Vegan Food

Hi!  How are you?  I hope you’re someplace warm.  I’ll live vicariously through you. We had more snow this morning and another Nor’easter is on the way tomorrow. It’s challenging to stay positive, but I am trying! We’re just watching entirely too much SpongeBob in this house. I love that little guy, but it’s just too much.

So, Sunday was the last day of my 21-day vegan kick start program. I didn’t post too much about it over the last three weeks because, frankly, nothing too exciting happened.  It was fairly easy for me to forgo dairy.

On Friday nights when the boys had pizza, I ordered a vegetable sub and added some hummus.

Last Friday night I made my own pizza dough (which turned out pretty well. It needs tweaking, but it was edible!) and used Daiya mozzarella-style shreds (which are a lot better tasting than the cheddar-style shreds).

We had bagels last weekend and I topped mine with avocado and nutritional yeast instead of veggie cream cheese or egg and cheese.

Vegan Experience

We went out to dinner twice in three weeks and I didn’t have a problem finding vegan options on the menu. At a tapas place I had grilled rosemary bruchetta, a roasted vegetable special, and veggie paella (now, there may have been butter in the paella. I didn’t ask, but there may have been some. At least I passed on the Manchego!)  And at a funky little pub-type place I had an amazing falafel salad with roasted farro, pine nuts and winter frisee topped with a lemon vinaigrette. We also had a delicious vegetarian taco night in the past week.

For the most part, I found vegan eating to be pretty simple and satisfying.  I honestly didn’t crave cheese once.

Now, how do I feel?

I had hoped to feel lighter, cleaner and healthier by mid-January, but instead;

  1. I feel heavier.
  2. I feel like my PMS symptoms arrived early and with a vengeance.
  3. I feel that I’m easily irritated, lacking patience, and kind of depressed.
  4. In better news, I feel that my lungs have cleared. Yay!  However, that may be due to the antibiotics I took the week I started the vegan kick start.  Boo – I dread taking antibiotics, but push came to shove and I did not want to end up in the hospital with pneumonia.  I’ve been taking probiotics to replenish the good bacteria the antibiotics may have killed off.

To say the least, I’m shocked by how I feel. I thought for sure I’d feel amazing after eating clean for three weeks. I looked back over my food diary and I don’t think that I overate. I seem to have had a good balance of food and nutrients.

I didn’t do the kick start to lose weight, but I certainly didn’t plan to gain weight either!  My clothes are uncomfortably tight and I just don’t feel comfortable in my own skin.

I can’t make sense of it.

The only plausible reason I can think of is that since “my time of the month” coincided with the end of the kick start program, how I’m feeling now is simply Mother Nature giving me a good old kick in the butt.  For 26 years, Mother Nature has kicked me in the butt something awful each month, but this month is up there with the worst times.  “Blech” is all I can say. Mother Nature hates me.

So, maybe a nasty Mother Nature combined with a slight change in diet was enough to throw my body/metabolism out of whack. That’s my best guess.

All’s not lost though. I’m sure I’ll feel peachy-keen sometime next week. And I plan to get back into going to the gym–I haven’t worked out in ages since I hadn’t been feeling well.  Exercising will make a world of difference, not only for my body, but it will help clear the winter SpongeBob sludge out of the space that once held my brain.Ultimately, and despite how I’m feeling now, the last three weeks have re-invigorated my commitment to eating as cleanly as possible. Here’s some of what I’ll be doing from this point forward:

Limit/exclude cow’s dairy.

Drink green tea in place of coffee in the morning. (Coffee has been making me sick recently–and I can’t find a non-dairy creamer I like–so I’ve decided to switch to green tea for now. Maybe I’ll go caffeine-free at some point.)

Drink fresh juice in the morning

Yesterday morning and the morning before, I made this green juice:

2 Granny Smith apples

1 large cucumber

Big handful of washed baby spinach

This morning I had a carrot and apple juice:

4 carrots

2 Fuji apples

I’ll also be cooking from two new pretty fabulous cookbooks by Terry Walters (a fellow Institute for Integrative Nutrition grad)!

While it’s not quite time to say I’ll be doing a Spring Cleaning, that’s pretty much what I’ll be doing. Like, forever. Not just now and not just in the spring. It’s going to be my new year-round lifestyle.

If being sick for months on end has taught me anything it’s that there is nothing better than feeling healthy. When I feel healthy, I can do anything; I can handle anything.

Really, is there anything better than that?

Artificial Foods

After I dropped off Peter Spiderman at school yesterday, I went to the grocery store.

I’m telling you, it’s such a luxury to roam around the grocery store alone. Really. I mean it.  I can pick up lots of food and leisurely read the ingredients labels. Yes, seriously. I like to do that. What?! No! I am not a weirdo!

Anyway, I had the chance to check out a package of multi-grain Arnold Sandwich Thins– a product that a lot of food/wellness bloggers seem to be eating lately.  So, I’m scanning the ingredients list and initially I’m pleased that I don’t see high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) or partially hydrogenated oil (PHO) listed. But as I get further down the list I see Sucralose.  Alarm bells start ding-a-linging in my head and I probably do look like a weirdo when I say “sucralose!” in the same clenched-teeth way that Jerry used to say “Newman!”

Needless to say, I did not buy that package of sandwich thins. I never buy items containing artificial sweeteners (or HFCS, PHO, artificial colors, non-organic corn and soy, or chemical-sounding ingredients. Yeah. My options are limited).

I was vexed. The thins are touted as a “healthy” food choice, but artificial sweeteners are not healthy.

Artificial Bread

By the time I got home I couldn’t remember the ingredients other than sucralose, so I hopped onto Arnold’s website to see if I could find the ingredients list there. I thought I was on the right path when I saw a link called ”How to Read Nutrition Labels.”  But when I clicked on it, it showed only the nutrition label, not the ingredients list. Bummer.  The nutrition label is helpful to a point, but there’s no entry for artificial sweeteners, right?

For me, the ingredients list is the deciding factor on whether I buy a product or not.

So I searched online a bit more and found that the website Fab and Delicious Food reviewed the sandwich thins two years ago. That writer was also dismayed by the sucralose. She (I’m assuming the writer is a “she”) included a picture of the ingredients list for 100% whole wheat Arnold Sandwich Thins:

Just like the multi-grain thins, the whole wheat thins also contain sucralose (2nd to last ingredient).  What astounds me is that there is also sugar in these things (6th ingredient). Why does a food product need sugar AND sucralose? Really, I’d like to know.

Some other ingredients that make me say “huh?”: Cellulose Fiber – as far as I can tell this is, um, wood pulp?  Please someone from Arnold, clarify this for me.

Polydextrose: this is an additive that improves the taste associated with foods that are sold with low calories. It can also be an alternative for sugars, fats and starch in many foods sold in the supermarket.

If you’re interested, you can read more on the side effects of Polydextrose here.

So. Now we have sugar, polydextrose and sucralose? How sweet are these things?

Canola Oil – I actually have a draft post entitled “What the Hell is a Canola?”  It sounds too much like a book report for me to publish on the blog, but maybe one of these days I’ll get it in good shape. Or, maybe this brief paragraph will be enough of an explanation.

You may be surprised that I question this ingredient since it’s so common. But most of the canola oil on the market is derived from genetically modified seeds. Yeah. I also try not to buy things that are genetically modified (hence the boycott of non-organic corn and soy products).

 

Preservatives – I’m generally not a fan of preservatives.  Real food rots. Buy small amounts. Eat them quickly.

Monoglycerides – these improve the volume of the loaf and lead to softer crumbs. OK, I’m not a great baker, but when one bakes bread at home, does one add monoglycerides?

Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate – It seems that this is another food additive used to improve texture of baked goods? Although it sounds scary, after reading about it it seems kind of benign. I did see on ehow.com that it “imparts a sweetness of its own, thus decreasing the need of sugar in recipes.”

Really? So now we have: sugar, polydextrose, sucralose, and Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate to make this bread sweet.

Soy Lecithin – It’s an emulsifier. But since it’s not organic soy, it’s not for me.

Take it from me: it takes a long time to Google ingredients. Do yourself a favor and don’t eat/drink things that you need to Google.

Seriously.

Vegan Food

We had a pretty busy day today running errands (I think I’ve mentioned this before, but when I say “errands,” Peter thinks I’m saying “Erin,” who is his aunt, my sister, and he assumes we’re going to her house to see his cousins. When we end up at CVS, he’s always disappointed. That got me thinking about other words he may misconstrue, and then I realized that when I say “Ugh, I’m draggin’ today,” he probably thinks I’m saying ”Ugh, I’m a dragon today.”)

Anyway, in the car on the way home from karate this afternoon I asked Peter what he wanted for dinner and he replied: “Moe’s.” I almost said “OK,” but then I remembered that we had corn tortillas, rice, frozen corn, salsa, cheese, olives, and plain yogurt at home.  All we needed for the at-home-Moe’s- experience were black beans, guacamole, and lettuce.  Off to the nearest chain grocery store we went.

Unfortunately, the store did not have limes or cilantro, so our guacamole topping was reduced to a plain avocado topping.  The store also didn’t have any fresh looking organic lettuce, so I opted for organic broccoli sprouts thinking that they would add the cold, crunchy texture that is essential to a good taco. (Did you know that I can’t say “taco” without laughing?  I don’t know why; it just sounds funny to me. And I absolutely cannot say “fish taco.”  It sounds repulsive. They should be renamed ”fish enchiladas.” I also can’t say “moist.” I don’t know what’s wrong with me.)

In any case, Cinco de Mayo is next Thursday…perhaps you can celebrate with these tacos.

Vegetarian Tacos

Moe’s-at-home Vegetarian Tacos (Serves 4)

Ingredients:

1 cup cooked brown rice (you’ll probably have leftover rice. I cook my rice in vegetable broth instead of plain water for extra flavor.)

1 can organic black beans, rinsed and drained

6 oz. frozen organic corn

1/2 c. jarred salsa (or homemade if you’re ambitious)

1/2 c.  goat’s milk cheddar cheese, shredded (or whatever shredded cheese you like)

1/2 c. chopped olives, black or kalamata

1 avocado, sliced (or make guacamole. I urge you to make guacamole because it’s awesome.)

1/2 c. organic plain yogurt

1/2 c. organic broccoli sprouts (or shredded organic lettuce)

6 5 1/2″ round corn (or flour) tortillas (preferably organic)

Directions:

  1. Cook rice according to package directions. When done, place in bowl and set aside.
  2. In the same pot you used to cook the rice, add black beans, frozen corn and salsa. Cook over medium heat until very warm throughout.
  3. When the bean mixture is warm, heat up a skillet to warm your corn tortillas. In case you didn’t know, tortillas tear if you try to fold them while cold.  Warm the tortillas for about 15 seconds on each side until they feel pliable.
  4. Take a tortilla and place about one tablespoon of rice down the middle. On top of the rice, pile on one or two tablespoons of the bean mixture, a big pinch or two of shredded cheese and olives, a slice or two of avocado, and a large pinch of broccoli sprouts. Add a dollop or two of plain yogurt on top, fold into a taco shape, and enjoy.

They’re messy to eat – I had to help Peter eat his. But, all in all, I think they’re a fairly quick, pretty healthy alternative to fast Mexican-type food. I have to say, the plain yogurt really tied it all together for me, but I’m sure if I had guacamole I would’ve skipped the yogurt since I’m still limiting cow dairy in my diet.

Do you have a favorite vegetarian taco recipe?

Making Salads

Quinoa SaladI had a heap of quinoa left over from a dinner I made for Peter and my 6-year-old nephew, Elijah.  As Eli will tell you: “‘Quinn-oh-ah’ is his favorite grain and it’s a very healthy grain.”  Little did he know that he was preaching to the choir.  However, he was already mad at me for correcting his mispronunciation of quinoa; I wasn’t about to crush him further by telling him that I already knew that “keen-wah” is a healthy grain.  I was just thrilled to be serving him something other than cream cheese and jelly sandwiches (blech!)

QUINN-OOHHH-AAAAHHH!!!

Yesterday at lunchtime, I grabbed the leftover plain-old-cooked-in-vegetable-broth quinoa and a bunch of random ingredients that sounded to me like they’d taste good together and created this rather tasty salad.  It was definitely missing the leafy green component and I kind of wished that I had some spinach in the vegetable bin.  Also some basil or maybe fresh oregano? I’ve never used fresh oregano, so I’m not sure how it would work.  But that’s the fun of these mix-in dishes — you just throw stuff together and find out what works.

Ingredients:

1 cup uncooked, rinsed quinoa (unprocessed quinoa has a bitter coating called saponin. Most likely the quinoa found in the store is saponin-free, but I take the better-safe-than-sorry route and always rinse my quinoa in a fine mesh strainer before cooking.  After rinsing, you can also toast quinoa in a dry frying pan to bring out a nuttier flavor. After toasting, boil as per package directions.)

2 cups water or broth

1 large tomato, cut into chunks

1/2 onion, chopped

1 handful kalamata olives, sliced

1 handful green olives, sliced

1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled

1 handful toasted, sliced almonds

1 15 oz. can garbanzo beans, rinsed

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Cook the quinoa according to package directions. Typically those directions are: bring 1 cup of quinoa and 2 cups of liquid to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and place a lid on the pot. Cook for 10-15 minutes until liquid is absorbed. Fluff with fork.  Allow to cool.
  2. Once quinoa is cooled, place all ingredients in a large bowl and toss together. Top with extra almonds and/or feta and dig in.

(I’m all about very basic olive oil dressings. If you like fancier dressings, by all means experiment with them on these kinds of mix-in dishes. )

This salad is even better the next day.  I know this because I just ate a bowl.  I also drank a pre-made margarita that came out of a box! For real! It’s like boxed wine, but it’s a margarita!  It’s not wonderful and some would say “not classy,” but it’s very hot today and I came down with my usual hot-day-guacamole-and-margarita craving.  I don’t have any avocados in the house to make guacamole, but the quinoa salad totally hit the spot.

I hope you’re enjoying your Sunday!  I’m off to make pork tenderloin with roasted apples and onions.  And it’s 95 degrees outside. How awesome is that? Can you think of a better way for a vegetarian to spend her afternoon?

Cooking Tools

All-Clad Slow CookerOne of my favorite small kitchen appliances has got to be the slow cooker. For lazy people like me, it’s a great tool to use to make a good amount of food that you can eat for a week or so. It’s also good at making very very yummy foods. Many times I’ll get a big piece of pork and toss it in the slow cooker for 12-15 hours. When it’s done, it literally falls apart in your mouth and you can use it to make many other meals. It keeps well too so you can use the meat for a week or two before you think about throwing it out.

I personally use an All-Clad slow cooker. They’ve been making cookware for decades and have a lot of patents for the way they make their cookware. In fact they’re the first company to make cookware from raw materials in their own factories.

There are several advantages to using an All-Clad stainless steel slow cooker. There are many cuts of meat that if cooked quickly will be very chewy and gristly. Typically the cuts of hard-worked muscles are the ones that will be worst if you cook it too fast. The slow cooker fixes that by cooking the meat in a steady consistent heat that maintains the moisture and so in time dissolves the connective tissue without completely toughening the meat.

Another cool feature inherent in slow cookers is that you can cook food a lot longer than necessary and still not overcook it. Because you’re cooking it at such a low but steady temperature, overcooking and burning can be avoided.

But, being a lazy person, the best thing by far about my All-Clad slow cooker is that I can cook a complete meal (or many meals depending on how many people I’m cooking for) with one dish. I can make a tasty stew with one single dish and my family loves me. Perfect. Clean up is minimal (especially if you use paper or plastic tableware and everyone is happy, especially me).

The only drawback to slow cookers is probably the fact that a lot of vitamins and nutrients are lost in the cooking process so that your food doesn’t do as much for your body as it could if cooked differently. However I mainly use a slow cooker for meats so my goal is to get as much protein as possible. Combing slow-cooked meat with fresh veggies and pasta is amazing. There are a lot of All-Clad slow cooker recipes out there too that are really easy to make, which is always useful when deciding on what to make for Dinner.