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 🙂

Epilogue
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 28

September 28, 2008

I had quite a productive day today, at least for a Sunday: I got my washing done, mucked around a little bit in the garden, did some tidying up around the house. Nothing earth-shatteringly important, but still OK.

I didn’t eat much during the day, just a little snacking here and there. Some nice garlic and herb pitta breads, though.

When it came to dinner time, I was at a little bit of a loss; I couldn’t really think what I wanted to eat. I was sort of in the mood for something a little spicy, but couldn’t figure out what to have. I also had some peppers in the fridge which I had to use up a bit quick, because they were about ready to go wrinkly, and were already a little crinkly, to tell the truth. I also wanted something fairly quick and easy, because I wasn’t really in the mood to do a lot of cooking.

I go through stages like that sometimes, where I just don’t feel like it; as much as I enjoy cooking most of the time, sometimes it just feels a little like too much effort.

Anyway, I was in the mood for something spicy, and I had those peppers, which immediately brought to mind that I should cook some chili. And then I had a brainwave moment. I decided to stay withe the idea of lentil chili, but instead of putting the peppers into the chili, I would put the chilli into the peppers! Peppers stuffed with lentil chili, in other words.

Sometimes, it just needs the spark of a new idea to make you take renewed interest in something.

I started with a finely chopped onion, and a stick of celery, also finely chopped. I think the key with making stuffed anything is to make sure that anything which has to be chopped isn’t too large – you want your filling mixture to be fairly small so it can get right down into the nooks and crannies and fill the space efficiently. I also chopped a single green chili, and two cloves of garlic.

All of this went into a pan with some oil, and was gently fried for a while. Meanwhile back at the ranch I opened a can of red kidney beans, which I drained. These were added to the mix, along with maybe a 1/4 lb or so of red lentils, a can of chopped tomatoes, a canful of water, two teaspoons of ground cumin, some ground coriander (cilantro to you Americans) and some salt and pepper; I also added a teaspoon of chipotle paste, because I like the smoky flavour it gives to whatever you add it to. I brought it to the boil, and then down to a low simmer.

I left it cooking for maybe 20 mins to half an hour, uncovered, so the lentils could break down and the water cook away, making sure to stir frequently, because red lentils will stick the moment your back is turned if you’re not careful. I eventually ended up with a stiff chili, because I had purposely let a touch more of the water cook out that I would ordinarily, just because it would be used to fill something rather than just eaten alone. I then stuffed it into three peppers, which I had blanched previously in some boiling water: two green and one yellow. They then went into the oven on a high heat for about 15 mins, and emerged slightly browned here and there.

Delicious all round — the peppers were tender but not falling to pieces, and the extra cooking gave the spices in the chili a little extra time to cook and work their magic. It was excellent, and I’ll definitely make it again some time.

I also made far too much chili to actually go into the peppers, which I have to admit I was nipping at while doing the stuffing, although that leaves me with leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

Two more days of the experiment left, and I’m half-sad and half-impatient to see it through. It’s been good to have some kind of direction and some focus to my month. I’d been feeling a little directionless as far as my diet and personal life went, so it’s been good to have some kind of rudder for the month, something to aim towards.

I think I’ll kind of miss that.


Days 26 & 27

September 28, 2008

I spent Friday evening with my grandfather again. I pretty well always do. He’s 80, and has many and varied health problems, so I make a point of spending some good time with him every week; I often go over there in the week as well, just to check in on him. He’s had two heart attacks, and one of the little rituals we have is that at 9:00 p.m., we have a little snack, because that’s when he has to take his array of pills and potions and inhalers, and he’s supposed to eat something right afterwards.

I don’t usually have much in the way of meals on a Friday, aside from lunch. I tend to snack more than anything, mostly every half hour or so having a small bite to eat. It’s usually something like hummus, or maybe some crisps. I’ve kind of gotten into that pattern for some reason.

As an aside, I go the opposite way on a Saturday: I don’t eat most of the day and then have a big meal in the evening, usually right after I’ve worked out. Huge loads of carbs, even before I started doing this thing. Moreso now, I suppose, because I’m eating more veggies, although I suppose they fall under the category of complex carbs.

I just ate a large dinner of sweet and sour tofu with onions and peppers. I cut up the tofu into little cubes and marinated it in the sauce for a few hours. I used a bought sauce, because, well, just as life is too short to stuff a mushroom, it’s also too short to make sweet and sour sauce from scratch. Trust me, I’ve done it.

When it was ready, I took it out of the sauce and dredged it in flour, seasoned with a little salt and pepper, and then fried it. While that was frying, I stirfried some some sliced onions and green peppers until a little soft, but not too soft: I like them with a little bite to them still.

Sweet & Sour Sauce

Sweet & Sour Sauce

I then added the remaining sauce and let it simmer a minute or two, more to heat it up than anything else.

Then it was a case of piling the crunchy tofu chunks onto the plate and drenching them in the sauce and veggies. It was tasty as all get out: the tofu was crunchy on the outside but soft and chewy in the middle, and the sauce complimented it perfectly, the vegetables and sweetness offsetting the crunch of the batter. I imagine it would probably be even better with a halfway decent sauce; I just used Sharwoods, the bog standard off the shelf stuff available in any supermarket.

I’m going to try making some onion bhajis tomorrow. I don’t know how available they are in the US, but onion bhajis are basically a little fried dumplings made with strips of onion and spiced gram (chickpea) flour. They’re served all over the place in Indian restaurants and are widely available in supermarkets as snack food; they’re also delicious when freshly made.

A symptom of loss due to veganism – I’ve been craving eggs and eggy things, and mayonnaise in particular, although I’ve said before that I probably won’t be trying any egg-free mayo. It’s fairly nasty from what I remember; I don’t even really like light mayonnaise because it doesn’t have the proper kind of eggy flavour and richness a lot of the time, and the texture is frequently quite odd, more like a kind of jelly than the smooth emulsion of an actual mayo. I shouldn’t complain, really; come Wednesday next, I’ll be able to eat all the mayonnaise I want. I could have a big bowl of it if I so chose. No doubt as soon as I can eat it again, I won’t want to.

That about covers it for now; I’m going to go to bed in a few minutes.


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.


Days 21 & 22: A Brief Segue into Lentils

September 22, 2008

Sorry about not posting yesterday – I was unable to get a very good connection with WordPress from home for some reason, so couldn’t post.

I made the vegan macaroni and cheese, and it rocked! I added a little bit of Cheezly to the recipe, and it was righteously good. It wasn’t macaroni cheese, although it tasted similar to the old favourite; it was just a little different. I think I’ll stick with making it this way even if I don’t stay vegan or vegetarian at the end of the experiment.

I added some breadcrumbs and baked it until it had browned on top, and it was very good. I can highly recommend it to anyone.

Tonight I’ll be eating a vegetable masala, which is a kind of curry, which I picked up cheap at the supermarket. It’s made by a company called Vegalicious, which makes all of its products by hand. It’s kind of weird to think of eating ready made food which someone else actually made: all too often our prepared food is made solely by machines.

I’ll be having it with some masoor dal (of course!). I can’t get enough red lentils, seems like. They’re extremely healthy and versatile: you can use lentils for all kinds of different dishes. They provide a delicious flavour and texture which can be entirely different to how they’re cooked.

Lentils have been continuously cultivated by humans for literally thousands of years, and are amongst the first plants domesticated by farmers in the Middle East. Archaeologists think that they’ve been cultivated since the aceramic (pre-pottery) Neolithic, which is approximately 10,000 years ago. That’s a long history right there, and no wonder — lentils are 26% protein, contain significant levels of complex cardohydrates and are an excellent source of dietary fibre. If combined with rice, they constitute a complete protein meal. Lentils are a superfood, basically: the high fibre they supply, along with the significant levels of folate, magnesium and iron, helps maintain digestive and cardiac health.

three varieties of lentilLentils come in many varieties, mainly as red and green, although many different varities exist throughout the world in many different cuisines.

Lentils are also extremely suitable for cultivation in dry climates, making them a particularly useful crop in deprived areas. Interestingly enough, though, most of the world’s imported lentils are grown in Saskatchewan, Canada. The biggest single producer is India, although most of their product is consumed on the domestic market; unsurprising, given its high vegetarian population and the fact that its traditional cuisine encompasses many pulses and legumes.

Incidentally, while unsuccessfully looking for a link to the company Vegalicious, I came across a site called by the same name, which can be found here. It has a compendium of recipes aimed at vegetarians and vegans. I’ve only looked quickly, but it seems to be professionally done with a great deal of care and attention, and the recipes seem varied and interesting. I’ll definitely be checking over there more often.

That’s about it for today (and yesterday); I think tomorrow is going to be stuffed tomatoes or something similar. I have a couple of beef tomatoes which need to be eaten, like, yesterday.


Day 15: Bourbon Tofu

September 15, 2008

This is just going to be a quick one, as it’s late. I left it kind of late in the day to do this one, because I was, well, doing other stuff.

Lunch was fairly dull, I’m afraid: bits of cheddar-style Sheese in wraps with salad. Not about to light the vegan world on fire with that, really.

Dinner was more interesting. One of my favourite things to eat in the whole world is bourbon chicken. It’s tasty and moreish, and I can eat platefuls of it all day long, especially when there’s broccoli in it as well. I was really craving some tonight, but obviously I couldn’t have any.

But then I thought to myself, why not try it with tofu? One of the virtues of tofu is that it takes on flavours very easily when cooked. A classic form of it is to simply marinade firm tofu in soy sauce and fry it. It comes out very nicely, especially if you let it get really crispy. The saltiness of the sauce comes over really well.

I decided to go looking for various recipes for bourbon chicken in the hopes of finding something I could apply to a block of tofu. Some of them were really complicated, I must say, which I didn’t want to do. Yes, I realise that vegan cooking requires a little more thought and planning, and I enjoy cooking; but I don’t want to be chained to the stove, either.

Eventually, I amalgamated some of the simpler ones, and came up with a nice version of it which I think almost anyone could eat and enjoy.

Taifun TofuFirst, the tofu. This is all based on a 200g block of firm white tofu, in this case, the Taifun. Taifun is a German company which specialises in tofu. It makes all kinds of flavoured varieties, as well as the plain, and I would particularly recommend the basil flavoured variety. It’s firm and chewy and delicious.

I cut the block into bit-sized pieces and left it to drain. The marinade was equal quantities by volume of soy, whisky and brown sugar, about 60ml each. That’s a 1/4 cup to you Merkans. I then added about half a teaspoon each of garlic powder, ginger and vinegar, and left the tofu marinating in it for a couple of hours.

Chinese LeafI then chopped up some asparagus that was about ready to be eaten or thrown away, along with some Chinese leaf and stir fried it, setting it to one side. No special reason, those were just what I had in the way of green veggies.

The tofu was then fried until crisp and set aside. I then added the remainder of the marinade sauce to the pan and reduced it until it was thick and sticky, and then chucked in the veggies and tofu and stirred it all in. I ate it with boiled rice, and it was delicious. I will definitely be cooking this again soon!

I have a dentist’s appointment tomorrow, so I have no idea what I’ll be eating. It’s for a filling, so something soft, most likely. I’ll keep you posted.

Crossposted on The Odd Blog


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.