Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Thirty Days Vegan

I can’t believe that Day 30 is here and the 30 Day Vegan Challenge is over. It absolutely flew by. The first week was extremely rough. The second week was mildly challenging. And the third and fourth weeks started to feel more comfortable and normal. It has been an exciting and eye-opening experience, and I can’t wait to continue the journey. Jason and I both plan on maintaining our vegan diets (with the exception of BBQ eating when his Dad comes to town).

Overall Health: Everything I said on Day 15 of the challenge stands true today, and even more so. I no longer require caffeine to get me going in the morning, or caffeine to keep me awake in the afternoons. I don’t feel the need to come home and collapse on the couch after a day of work. I feel light on my feet and my brain feels sharp. I have energy like I've never had before, and overall I feel fantastic.

Weight: As of today I've lost a whopping 12 pounds! Boom! And for the record, 2-3 pounds a week in weight loss is completely healthy (says Weight Watchers) in case anyone was concerned. ;) I’m pleased as punch with these results.

Migraines: I’m happy to report that for the month of April, my migraines were down by 70%. That’s pretty good considering I was spending 15-16 days a month nearly incapacitated. I can’t even explain how amazing it feels. My doctors have prescribed every drug under the sun for my headaches. Nothing changed except for the addition of some unpleasant side effects. No, I don’t want migraines + weight gain and extreme mood swings. No, I don’t want migraines + the inability to think (yes, they impacted my cognitive function and made me stupid. That’s a blog post for another day). No, I don’t want migraines + an allergic reaction, my throat closing, and a trip to the ER.

Yes, I would like a significant reduction in migraine frequency + weight loss + overall good health + the ability to stuff my face with flavorful food every meal. I think I've found a winner.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Ready, Set, Garden!

Since we are consuming a ridiculous amount of veg these days, it seems like the logical next step would be to grow some of our own. We attempted a backyard garden last year. Due to the extreme heat and drought-like conditions, the output was minimal (and probably due to us being novices). Since then, Jason has clocked several hours (and I've clocked a few hours) volunteering at the downtown community garden. He's picked up some tips from the pros and we are much more experienced and prepared this time around. 

We spent Sunday prepping the garden and planting. Here's the garden all cleaned out and ready to go.

And hey! What's that colorful mixture of goodness on top of the soil, you ask? It's the pulp we saved from juicing! You can mix it into the soil for compost. Talk about a beautiful trifecta. Good for the soil, the soon-to-be veggies, and us! 

Hot tip: If you don't have a garden, you can donate your pulp to a local community garden or farm!

On the summer garden agenda this year: tomatoes, Thai peppers, habaneros, rainbow carrots, onions, eggplant, cilantro, parsley, and dill. Come on over in a few months for some SPICY salsa!

And I had to include this picture of Sasha. She loves gardening season too, just another excuse to be outside all day!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

How will you survive???

Since becoming vegan I have gotten a lot of questions like, "No meat?!? What do you eat???" The first week of the vegan journey, I really didn't have an answer. I had done plenty of research, but in reality I had no clue how I would keep myself alive, or what I would be consuming...3 meals a day...21 meals a week...bean burritos? It's funny now because that is what Jason ate for an entire week. What a disaster. I don't recommend living exclusively on bean burritos. #beanlife

As I have continued to learn on this journey, I still find that question hard to answer but for a different reason. There's an endless amount of things I can eat, and I have only begun to scratch the surface. Every time I go to the market I see a new food I have never tried, or a new spice combination to play with. I can eat most typical American dishes with minor substitutes or tweaks to the recipe. Another bonus I have found is that being vegan has sparked my creative side. Until now, I had not consider myself a creative person (thought my brothers got those genes).

This weekend I made my own version of a veggie lasagna. I...am at a loss for how good it was. It was unreal. I have not had a lot of experience cooking with or eating tofu, and honestly, it still creeps me out a little bit. But it was absolutely perfect in this recipe. It looks a little bit like ricotta cheese mixed in with the veggies, and I didn't even think about it when I was eating it. After scarfing down a monstrous piece, I was satisfied but not uncomfortably stuffed to oblivion. Even if you are not planning on becoming vegan, I highly recommend adding this plant based recipe to your rotation. 

Veggie Lasagna Medley
Adapted from Engine 2's Raise the Roof Sweet Potato Lasagna

2 cloves garlic, chopped
12 ounces mushrooms (baby bella), sliced
1 head broccoli, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 1/2 cup corn
1 1/2 cup peas
2 red peppers, chopped
12 ounces silken tofu
1 tsp dried basil (if using fresh, add more)
1 tsp dried rosemary (if using fresh, add more)
1 tsp dried oregano (if using fresh, add more)
salt and pepper to taste
red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
3 medium sized sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed
2 jars pasta sauce
1 package lasagna no-boil noodles
4 tomatoes, sliced
1/2 cup raw cashews, ground

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Saute mushrooms and garlic over medium heat until the mushrooms have reduced in size (about 7 minutes). Remove from heat and set aside in large bowl. 
Using the same pan, saute broccoli and carrots with 1/4 cup water. Cover the pan and cook for about 5 minutes. Remove from pan and add to mushrooms.
Saute peppers, corn, and peas until heated through (about 3 minutes). Remove from pan and add to bowl with other veggies.
Drain the silken tofu with a paper towel and add to the bowl of veggies.
Add spices to the veggie bowl and combine.

Assemble the lasagna in a 9x13 pan. Here are the layers from bottom up:
Sweet potatoes
Sliced tomatoes

Now that's a lot of veggies!

Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes.
Remove foil and sprinkle ground cashews over the top. Bake for 15 more minutes uncovered.
Put under broiler for a few minutes until the cashews are toasted.

The ground cashews toast up perfectly, you will not miss the Parmesan cheese.

Check out that sweet potato layer, oh yeah!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Aunt J Knows Best

Last Thanksgiving, Jason and I were in California and stopped in to see my favorite Aunt J and Uncle K. Aunt J is Mom's little sister, and we are three peas in a pod. I don't know how many times growing up my mom switched our names or said, "You are just like your Aunt J!" And Mom was right. I know I can thank her for several of my wonderful personality traits, and my height. Although she lived half way across the country, we always managed to stay close. I called myself her sidekick, and everything we did together was an adventure. It is fitting that she has played an instrumental role in my road to vegan.

At our last visit, Aunt J had semi recently become vegan. The change was a good thing for her, and I could see that she was glowing and even more full of life than ever before (which is hard to believe if you know her). We talked some about the change while flipping through a vegan cookbook. We admired the colorful dishes and fun presentations. While I was intrigued, many of the ingredients listed in the recipes were foreign to me. It sounded like a good idea in theory, I just didn't know if I could do it. But with Aunt J making it look so simple, I thought I'd give it a try.

Each morning while we were there, Aunt J made us a juice concoction to go with breakfast. Jason and I have adopted juicing, and now swear by it. With juicing, your body does not have to work hard to digest anything, so all the nutrients are absorbed immediately. Some people make "green smoothies" which are also incredibly good for you. If you're looking for nutrients plus extra fiber, that's a good way to go, too.

Daily Juicing
The contents of our juice varies depending on what we have on hand. We buy greens in bulk from Costco, and the rest from the farmer's market. We try to do about 3/4 vegetables to 1/4 fruit. Here's what I made yesterday:

2 handfuls of spinach
2 handfuls of kale
2 stalks of celery
1/2 cucumber
1/2 beet
1/2 apple
1/2 orange
1/2 lime
3 carrots
1 inch ginger

*Makes anywhere from 12-20 ounces, depending on how juicy your fruits and veg are.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Vegan Cook-Out

I love when the weather warms up - spending all evening outside, grilling, sitting on the screened-in porch feeling a warm breeze, listening to the radio, and sipping on a Blue Moon. A cook-out is not really about the meat on the grill (hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks, etc.), it's about the experience. Now that Jason and I are vegans, we're having to adjust the food to maintain the experience. This weekend was our first chance to do so, and I think it was a great success. We made spicy portobello mushroom burgers with grilled peppers, onions, and corn. Next time we may add something like avocados to make the burger more substantial.

Portobello Mushroom Burgers (Adapted from here)
Remove the stems and gills. Marinade 4 mushroom caps for up to 2 hours:
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons spicy mustard
Hot sauce (to taste)

Grill 3-4 minutes on each side. Add to bun, dress, and enjoy!

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Real Pizza Chronicle

I have a pizza problem. A mere 20 days into the new program, I threw a complete tantrum and decided I could not go one more day without eating pizza. 20 days...not even 3 weeks. What is my deal? I don't feel like most people are this obsessed with pizza (unless you're 7 years old), so it made me wonder where the obsession came from. 

My family ate typical American food growing up (with Cajun flair thanks to Mom's southern roots). We certainly ate our fair share of pizza, but nothing extreme. Mom would buy the Chef Boyardee pizza kits from the grocery store. They came with pizza sauce in a tin can, a packet of grated cheese, and a crust mix (just add water...and maybe oil). I can still remember the smell of the crust rising as it sat on the stove in the orange plastic bowl, and the slightly metallic taste of the pizza sauce as I licked the inside of the can after its contents had been emptied onto the waiting crust. Such an amazing meal, and always what I requested for my birthday dinners.

With such a large family, eating out was a rare occurrence, as was pizza carryout. I remember one of the best things that happened in first grade, was when my teacher told me about the Pizza Hut Book-It program. Every time you read a book, you got a star sticker to put on your Book-It button. When the button was filled with stickers, you could redeem it at Pizza Hut for your very own personal pan pizza (toppings of your choice). I never felt more special than when I walked up to the counter (that was several inches taller than me), stretched up to show my button, and said, "Cheese, please!" As I walked out of there carrying my kid-sized pizza box, I had such a feeling of accomplishment. I had earned this pizza.

While I loved our homemade pizza, it showed up somewhat sporadically on my dinner plate at home. I never knew when it was coming, or when it would appear again. I wanted something more concrete in terms of the pizza eating schedule at my house. I was jealous of my friends whose families had instituted Pizza Fridays. Each week, I hoped and prayed they would invite me over to play on Friday after school. And even better, hoped for the extended invitation to stay for dinner if things had gone well up to that point. Not to say my friendships were based solely on whether someone's family had Pizza Friday, but it did tip the scale in a few cases.
And with each one of my close friendships through the years, I associate a certain pizza parlor and type of pizza:
Anne - Minsky's, Italian sausage, black olive
Mary & Jenna - Minsky's, Italian sausage, pepperoni, peppercorn ranch
Katie - Pizza Shuttle, black olive, cream cheese, pepperoni
I'll even add Jason to the list - Little Caesar's, pepperoni

And that brings us to current day. I have a new vegan pizza to add to the list from Waldo Pizza. After a 20 day hiatus, this was an excellent way to reenter the world of pizza. The crust was fluffy and delicious, there were lots of veggies, and the "cheese" was...not as bad as I thought it would be. Next up on the pizza agenda will be making my own. Stay tuned for details.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Half Way to Thirty

I've made it to the half way point! I'm amazed at how quickly the time has passed, and I'm even more shocked by the results I've seen. The first week was the hardest with the severe cravings (I still think my five day binge prior to starting the new diet may have contributed...). But now that I've settled into my new norm, I no longer crave sticks of butter or wheels of cheese. I have managed to find something to feed myself everyday, and I really haven't felt all that hungry.   

Overall Health: I feel absolutely incredible. Any cliche phrase you hear someone say when they have a new, healthy lifestyle...that's me right now. I have massive amounts of energy, have been told my hair and skin look shiny and healthy, and just generally feel better. 

Weight: I was down 8 pounds on Saturday, but then I drank wine and as a result HAD to eat McDonald's french fries (what? sue me), which landed me at 7 for the official weigh-in. Still pretty darn good.

Migraines: The jury is still out on this one. I have had a few but will have to continue tracking for the rest of the month to make a determination.

Hot Tip: When eating out, it is important to ask questions about how the food is prepared and what ingredients are used. If you do not do this, you will most likely end up ingesting a food item that is not on the vegan approved list. Like, perhaps, fish sauce in Pad Thai. So just be careful about that.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A New Adventure

I've never considered myself to be an adventurous person. I have lived my entire life within a five mile radius (probably less than five miles, but I don't want to sound too lame here). The friends I have today are the same friends I ran around with as a kid. I have not traveled overseas or taken part in anything (extremely) risky. My life has always been made up of routine and traditions, certainly a fine (and very safe) way to live.

Over the past year, the word adventure has slowly crept into my vocabulary. I have tried new things on my own and created a bucket list. Some of this can probably be attributed to Jason's influence. I mean, the guy backpacked alone through India, Nepal, Germany, etc. just for fun. But I have to say, the latest and greatest adventure has been going vegan! I never imagined that starting a new diet would feel like such an invigorating journey. There is so much to learn about different foods, cooking techniques, health benefits, and other cultures. 

This weekend, we made stops at our local farmers' market, the oriental market, the Indian store, and Costco (bulk produce for our juicing needs). We picked up some ingredients for a new recipe based off of a noodle recipe we found online. Here's our version:

Udon noodles
Red onion
Shiitake mushrooms
A bit of oil
1 inch chopped ginger
Thai chilies (to taste)
3 cloves garlic
2 cups vegetable broth, mixed with 2 teaspoons corn starch
2 teaspoons Chinese five spice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 cup light coconut milk
Toasted sesame seeds
Sriracha (to taste)

-NOODLES: Cook dry Udon noodles according to package instructions. The instructions on our package were in Japanese, so we guessed about 5-7 minutes.

-VEG: Preheat pan over medium high heat. Throw in veggies and a little water. Cover with lid and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring a few times and adding more water if the veg starts to stick and burn. Veg will turn vibrant in color and should retain some crunch. When done, remove from pan and set aside.

-SAUCE: Add a small amount of oil to pan. Add ginger, chilies, and garlic. Cook for 30 seconds. Add vegetable broth/corn starch mix, Chinese five spice, and soy sauce. Bring to a boil and cook for a few minutes to thicken. Turn heat to low, add coconut milk.

-FINAL ASSEMBLY: Add noodles and veggies to pan. Mix with sauce and heat through. Top with toasted sesame seeds and Sriracha and you're ready to go! Trust me, you won't miss the meat!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Pizza Love Part II

Today's pizza incident turned out to be the most tempting thus far. Rather than an empty pizza box in the trash can, I had to sit through a working team lunch catered by Minsky's.

My heart was crying on the inside as the delivery man dropped off at least six different kinds of pizza. I managed to pillage through the garden salad and make it work, removing all hard-boiled egg and crouton remnants. Lettuce, carrot shreds, cucumber, broccoli, and Italian dressing, yippee! And honestly, I don't really like salad.

Getting through lunch today did give me a bit of a boost (here's some motivation for ya). I realized that I CAN do this, I don't have to give into temptation, it's not as hard as I thought it would be, and it IS getting easier as time goes on. I'm also holding onto the hope that one day I'll completely forget what real cheese tastes like. Although it would be incredibly sad, it would make this process much easier.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Pizza Kind of Love

Saw this as I walked out of the office today (the grease on the bottom means it's really good).

I wonder if there will ever come a day when a Minsky's box doesn't stir up cravings for Italian sausage and black olive pizza dipped in peppercorn ranch...

If I died tomorrow, vegan or not, I would want that to be my last meal. Period.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Play Ball!

Today was my first real challenge in vegan eating. It was the Royal’s home opener and hot dog day at work. An email went out announcing that the food was ready. I cautiously made my way to the break room and slinked around the food table. I navigated my way through the containers of cookies, platters overflowing with brownies, bowls of cheese dip, and creamy pasta salad. It was not looking promising. Then out of the corner of my eye, I spotted it…the crock pot full of vegan hot dogs!!! I was elated that I would have something to put on my plate besides baby carrots. With dog in tow, I went back to get a bun, and that’s where things went south. The buns had dairy. Fail. I have to give my company props for including the vegan dogs, but they do lose a few points for not having an appropriate hot dog vessel.

And the verdict on vegan Tofurky hot dogs you ask?

Taste – Pretty close to an actual hot dog, but very salty.
Texture – There was a skin of some sort around it which made it difficult to cut through with my plastic fork. Almost resembled a brat more than a hot dog. Inside, the texture was more mushy than meaty, but was palatable.
Overall – With a bun, this would be an excellent substitute for a hot dog or brat. I’ll probably keep some on hand this summer for all of the cook outs we’ll be attending. In terms of health, I’m trying to stay away from anything processed for my migraines, so this will not be an everyday eat.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Vegan Meltdown

Week one went off without a hitch!

OK, that was a complete lie. There were several minor incidents and meltdowns. I was craving chocolate, cookies, and cheese in a serious way. At one point I even tweeted that I would would settle for...."a stick of butter for the love of christo!!!!" I know, a little dramatic. But let's also recall what my body was accustomed to consuming during my prior week's binge. Right. My bad. 

In addition to having severe cravings, there were a few occasions where Jason and I (I should also mention that he is taking the vegan challenge with me) had no idea what to eat. We went to pick up lunch on Saturday and just sat in the car for about 15 minutes trying to figure out where to go. We ended up at Chipotle; I think it will be our trusted standby. We really need to work on getting a few more dishes into the rotation.  

When the cravings finally got to be too much, we went on a late night search for vegan ice cream. How can a grocery store not have any? What about all the lactose intolerant people in the world? Price Chopper did not deliver. We did, however, find these little gems. Vegan friendly and a warning on the back that reads - excessive consumption may cause a laxative effect. So there's that.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Last Supper

I made my decision: vegan for 30 days...at least. I'd like to say it will be for the rest of my life, but let's be honest here, that is a MASSIVE commitment, and I'm just not there yet. But I'm ready for a change, I'm ready to drop some poundage, and I'm ready for my chronic migraines to be gone for good!

The days preceding my "Last Supper," set appropriately on Easter, were full of binge eating. I realize that is counterproductive since I mentioned losing weight...but, priorities people. I wanted to taste and savor every last food I loved one more time. Oklahoma Joe's pulled pork sandwich. Little Caesars pepperoni pizza. Pistachio almond gelato. Spinach and paneer with yogurt. A variety of omelets. More pizza. Blue Bell Moo-llennium Crunch ice cream. Snickers. And seriously, I could go on. 

Easter came and I was feeling pretty good. Throughout the day, I visited and revisited my Easter basket to pull out a chocolate egg here, an Almond Joy there. I ate my fill of ham, brisket, butter-filled mashed potatoes, and pie. Dinner was a great success, and what better way to go out than by eating your mom's home-cooked meal? I was content and headed home for the night.

A few hours and a minor freak out later, I ended up in the drive thru line at McDonald's. Despite everything I had eaten that day and that week, I asked myself, "Does a double cheeseburger and chocolate shake seem like a good idea???" YES! Best idea of my entire life... 

...7 minutes later I was beyond stuffed and completely regretted my decision and the calories I had consumed. Oh well. I knew that was the end of the binge (thank god), and the end of meat, dairy, and animal products. Time to do this thing!