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 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.

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 17: Nooch!

September 17, 2008

Today was veeeery busy at work, plus I overslept a little and ended up in a rush this morning. I didn’t really do myself proud at lunch (becoming a theme) but I did stay vegan, despite an overpowering urge to go and buy cheese and scoff the lot while laughing maniacally. Yay me!

To celebrate this, I decided to make cheesy food for dinner. I didn’t succumb to the cravings because the Force is strong in me but I did want a cheesy taste. Like a nicotine addict with that horrible gum. I swear, giving up smoking was never as hard as giving up dairy.

Wholewheat noodles, because I love those things. I said it before, but it bears repeating: the texture is much better. It’s a little chewer, a little less prone to being sticky and slimy. I added some Tofutti cream soy cheese to the noodles when they were cooked, and it was good, but not quite right. It might’ve worked with cream Sheese, but unfortunately, the shop where I bought it has decided not to stock it anymore. Gah etc.

So, I added Tofutti Garlic and Chives, and tasted it from the pan. Not bad, but not quite right. A little salt helped, and some pepper did too, but it wasn’t quite there. On a whim, I added some Engevita, and stirred it in, letting it kind of melt into the sauce of Tofutti. It was perfect! I gobbled up this whole huge bowl of noodles in about two minutes flat, face in the bowl and everything.

EngevitaEngevita is what’s known as nutritional yeast. It’s a by-product of brewing, usually, and consists of deactivated yeast in flakes. And, I gotta tell ya, it looks like the evil love child of dandruff and toenails. The flakes are light yellow or cream in colour. I’ve come across it before, in passing, but it’s a staple to a lot of vegans. The taste is what makes it – it’s slightly cheesy, nutty and a little rich, as well as being chock full of vitamins and minerals, particularly those important B vitamins which can be difficult to obtain in a vegan diet. I wouldn’t recommend it dry, although apparently some vegan fans swear by it as a popcorn topping, to which I say, to each his own. Perverts.

My Columbo moment today is to bring to your attention that I will be at a works function tomorrow evening. It’s supposedly a team-building exercise, designed to bring us all together as a smooth functioning team that cares about each other and shit. In other words, we’re being taken out to dinner at an implausibly remote location and entertained by a magician. No lie.

I’ve been promised a vegan menu in the form of an “oriental stir fry”. Yeah, exactly. I went “Whut?” as well. It should be interesting, and it’ll be my first experience eating out as a vegan.

In the meantime, good night all.

Crossposted at The Odd Blog

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 Nine: Pita Bread and Climate Change

September 9, 2008

Not much happening today. I ate kind of badly, if you want the truth: pita bread with hummus for lunch, and left-overs for dinner. Not a terribly inspiring sort of advert for the vegan lifestyle, but to be honest, some days I just can’t get into cooking, which is something of a shame, because I do enjoy doing it and talking about it.

I have noticed that a lot of my bread intake lately has been in the form of pita bread; lots of it in the form of garlic and herb pitas from Tesco, which are actually rather tasty, if a little stinky! That, combined with garlicky hummus, is making me somewhat difficult to be around… Hehehe.

On the subject of pita breads, I found a good recipe for making them from The Fresh Loaf, and I think I’ll be giving it a go. It looks pretty easy and fairly quick. And, of course, anyone who’s made bread at home will recognise that it is often more satisfying and tasty than the shop-bought variety, if only because you get to feel satisfied at a job well done.

One of my passions is food, both cooking and eating it, as you may have realised. The other interest which consumes a lot of my thoughts is politics, although I tend more towards the analysis of political questions and grand issues than current affairs.

That being said, it’s not often I get to combine the two, and a recent news story caught my eye as being appropriate material for this blog:

People should consider eating less meat as a way of combating global warming, says the UN’s top climate scientist.

Rajendra Pachauri, who chairs the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), will make the call at a speech in London on Monday evening.

UN figures suggest that meat production puts more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than transport.

But a spokeswoman for the UK’s National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said methane emissions from farms were declining.

Considered from a logical standpoint, this is an overwhelmingly sensible idea – Westerners eat too much meat for their own good health in general, and large scale meat farming is incredibly wasteful as a practice, and generates huge amounts of greenhouses gases in the form of methan. I nodded along, thinking that nobody could possibly have much in the way of disagreement. We all want to be healthier and save the planet, right?

And then I saw the Have Your Say page relating to the story. For those who don’t know, Have Your Say is the Beeb’s attempt at making their news stories more accessible and relevant to the public by making them open to comment. And ouch. It seems as if every selfish idiot in the world decided to turn up at once and start spewing ignorance. Highlights include:

“This is an unacceptable story, Rajendra Pachauri is a Vegetarian. Human beings need meat we are meat eating creatures and we would not have developed our brains without it”

The amount of global warming caused by the hot air that governments and UN officials produced far far exceeds that from meat production.

I think they should lead the way and speak less.

Last time I looked eatting a lot of greens causes humans to vent extra methane and hydrogen sulfide gases.

I work hard, I pay my taxes, and I don’t give a stuff what other people think. I love my lifestyle and I am never going to change.

Wow. The mind boggles. After reading the “debate”, I went back to the article and searched in vain for where Pachauri calls for meat-eaters to be beheaded or for meat to be forbidden utterly; images ran through my head of secret meetings where nervous people paid huge amounts of money for sausages and slices of bacon. And yet, all I found was a suggestion that people consume less meat in order to cause fewer forests to be cut down for grazing land and thus mitigate the effects of climate change.

And yet even that modest idea was greeted with a cavalcade of baboon-like screeching and selfishness. Unbelieveable, some people.

Crossposted to the Odd Blog.

Day Seven

September 7, 2008

So, it’s the end of the first week of my month as a vegan. Things seem to be going well so far, although there have been some things which have been difficult to do or avoid, I think overall thing’s are OK.

Probably the biggest change I’ve noticed is that I tend to snack a little less. I seem to be less hungry between meals this week, and I think that can be put down to a change in habits: I can’t snack as easily, so I tend to eat more of what I’ve cooked at meal times. The absence of easily edible snacks has left me in the position of eating more at meals, so avoiding snacks in the first place has let me avoid them further, if that makes sense…

I’ll be cooking in a different way next week – this week has focused a lot on foods which either had meat analogues or were not specifically vegan – that is, they may have been incidentally vegan but not so on purpose. If you see what I mean. In the coming week, I’ll be doing more food which is specifically and deliberately vegan. Basically delving a little further into vegan culture.

Blue Dragon Wholewheat Noodles

Blue Dragon Wholewheat Noodles

Yesterday I ate a stir fry of green peppers, onions and garlic, with wholewheat noodles and soy sauce. While I’m not in the business with this blog of promoting an organic or wholewheat-only diet, I do like wholewheat pasta generally. It has more texture to it and a greater depth of flavour than plain old white pasta, and I find that it tends to be easier to keep al dente when cooking. I had the Blue Dragon variety, which are very tasty indeed.

I’ve had a few cravings for stuff in the last week, I must admit; it’s been difficult not to eat bacon, for example. I don’t think I’m atypical in that respect; anecdotally, it seems everyone knows someone who used to be vegetarian but who strayed from righteousness went back to eating meat because of bacon. I’ve also been thinking a lot about faggots in gravy. Now, I know there will have been a certain amount of sniggering from American readers there, but stay with me. Faggots are a traditional variety of meat ball/dumpling, made from liver, heart etc and baked in gravy. The usual traditional ones are a little harder to find these days, and the usual ones seen in supermarket freezers are Mr Brain’s, which are made from chopped liver and onions. They’re still bloody good, though, and I could kill for some of them right now.

Tonight’s dinner will be curry. Specifically, cauliflower curry with rice and masoor dal.

Masoor Dal

Masoor Dal

You may not know what dal is if you don’t usually eat Indian food. The term refers to any kind of hulled split pulse, like lentils, yellow split peas and so on. The name is also applied to a kind of thick stew/porridge made from the same. Dal comes in various kinds, such as chana dal, which is made from split chickpeas; toor dal, made from split pigeon peas, similar to yellow split peas; and masoor dal, which is made from red lentils.

The way to make the stew is usually pretty simple, as it’s a staple among much of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It starts with boiling the pulse in water with some salt and turmeric until it becomes soft (with red lentils, until they break apart) and then adding a tarka, which is a blend of fried spices and flavourings when it is cooked. While that’s the usual way to cook it, I often can’t be bothered with the process and chuck the lot in all at once. This is also known as inauthentic cookery.

The curry’s going to be pretty bog standard – onions, peppers, spices, cauliflower, left to simmer for a while. I may add a handful of lentils to thicken it up. The rice I usually cook plain, sometimes with a little onion in it. The dal is my favourite, probably because I like lentils.

That’s about it for now. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the first week of my experiment, and I hope you come back for more.

Crossposted at The Odd Blog.