Archive for the ‘The Vegan Experiment’ Category

30 Days Later: Am I Still a Vegan?

Aside from my cheating on day 30, I think that I was pretty successful on the vegan diet. I felt great on the diet, tried new foods and made a positive impact on the environment. With all those positive results, you would think that I have fully embraced the vegan lifestyle. The answer is no. I am not a vegan.

Don’t be too disappointed yet. It has actually been 3 months since this experiment, and I have had time to see how my experience with veganism has changed me. I have made some significant changes in my diet because of this experience, and I try to lean more towards vegan food choices. I’ve acquired a fantastic vegan cookbook called Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero and have made some delicious new foods. I often try to eat vegan at least for breakfast and lunch. I very rarely eat cheese on my tacos, pasta or in my sandwiches. I’ve mastered cooking tofu! This accomplishment is huge for me and look for a future blog posting for a tofu and cashew stir-fry. Another significant change is the amount of whole grains that I eat now. I only buy whole grain pasta and whole grain or whole wheat bread. I consciously make meals with whole grains as the key component. I no longer cook with white rice. It’s brown rice all the way.

Why and how am I not a vegan? I missed cow’s milk –a lot. I thought that I would miss yogurt more but not as much as actual milk. Now, I will drink a glass of milk when I feel like it and use it my cereal. Truthfully, this reversion back to my old diet makes me happy. Cow’s milk is healthy for you, and I buy my milk from a local dairy farm where we frequently visit the cows. They are not ill-treated and like to come to the window and moo at us. Eggs are another forbidden food in veganism. I rarely eat eggs plain, but I do cook with them. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I enjoy baked goods which require eggs. I also occasionally use eggs in main dishes when the recipes call for them. Every once in while I eat some old-fashioned French toast. Seafood is back on the menu in my house. We probably eat seafood twice a month, but I really enjoy it. I eat shrimp, crab, salmon or haddock. I like the taste of seafood and again, it is healthy food. I don’t over-indulge because I understand the impact of commercial fishing on the fragile ocean ecosystems. And finally, there is honey. When I first discovered that honey is considered a non-vegan food, I laughed at what I thought was a ridiculous notion. When I did more research on honey farming (or is it bee farming), I realized that there are valid reasons to avoid honey. I am more aware of what food products I buy have honey in them, but that hasn’t affected my food choices.

At the end of the day, I am not a vegan – most days, but I am more educated and make more informed food choices. Overall, I am healthier than ever before and enjoyed my 30 days as a vegan. I’ve walked away with valuable information, and who knows, maybe veganism is in my future.

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The Vegan Experiment: Day 30

Day 30

Breakfast: Kashi Island Vanilla cereal with vanilla soy milk
Lunch: Risotto, apple
Snack: Crackers and hummus
Dinner: Pasta with cilantro pesto, cake

I made it! I spent 30 days as a vegan! As I boast and brag about my success, I must also admit that on this very last day, I cheated. I intentionally cheated. I hope that I didn’t disappoint too many people, but let me explain what happened.

It has actually been several months since I did this experiment. I journaled about my experiences and decided that it would fit well on my blog and enable me to share my adventure with others. Day 30 happened to fall on my birthday. For those that know me, cake is on my top 10 list of favorite foods. It’s the best part of any birthday party, a highlight at weddings, and may favorite part of any bridal or baby shower. Cake isn’t a dessert that I eat on a random evening. It signifies a special event or celebration.

On my birthday, I love my cake, more than I love whatever special dinner that I’ve eaten. My request every year is for a round, yellow cake with chocolate frosting. Yes, it can be a boxed cake with tub frosting, but it has to be round. I love that layer of chocolate between the 2 layers of cake. This year my husband told me that he was going to make a vegan cake for me. I know – he’s pretty great. The problems started when he had problems finding a recipe that would substitute for my favorite cake. Here we go again – problems with food substitutions. The other problem is that I know my way around baked goods pretty well, and I knew that a cake without eggs and milk just wouldn’t be a cake.

I made the decision that I would cheat and have real cake. It was delicious, and I don’t feel bad about it at all. I enjoyed every bite. The question is whether or not I will be having leftovers. Stay tuned tomorrow to find out if I’m still a vegan!

The Vegan Experiment: Day 29

Day 29

Breakfast: 2 slices of whole wheat toast with peanut butter
Lunch: Farro salad, crackers and hummus, apple
Snack: Walnuts
Dinner: Red Pepper and Asparagus Risotto

Risotto is a top food choice for me when dining out. It’s fairly easy to make but does require some time and attention to produce a thick, creamy risotto. There is nothing more disappointing than ordering risotto at a restaurant, being presented with a beautiful dish only take find out in that first bite that the rice is crunchy. Consequently, if you plan on making risotto, follow the cooking times in the recipe. If you don’t, the end result will be an unappetizing disaster.

The key ingredient in risotto is a short-grain Italian rice known for its high starch content. Typically, recipes call for Arborizo (also known as arborio) rice which you can find anywhere, although I do know that there are a couple other rices that you can use. Using Arborizo rice is important because as you cook the rice, it will start to release its starches, and that’s how you get that creamy consistency. Unfortunately, Arborizo rice is not as good for you as brown rice and some other whole grain options. It has less protein and fiber than brown rice and more carbs. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t indulge once in a while and cook up some delicious risotto.

Red Pepper and Asparagus Risotto

4 ½ cups of vegetable broth
2 cups Arborizo rice
½ cup yellow onion, finely chopped
½ cup red pepper, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 bunch of asparagus tips
2 tbsp olive oil

1. Saute onion and red pepper in 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat until onion is translucent.
2.  Add garlic and stir for about another 30 seconds.
3. Add rice and stir frequently until lightly browned.
4. Add ½ cup of broth and stir frequently until moisture is absorbed.  Repeat until broth is gone.
5. Heat a tbsp of olive oil in a pain.  Add asparagus tips and thyme and saute until tender.
6. Parmesan cheese is optional.

The Vegan Experiment: Day 28

Day 28

Breakfast:  2 slices of whole wheat toast with peanut butter
Snack: Cashews
Lunch: Lemon pepper tofu, farro salad, animal crackers
Snack: Apple
Dinner:  2 tacos with refried beans, salsa and guacamole

Trying to convert to veganism can be challenging.  You need to think out of the box and be creative.  Fortunately, there are tons of resources out there to help you reinvent what your stereotypical dinner is.  I’m talking about the internet.  Google vegan recipes, and you’ll get millions of results.  Millions.  I just googled vegan recipes, and it came back with “About 6,400,000 results.”

Sometimes you just don’t have the time, energy, ingredients or creative juices flowing to try something new, but when you feel like experimenting – go for it.  Try new things.  Not all children are like my son, but as long as he likes the way a piece of food looks, he’ll try it.  He eats all sorts of things.  I caught him reaching up on to the counter and swiping a handful of chopped red pepper once.  He ate all of it. I’ve heard that this experimentation will only last until he is about 3, so until then I will take advantage of it.

 We can all learn a lot from him.  We get so used to eating the same things just in a different rotation because it’s easy, it’s comfortable, and most of all because it’s known.  Children don’t have that luxury.  Everything is new.  They have to try new things or else they’ll never figure out what they like.  We should all be willing to try new things.  Maybe even try old things that we don’t think we like.  I don’t like lima beans or dill.  Every once in a while, I’ll eat some pickle to see if I still don’t like dill.

Going through this experience, I have learned about foods that I didn’t even know existed.  Some I didn’t like(faux meats!) but many I did (tempeh!).  Everyone should try something new once in a while.  Get out of your food ruts and entice your palate with something different.  You never know – you may surprise yourself.

The Vegan Experiment: Day 27

Day 27

Breakfast: Brown rice salad (this is the last of it!)
Snack: Cashews
Lunch: Lemon pepper tofu and avocado on toasted whole wheat bread, crackers and hummus
Snack: Pretzels
Dinner: Veggie burger with guacamole and tomato, farro salad and carrots

I’ve already established that being on a vegan diet has given me higher and more consistent energy levels throughout the day. While more energy can just make your day more enjoyable, it also gives you the motivation to exercise. Starting regular workouts after you have a baby is really challenging for the average mom, so it is important to find other opportunities to make normal activities higher intensity to compensate for not being able to hit the gym or go for a run.

The easiest exercise that I do is play with my son. As a 2-year-old, he is always moving and loves to be chased or picked up. When I’m not running with him, his other favorite activity is to be bench-pressed. I know that you are impressed that I can bench a 30 pound 2-year-old. I’ve decided that I need to step it up a little bit more and after my sister giving rave reviews of the Reebok Easytone shoes, I decided to try them out for myself. I agree with her that you can definitely feel something going on in the legs.

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Now when I run my errands, instead of throwing on sneakers or boots, I put on my Easytones. They are comfortable, and if I wear them for an extended period of time, my calf muscles definitely feel like they have gotten a workout. I recommend them to anybody looking for an easy way to boost up the amount of exercise you do during the day.

The Vegan Experiment: Day 26

Day 26

Breakfast: Whole wheat toast with peanut butter, banana
Lunch: Farro salad, potato, corn, dinner roll
Snack: Animal crackers
Dinner: Brown rice salad, green beans

Today, I finally used that farro that I had such hard time finding, and it did not disappoint. I was expecting something more along the lines or brown rice. It’s chewier and denser than rice. It’s heartier and more filling. It isn’t surprising that a farro has more protein and fiber than brown rice.

I made a farro salad. It was meant as a side dish at a family dinner but could easily have been served as an entrée. I wish that I could remember where I found this recipe so that I can give you proper to credit to its creator. It was delicious.

Farro Salad

4 cups vegetarian broth
1 ½ cups farro
1 cup sun dried tomatoes in oil, chopped
2/3 cup finely chopped red onion
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 large garlic clove
½ tsp dried Italian seasoning
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
¼ cup olive oil

  1. Combine broth and farro in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Simmer for approximately 30 minutes. Drain.
  2. Mix garlic, seasoning, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Add to farro with tomatoes, onion and basil. Mix well.
  3. Season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or chilled.

The Vegan Experiment: Day 25

Day 25

Breakfast: Kashi Golden Sunshine cereal with soy milk, banana
Lunch: Brown rice salad, crackers and hummus, mandarin orange
Snack: Almonds and cashews
Dinner: Tacos with refried beans, mango salsa and guacamole, tortilla chips

When you think of the typical American diet, you definitely don’t think vegan. Most people make dinners consisting of a meat, vegetable and starch. Vegan meal ideas can come from variety of sources, but one approach is to start thinking of other ethnicities. Chinese food doesn’t have to be provided only by takeout. Whip out your wok and throw together your own stir-fry or you can try my number one ethnic food choice – Mexican.

I certainly don’t remember all of our family dinners all that well but some stick out. My dad did a lot of the cooking, and he was very good at it (except for that time he made tuna noodle casserole – ewww). I remember his parmesan cheese sauce over homemade pasta. That was a good one. He made great soups too, all from his own homemade broths. We ate well, but one meal that I always loved was taco night. My parents would put out the fillings in different bowls on the table, and we would grab our tacos and start assembling. It was fun and delicious. To this day, I still love tacos and Mexican food in general. In my poor college days, I would enjoy an $.89 bean burrito from Taco Bell. My culinary inclinations have improved, and we frequently have homemade Mexican fare or a quick meal at Baja Fresh (they have the best Baja salsa!).

Fortunately, my husband is on board with the whole Mexican food as a staple in our house and has perfected homemade guacamole. Two reasons that I love guacamole are cumin and fresh cilantro. These are my two favorite spices. Each has a unique individual flavor and when combined together, they can enrich a simple combination of beans and veggies in no way you can imagine. Using these spices gives so a full flavor that you won’t ever miss the cheese if you’re eating Mexican vegan-style.

Here’s a tip on fresh cilantro that I just got from a friend. Buy it, wash it, let it dry and then freeze it. When you need some fresh cilantro, just pull a bunch from the freezer and add it to your dishes. I’ve been doing this for the past month, and it tastes just as fresh as when you bought it.

Guacamole is one of those things that everyone loves but how often do people really think about making it. I consider guacamole a health food. Avocados have tremendous health benefits. They are full of good fats that help maintain and even lower your cholesterol, and they are high in potassium which helps to regulate blood pressure. Guacamole is also a very popular food with kids. I think that it is the combination of the green color and a dip. What kid doesn’t like to dip foods? Of course, my son just eats it by the handful. Since I love guacamole so much, I’m going to share our recipe so that everyone can try it.

Guacamole
Making your own guacamole is about personal taste. There aren’t any measurements here, so just throw everything into a bowl and add more spices until you find your preferred flavor.

2 Avocados, mashed with a fork or use a mixer if you want it really smooth
Cumin
Garlic powder (can use fresh garlic but garlic powder isn’t as potent)
Onion powder (same argument as garlic powder)
Salt
Hot Sauce (Chalupa is the best!)
Fresh Cilantro, chopped
Fresh tomatoes, chopped (not necessary to still have good guacamole)

Mix together and enjoy!