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!

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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 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 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!