Day 30: And as I face the final curtain…

September 30, 2008

Today was the last day of the experiment. I’ve spent an entire month as a vegan, not having knowingly eaten any milk, cheese, honey, animal fats or… well, whatever else you can get out of animals.

It was a strangely anti-climactic day, overall. Not that I expected fanfares or a ticker tape parade, but perhaps some greater feeling. I don’t even feel relieved, because it hasn’t been a bad month. It’s been interesting, mostly, with the occasional craving for foods I can’t eat.

I learned that I could radically change how I eat, and, hopefully, could endure any other major lifestyle changes. Perhaps endure isn’t the right word here; accept, maybe? Accept is better, because it doesn’t have that sense of something unpleasant or punitive.

The food has been good throughout — I’ve experienced a lot of new flavours and different ways to cook. As someone who spends a lot of time thinking about food and who enjoys cooking, that in itself has been a bonus, and even if I had had a horrible time, that would’ve made it worthwhile, I think.

There have also been changes to the way I cook, too. I’ve had to be a little less spontaneous and had to be a little more thoughtful about what I’m eating. This just a necessity on a vegan diet, really, unless you plan on eating nothing but salad. Because it’s so restricted in what you can eat, you have to plan ahead a little more, make plans in advance for what’s going to be on your plate. You also have to be a little watchful about how you eat, especially with prepared and pre-made foods. I know that I spent an inordinate amount of time squinting at the tiny writing on the backs of ordinary food, quite frequently uttering annoyed grunts of disbelief about what foods might contain hidden dairy or honey; I couldn’t even eat Mentos, because they contain beeswax, believe it or not. So in respect of being a little more thoughtful about what I eat, how I prepare it and what goes into it, I’ve learned quite a bit. In future, I may well end up considering a lot more the means and ways of how I eat.

I’ve also learned that a lot of people will give you funny looks if you tell them you’re a vegan, but that a lot more will be fascinated and intrigued by the idea. Not because they want to become vegans themselves, but because it’s something so far outside the boundaries of what they’re used to when it comes to eating. All too many people in the UK seem to think a meal isn’t complete without meat in it; they seem to believe that without meat it isn’t really a meal at all. More like a mea- or something, like it’s missing the final letter, as if the meat were something to make it complete. Hey, I rhymed!

I’d like to thank everyone and anyone who was reading along, and I’d also like to especially thank my wife, who has been a constant source of support throughout. She’s been interested and interacted with me thoroughly and made it more bearable when I needed some support.

I’ve definitely enjoyed it, I’ll say that. It’s uncertain right now, to me, what I’ll be eating tomorrow. And that’s a strangely liberating feeling, whether or not I end up eating tofu or steak.

For tonight, though, I know exactly what I’ll be eating. It just seemed fitting, really.

Tonight, I will be eating felafel, to round things out.

Thanks, everyone! Have a good night eating whatever you feel like 🙂

The next challenge will be taking place in November. I need a month off, I think.

Anyway, the next challenge will be in November, and will be for NaNoWriMo. Stay tuned!


Day 23: Stuffed Tomatoes

September 23, 2008

It’s just a short one today. I’ve been working like a dog the past few days; I have a dental appointment on Thursday afternoon, and I wanted to get some flexitime accrued so I could go without having to take a half-day of my annual leave on it.

Flexitime is a fantastic idea; it’s a wonder more companies don’t do it. Sure, you don’t get regimented, orderly work days that finish on the dot at 5:00 p.m., but you also allow more flexibility and freedom for your workers, ultimately resulting in a happier and probably more productive workforce. Oh, well.

Dinner tonight was stuffed tomatoes, as mooted yesterday. I got two big beef tomatoes, and cut off a little hat from each one and scooped out the seeds and most of the internal flesh, leaving me with two hollow tomatoes.

I set them aside, and then gently fried some chopped onions, garlic, and celery, and then added some beansprouts because I had them lying around and was in that kind of mood. I seasoned them, and while they were frying, I cooked some rice. You can use boiled or steamed, whatever floats your boat.

When it was cooked, I added the rice to the mix and stirred it all in, adding some dill weed to flavour it. I love dill, it’s one of my favourite herbs. It has such a wonderful flavour; sort of creamy/buttery. It’s also a carminative, meaning that it’s good for your digestion and soothes the stomach.

Now, if you’re a clever person, like me, you might also think of adding pine nuts or something similar to this dish, possibly toasting them a little before hand. If you’re a person who can actually outremember a goldfish, unlike me, you’ll make sure to add them in. Oh, well. Take it as read that the dish contains pine nuts or similar; I find that sunflower seeds, lightly toasted in a pan, make a delicious and crunchy addition to rice dishes and can quite easily take the place of pine nuts.

I then lined the tomatoes with some slices of Cheezly, of the cheddar-style variety, and stuffed the rice mixture into them, and put the hats back on them before baking them for about twenty minutes or so in a hot oven.

Man, were they good! The flesh of the tomatoes was cooked just right, it was just melting away, and combined beautifully with the Cheezly. The rice mixture came together in a slightly sticky mass that was still able to fall apart as rice should. The whole thing was so damned good I’m tempted to make it again tomorrow… Except that I have another tofu dish planned, with a Japanese theme again. Stay tuned for more good eatin’!

Tomato image via Tomsil.

Day 16

September 16, 2008

I’ve been having fun with tofu, which is a sentence you only rarely see written down.

Unadorned tofu is terribly bland. You know that expression about there being a party in your mouth, and everyone’s invited? Yeah. That never gets used about untouched tofu. It’s more like a funeral.

So, I’ve been having fun with marinades and so on. After the success of my Bourbon Tofu yesterday, which I am considering renaming to Drunken Soy or something, I decided that I would try to do barbecue tofu.

Now, correctly speaking, barbecue as a cooking method means slow cooking over a low heat for a long time, with smoke from wood chips on a banked fire trapped in an enclosed space, like a drum. It is then smothered in a spicy sauce.

This is obviously not a viable means of home cooking. At least, not in my house, and I don’t know that it would work with tofu.

So I went with the barbecue sauce flavour. I marinaded the tofu in it for a few hours, and then shallow fried it. Boy, but did it spit! I think the wateriness of the tofu and the sauce itself were was did it, and I can only counsel caution to anyone else.

I had it with sweetcorn again, as well as mashed potato, which was somewhat disappointing: I caved and bought some soya milk earlier, a brand called So Good. It actually seemed to work in coffee without separating, which was a bonus. Unfortunately, it’s rather too sweet to use in mash, as I found out, and there is a very slight, almost unnoticeable vanilla flavour to it which didn’t go over very well. I coped by adding salt and pepper afterwards, but I think we can put it down as a qualified success.

I know I promised something about weight lifting and veganism, and I haven’t forgotten: my brain is not yet cheesecake, as I have been taking my B12 supplement. Interestingly, though, it seems that B12 is one of those which builds up in the body and is recycled somehow… but I don’t want to take the risk, really. I mean, my brain is one of my favourite body parts. I use it all the time, and I’d hate to lose it to a freak vitamin deficiency.

Anyway, that’s it for now. Have a good night!

Day 14

September 14, 2008

Not a lot happened today. I did a lot of grazing – just minor snacking throughout the day. Most of it wasn’t exactly tiptop, healthwise: lots of flour tortillas and rice cakes spread with hummus or with Sheese. I don’t think I actually ate a meal until just a couple of hours ago, really.

I found out something very cool to eat, though – I bought a block of tofu the other day. It was firm tofu, rather than silken, so the texture is chewier to start with. I then cut it into strips, which I marinated a little while in some dark soy sauce. I prefer dark soy sauce, because it’s saltier and stronger, basically. After that, I got a pan and heated some sunflower oil up until very hot, and then fried the slices until they were crisp and browned on both sides. And gosh-a-loo, what a revelation! The first bite of tofu was delicious, tasting of both the soy and the sunflower oil, and the texture was crisp and crunchy on the outside, with a magnificent contrast on the inside… I guess the closest thing in texture is like when you get some French toast, and the outside is as crisp as you like, and there’s the wonderful inner part where the egg and bread have combined to form a kind of substance that’s almost jelly-like in consistency, but smoother, a sort of bread custard. You know what I mean. It’s difficult to describe, but you know what I mean. It was eye-poppingly good, and I will be trying variations on it for some time, no doubt.

I then thought to myself that however healthy tofu may be, it’s not really a good thing to not being eating veggies; especially as a vegan, because then it seems almost perverse to not do it. So I found some avocado, and chopped it up, and then added some tomatoes and a little salt; I think there’s very little better in this world than an avocado which has been just a little salted. But it seemed even then to be missing something, which is when I hit upon the idea of adding some tahini and stirring it all together well, and it was good! Maybe it’s just me, but it was really good! The slight bitterness of the tahini contrasted well with the sweet tomato taste, and both of them were brought together by the smoothness and softness of the avocado. I ate it in a tortilla, and it was just fab.

And then I ate corn again. I just can’t get enough of it lately, and I don’t think that you can do it any btter than to cook it under a grill or on a barbecue with a little oil and some salt and pepper. It just begs to be eaten.

OK, planning for the week – at some point I’ll be blogging about vegan weight lifting and exercise, as well as eggs. Or rather, not eggs.

Day Eight: White Sauce and Spanish Rice

September 8, 2008

I’ve said here before that I’m having a hard time with not eating cheese. Milk is also something I miss; while soy milk fulfills part of the desire, there’s nothing quite like a nice big glass of cold skimmed milk.

Coffee is not quite the same without it, but I’m getting used to that, and I’m certainly not about to try using soy milk in it anymore: soy milk is actually what is known technically as an emulsion, or immiscible liquids in a stable blend. Basically, it’s oil, water and small particles. Unfortunately, soy milk is not quite so stable an emulsion as dairy, meaning that unless stirred vigorously every minute or so, it separates into what looks like curds. Not terribly nice, and something of a pain to keep going at. You can get it to not do that by adding it when the liquid has cooled down, but who wants to drink lukewarm coffee? I’ll stick with black and one sugar for now, I think.

One thing which I’ve been trying to think of cooking somehow is macaroni (and) cheese, name dependent upon where you live. Unfortunately, the means to do it seemed to have eluded me, until I happened to land upon the site called Vegan Village, which maintains a list of vegan recipes.

Oddly enough, they have a recipe for white sauce, which is simply a vegan version of the standard variety, literally: the ingredients are identical. Vegan margarine, soy milk and flour. It recommends using yeast flakes for a cheesy flavour, and I may well give it a try during the week.

That’s not what’s on the menu today, though.

Two of my favourite styles of cookery are Mexican and Tex-Mex, which are distinct forms of cuisine, despite what most people think. Unfortunately for me right now, both of them are kind of heavy on the meat, particularly beef when it comes to Tex-Mex.

Two of the other staple ingredients of these two related cookery styles are rice and beans, and this is indeed a classic form of both, not to mention being widely used throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Variations of the theme include the Brazilian feijoada, a hearty stew of black turtle beans with salted pork; Platillos Moros y Cristianos, a Cuban dish of black beans and white rice which translates as Moors and Christians, named for the colours; and of course, the New Orleans Creole classic of red beans and rice.

Protein is an important part of every diet, as it aids in cell formation and regeneration, and is a necessity for life. Indeed, the name is Greek for primary. The most complete and easily used forms of protein come from meat, which leaves vegans in something of a pinch; this may also be related to the source of the common stereotype of the vegan as weak and skinny.

Plant proteins often are incomplete, meaning that they lack all of the essential amino acids necessary for the maintenance of life. This is relatively easily solved, however, using the fact that different plants supply different protein formations, and combining them in different ways can resolve the issue of protein. Coincidentally, the combination of rice and beans supplies all the proteins necessary to sustain life, as well as carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and fibre. It should be noted, though, that the proteins need not be combined in a single meal, despite popular misconceptions to the contrary.

Plus, of course, there is the fact that beans and rice together are generally very cheap, and can provide a nutritious meal for several people (or for one over several days) at very low cost and effort.

While I like rice and beans, and would probably kill wound someone for a good plate of red beans and rice, I’m after something a little more interesting than simply adding them together. This experiment isn’t just about surviving as a vegan, after all, but seeing the whole picture together. That means I get to cook stuff which I actually enjoy eating too.

Crazy idea, I know.

So, my idea for tonight is to cook Spanish rice and bean burgers. To add a certain Tex-Mex flavour, I’ll be using pinto beans for the burgers.

The bean burgers will be more or less along the same lines as the felafel I made before, albeit with a few minor differences. I’ll be using chipotle paste instead of harissa, for example, and corn meal instead of white flour. Otherwise, the basic ingredients – onions, beans and spices are more or less the same.

The Spanish rice is a little different. I struggled with this dish for quite a while, I have to admit. It used to come out soggy and bright red, sticky and clumped together. Then I hit upon the idea of cooking the rice and the tomato base separately. Aha! I tried it, and it came out perfect, so every time since I’ve done it that way. The sauce base is chopped tomatoes, onions and peppers, garlic, salt, pepper, herbs, tomato puree/paste and some chilli if I feel like spicing things up. After last night’s curry, I’ll leave it out. It’s all gently fried and simmered together until it results in a thick sauce, to which you add the rice and stir it in. It comes out a beautiful orange colour, non-sticky and delicious.

Right, that’s it for today. I’m off to cook!

Crossposted at The Odd Blog.

Days Five and Six – The Joy of Soy

September 6, 2008

Days 5 and 6 are combined today, for a couple of reasons. The first is that I had no time yesterday. I went to work in the morning, ate Greek for lunch, came home, talked to my wife and left for my grandfather’s place. I got home around 11:30 p.m. and talked to my wife again, and then I ate bagels and after that I went to bed.

That’s kind of a condensed version, but it shows you how little time I had to be all bloggy.

The issue of the experiment didn’t come up, and I was feeling kind of tired, so I wimped out of bringing it up. I also ate some biscuits of dubious provenance, which lead me to the lalalalala-I-can’t-hear-you stage in which I don’t check the ingredients.

Besides, while there is an “official” definition of vegan which explicitly excludes all animal products right down to honey, it’s not a settled issue; there is even controversy amongst some vegans over it. How far do you go with it? Why should honey be excluded from consideration? Are eggs by definition a “cruel” food? And so on. There is even a pro-honey faction, which gives me a certain amount of satisfaction, I must admit, although the anti-honey majority certainly seems to have its ducks seitan duck-meat substitute in a row. The arguments don’t seem to be conclusive either way, which is not exactly a huge shock; there are good reasons why vegans might consume honey without guilt, and arguments against honey which use the term slavery of bees might be doing the anti cause more harm than good.

That aside, I will not knowingly eat animal products during the experiment, honey included. But I will continue to call my wife Honey.
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Day Two, with cake, fudge and felafel.

September 2, 2008

Delicious food, you must eat it!Day 2 of the experiment was kind of difficult. I started off the day with toast and jam again (this may start to be a theme) and ate the last of the soup for lunch. I made too much, but it’s gone now, so dinner will be something different.

It was difficult because everyone around me decided today would be a good day to eat chocolate cake and fudge. Damn and blast and other such imprecations. You will be happy to learn, dear readers, that I did not fold in the face of delicious cake.

Besides, when I learn how to make vegan chocolate cake, I will take it in and eat it in front of everyone and not share a single bite.
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