Archive for June, 2011

The Vegan Experiment: Day 11

Day 11

Breakfast:  Oatmeal with walnuts and banana
Lunch:  Tempeh with quinoa and olive oil, crackers and hummus
Snack:  Apple
Dinner: Vegetable Lo Mein (take-out!)

It is critical in my household that we have a handful of quick and easy to prepare meals for those crazy nights when making dinner seems as insurmountable as climbing Mt. Everest.  We have several.  They include baked tacos which you can literally prepare in as little as 10 minutes and then bake for 30, plain old tacos (heat up some black beans and then assemble), frozen burgers (Boca, Black Bean, Veggie, etc) and frozen vegetables, frozen pizza, and of course, for my 2 year old, there are always chicken nuggets.  Some of these aren’t the most healthful choices, but I work and it is hard to get home and get dinner ready and on the table before the kids need to start getting ready for bed.

In this Vegan experiment, several of these choices are no longer on the list.  Obviously, frozen pizza is off the list.  I looked but could not find a frozen pizza without cheese.  As I previously mentioned, those black bean burgers are made with egg whites.  Anything taco-ish is still an option, but it’s challenging to get in the mood for some tacos without cheese (and I’m not sold on the Vegan cheeses yet).

We almost always cook and eat our meals at our home.  I seriously think that we eat out maybe once every other month.  We do occasionally order a pizza or Chinese, but that’s also a rare occasion.  Tonight I had no desire to cook, nor was I in the mood for anything on our diminished list of go-to meals.  We decided that Chinese take-out was the way to go.

In the past, I almost always order something with shrimp in it.  Since that wasn’t an option tonight, I went with the Vegetable Lo Mein.   Let me tell you how surprised I was at how good it was!  If I would have known how tasty it was, I would have been ordering it well before now.  I also noticed that Chinese food actually has a lot of vegan options.  I had more than 1 or 2 choices from the menu.  Even though I am not frequent outside diner, I was happy to see that those occasional nights at a restaurant or getting take-out are still options on a vegan diet.

I guess those quick vegan meals that we sometimes need at the end of the day will eventually come about.  I remember when I first became a vegetarian, the first question that I had was “What should I make for dinner?”  Now here I am with an arsenal for dinner options and not one includes meat.  Changing diets is an evolution that happens with education and experimentation.  I just need to be creative and give it time.

 

 

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Can We Teach Our Kids Spirituality?

I’ve stated before that to me being green is more than just trying to be eco-friendly. To live a green lifestyle, you must have an appreciation of nature. Appreciation and respecting nature and all things natural is more than just recycling. It is a commitment to good physical health – eating right and exercising. It is a commitment to good mental health – managing stress and staying focused on what is important in life. It is also a commitment to good spiritual health. The idea of spiritual health can get a little tricky to explain. I’ll do my best to provide my definition with the understanding that someone else’s idea of spiritual health could be completely different.

The notion of spirituality and leading a spiritual life can be difficult to put into words. Spirituality to me is more than just religious faith. It’s an idea that we are part of something bigger, greater than just the small world geographically and of individuals that we move around in. In addition to my belief in God, I have an appreciation for the beauty of nature and magnitude of the world around us. To me, these two ideas are coupled together. I don’t care if others don’t believe in God, but I would like to see everyone have a perspective of our place in this universe. Only then can we truly desire to preserve it. That’s more than enough of philosophy for this post, so let’s move on to the difficult part.

Since spirituality is an integral part of my life but so difficult to define, how do I pass this important component of green living on to my children? How can I instill my values of spirituality? I’ve started thinking about this question because my 2 year old son has developed an obsession with The Children’s Bible. It is a book that has sat in his book bins since he was born, but he has only recently discovered it. It is far too advanced for him, but he likes to look at the pictures and hear the first couple of sentences on the pages. It got me thinking that maybe it’s time to introduce him to religion. We don’t attend church regularly, but obviously you don’t need to go to church to learn about God.

We have started with saying Grace before dinner. He loves it because we all hold hands. He gets this big grin on his face and frequently tries to get us to say Grace several more times during dinner. I’ve also started having him say his prayers at night. The last thing he does before I leave the room is put his hands together and tell me what he is thankful for. Right now with that huge grin, he lists people (at my prompting), but I am expecting to eventually hear Thomas the Train and The Wiggles in that list.

These are just small pieces of what I have defined as spirituality. I know that I have years to teach him, but I’ve been thinking that maybe spirituality isn’t something that can be taught. Maybe it is more of a discovery that he’ll have to make for himself. The best that I can do is share with him my thoughts and beliefs and hope that someday he sees something similar. I guess that I will just have to wait and see.

The Vegan Experiment: Day 10

Day 10

Breakfast:  Oatmeal with walnuts and banana
Snack: Almonds
Lunch:  Toast with peanut butter, crackers and hummus
Snack:  Apple
Dinner: Tempeh lettuce wraps (tomato, carrots and quinoa), corn and pineapple

Let me start by saying that I love tempeh! After last night’s experience with seitan, I was very hesitant to try this.  I am so glad that I did.  I had never had it before nor had I ever even heard of it until this diet.  You can find it next to the tofu and also a soy product, but it’s much heartier than tofu and very easy to prepare.  It’s made of soybeans that are somehow bound together in patty, and it almost has a nutty flavor.  I don’t even know if that is the best way to describe it.  I cooked it according to the instructions on the packaging and was very happy with the results.  Apparently, cooking it is essential or else it can be very bitter. 

While the picture doesn’t make you start to salivate, trust me when I say that this is tasty.

I sliced it into strips and sautéd it in some olive oil until it browned a little bit.  Then I turned the heat way down low and let the pan cool down a little bit and then added some soy sauce.  The soy sauce kind of sizzled away but not before it had flavored the tempeh.  So good.  The whole cooking process takes about 5 minutes.  I can think of a bunch of ways to eat this – in stir fries, as a burger, as a sandwich filler, even in tacos.  It is delicious and a good source of protein (about 18 grams per serving). This was a much better experience compared to the seitan.

What foods do you like that may not be so pretty to look at?

The Vegan Experiment: Day 9

Day 9

Breakfast: Oatmeal with walnuts and banana
Lunch: Whole wheat pizza with roasted veggies
Snack: Crackers and hummus
Dinner: Seitan with roasted potatoes and brussel sprouts, peas, pineapple

Seitan is a new food for me, and I know now that I don’t like it. Seitan is essentially wheat gluten and is supposedly a popular meat substitute for vegetarians. When you Google seitan recipes, you’ll get lots of results for “delicious” seitan recipes, and despite its appearance you can’t imagine that it would taste bad.  So many people seem to love it.  Seitan is also known as wheat meat, gluten meat and even mock duck. Check out its Wikipedia entry for more information. While I was cooking it, I could see why people would use it as a meat substitute. It actually started to look a little like meat, but it didn’t taste like meat. It’s been a while since I have eaten meat, but seitan did not fool me. It had a really chewy almost gummy taste to it. Dinner just included my son and me, and I served it to him. He did eat it without complaint. In fact, I think he ate more than I did.

This is what it looked like when I opened the package (I know, you’re wondering why I went forward with actually cooking and eating this):

I don’t have real high hopes for ever liking seitan. It might join the ranks of lima beans in my culinary menu – no matter how many times I’ll try it, I just never like it.  I’m not going to rush out and buy more any time soon, but I would be willing to give it another chance if an experience seitan preparer offers sound advice on how to cook it because the first attempt will not be a repeat.

If you are interested in trying something new, here is how I prepared it. Let me know what you think!

Seitan

Brown seitan in an oiled skillet. Add 2 tbsp of barbecue sauce, 2 tbsp of balsamic vinegar and 2 tbsp of water. Mix well with the seitan and cook until sauce is thick.

Have you ever made anything that looked terrible but tasted great? 

Destroying the Environment 1 Diaper at a Time

I have been meaning to write this post since I started this blog, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it. I think that my avoidance of this topic stems from guilt and embarrassment. My son is now 2 and we have another baby in the house, and we use disposable diapers.  That’s not very green, is it? Before my son was even born, my husband and I had grand plans to use cloth diapers. We read that it takes approximately 450 years for a diaper to biodegrade in a landfill. We also read about the thousands of dollars we could save avoiding purchasing disposable diapers. We even purchased an arsenal of Bum Genius One Size cloth diapers in anticipation of saving the environment and money. After much research, we had a game plan. We were going to use disposables for the first month, for overnight and for daycare (no choice in that one). We stuck to our plan for all of 3 months.

What happened you ask? Poop happened. My son pooped at every feeding until he was 6 months old. Even to this day, we have multiple poop-filled diapers a day. Cloth diapers plus an infant’s poop is a disgusting combination, and one that we just had trouble dealing with all day long. We gave it a good effort, but we eventually reverted back to disposable diapers and enjoy the ease of them all the while ignoring the guilt of our negative contribution to the environment. I am constantly in awe of moms who cloth diaper. I wish that I had the drive and motivation to continue, but I am an utter failure in the green diapering department.

I recently read an interesting article about research performed on the issue of disposable vs reusable diapers and their environmental impacts. In 2005, a London-based environment agency performed an extensive research study on this topic and concluded that both disposable and cloth diapers have the same environmental impact when you factor in laundering of the cloth diapers. These results supported a Proctor & Gamble funded study executed 10 years earlier that determined that washing a cloth diaper over its lifetime actually uses 6 times more water than it takes to make a disposable diaper. Of course, critics say these results are skewed, especially assuming that cloth diaperers aren’t using a diapering service or energy-efficient washing machines. When we looked into a service, we only found one diapering service near us, and it was not something that fit into our budget. Washing the diapers ourselves was our only option.

At the end of the day, I think that the jury is still out on whether or not disposable diapers are worse for the environment than cloth diapers.  Regardless of the true answer, It’s hard to ignore that staggering number of 450 years for a disposable to biodegrade.  I am looking forward to having potty trained kids.

The Vegan Experiment: Day 8

Day 8

Breakfast: Cheerios with vanilla soy milk, banana
Lunch: Pasta Primavera with Gardein Chick’n Scallopini
Snack: Snack mix (with Cheerios)
Dinner: Whole wheat pizza with roasted veggies

I cheated again! And I didn’t even know that I was cheating. In fact, I cheated multiple times in the last week. The veggie sausage that I was eating and the black bean burger both have egg whites in them. I really like those black bean burgers too. They are delicious, filling and a great fast dinner option. I guess I’ll start making some homemade black bean burgers again, although I’m still hunting for that perfect recipe. Most of my attempts have been ok. The resulting burger is always mediocre. I’ll just keep trying.

I also cheated by eating honey. My favorite cereal is Kashi GoLean. It is sweetened with honey and honey is off the list. I tried to find a replacement cereal, but I discovered that a lot of cereals are sweetened with honey. In fact, a lot of products are sweetened with honey. I started getting frustrated. Honey – what’s the big deal? Bees make honey. We eat honey. Ergo – we give purpose to a bee’s life. Well, it isn’t that simple, and it is actually a lot uglier than my simple rationale.

I turned to my friend Google and started reading. It turns out that beekeepers don’t just leave the bees alone to make honey and take the product. It’s much more artificial than that and unnatural. Apparently, bees make honey to feed themselves. While they may produce extra honey that can be enjoyed by us, beekeepers will take all of the produced honey and feed the bees sugar syrup. That seems kind of cruel. They don’t even get to reap the benefits of their hard work. The queen bee suffers another unnatural existence. While the queen bee typically lives 5 years or so and will select her successor, beekeepers will kill off the queen bee after about 2 years and force a replacement queen that must endure an arduous travel experience just to get to her new home. The purpose is to keep honey production at its highest. There is a host of other deviations from the natural process of honey production that makes you feel a bit uncomfortable when you learn about them. Maybe I’m ok with not eating honey.

I remember telling my husband once that I would be willing to eat meat if animals were left to roam, eat what they want and become my dinner because I was hungry. Basically I’m describing life from hundreds of years ago. No animal lives a life like that today. Even those free range cattle and chickens are born with the intention to become someone’s meal some day. Bees fall into that category too. If bees were left to make honey the way nature intended, and we were able to enjoy the excess then the story would be different.

Sometimes ignorance is bliss, but instead I choose to be informed. I vow to be more diligent in finding products not sweetened with honey.

On a brighter note, I lost a pound in the last week!

Whole Wheat Pizza

½ tsp sugar
1 ½ cups warm water (120 degrees)*
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

*Tip – most water heaters are set to 120 degrees. Just run your faucet on the hottest setting and get the hot water that you need from there.)

1. Mix sugar and water. Add yeast to the top of the water and let sit for 10 minutes until foamy.
2. Add salt and olive oil
3.  Mix in wheat flour and 1 cup of the all-purpose flour until dough starts to form.
4.  Turn out onto a floured surface and knead in remaining flour. Knead for ~10 minutes.
5.  Cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
6.  Divide into 2 balls. Cover and let rise for 45 minutes.
7.  Roll or toss pizza dough into desired thickness. Top with favorite toppings and cook in a 425 degree oven for 15-20 minutes.

The Vegan Experiment: Day 7

Day 7

Breakfast: Morningstar Veggie Sausage with a slice of vegan cheese
Lunch: Crackers and hummus, Pineapple
Snack: Popcorn
Dinner: Pasta Primavera with Gardein Chick’n Scallopini

I only work 3 days week which lends some time to peruse daytime tv. I saw something interesting and disturbing the other day on the Dr. Oz show. Apparently, gastric lap band surgery is only allowed for people meeting very specific criteria. The FDA has modified that criteria to include more people. The old criteria included people with a BMI of 40 and higher or someone with a BMI of 35 and an obesity-related disease such as diabetes. The FDA has lowered that BMI requirement down to 30 with an obesity-related disease. Just a note that obesity-related diseases also included hypertension and sleep apnea.

If you’re like me, those BMI numbers don’t mean much to you. I was still picturing significantly overweight people. Dr. Oz had 2 women on the show who were both now eligible for the surgery and were considering it. One weighed 200 pounds and the other one weighed 194 pounds. I was floored. Yes, these women were overweight but not nearly to a point where they couldn’t manage their own weight loss with diet and exercise. Both claimed that excessive overeating is the primary cause for their situation. Anybody that has spent any time watching Oprah knows that surgery isn’t the answer, but finding the emotional cause of the overeating is.

One of the women said that she had serious problems controlling food cravings and that she had tried every diet out there. She certainly hadn’t tried every diet out there because a vegan diet will eliminate all those food cravings. It was sad to see that these women were willing to undergo surgery and a lifetime of pitiful eating to lose weight and gain control of their eating when there are many different options out there.

Pasta Primavera

½ box of whole grain pasta
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
½ red pepper, chopped
½ yellow pepper, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
1 tbs olive oil

1. Cook the pasta according to the package directions.
2. While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat.
3. Add the vegetables and cook until tender. Add in the can of tomatoes and heat through.
4. Drain the pasta and add to the sauce.
5. Optional: If you want to add the Chick’n Scallopini to this dish, just add the pieces to the sauce with the tomatoes. It should take about 4 minutes to heat through.