of my own personal favorites.

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