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 29: Frozen Tofu

September 29, 2008

I’ve tried a good number of meat analogues during this month, from textured vegetable protein to tofu. So far, tofu has proven versatile and easy to use. It absorbs flavours easily, has a decent texture most of the time, and can be used with a wide variety of other ingredients, in all different kinds of food.

Silken TofuAs I’ve mentioned before, tofu comes in many different basic forms, like the silken tofu on the left, which is a soft and jelly-like mass, and then runs to firmer types, according to how much water has been pressed out of it.

It has a long and illustrious history throughout the Far East; in Korea, tofu is held in such high esteem that certain restaurants only sell Sundubu jjigae, a hot and spicy stew made with soft tofu. In China, tofu was once a favourite offering to the spirits of departed ancestors, because it was the only food soft enough for them to eat, supposedly.

As a foodstuff, tofu is also very good for you – it is high in protein, low in fat and studies in Japanese men have shown a positive correlation between tofu consumption and decreased likelihood of cerebral atrophy. In other words, it’s good for your brain.

One of the many ways in which tofu has been prepared for hundreds of years is by freezing it. Varying according to the variety chosen because of the differing amounts of water present, frozen tofu forms large ice crystals which, when defrosted, leave large cavities in the flesh of the tofu. It results in a better flavour, with a more meaty texture. I’d read about this earlier in the month, and I was determined to try it. So I got a block of firm tofu, and left it in the freezer overnight. It duly turned into a soy lolly, and I defrosted it and pressed the water out; this is a necessity with most tofu varieties, especially the firmer ones.

I then cut it into strips and marinated it in soy sauce, and fried it. And it brilliant! The texture was actually really meaty, with a chewiness that ordinarily-prepared tofu lacks. It was the meat substitute that I’d been looking for: totally vegan, and totally tasty. I only wish I’d found it sooner.

One more day to go, and I find myself looking forward to it. I’d like to cook something very special for tomorrow night, but I can’t think just what yet. I’d like it to be a suitable marker for my time doing this, something which will send me out with a bang. I’ll think it over and hopefully something interesting will come to mind.

In the meantime, before I post for the last time as a vegan, I hope that anyone who’s been keeping up with my time here has enjoyed reading.


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 25: Pick Me Food

September 25, 2008

The other day when I was writing about the curry I had, I got the name wrong. I mistakenly thought the company was called Vegalicious, when it was actually just the curry. The company is actually called Pick Me Food, and they’re a small outlet supplying vegetarian food made by hand using fresh ingredients and interesting flavours.

Aside from their delicious curry, they also make a chili, which I had tonight. And it was really very good. Instead of meat, there was red lentils, in just enough amounts to provide body without being overpowering, along with red kidney beans, peppers, lashing of garlic and just enough chili to kick up some spice on your tongue without burning it out. I can honestly say that it was the best chili I’ve eaten in quite some time, and that’s saying something, because I can make an absolutely killer chili if I put my mind to it. It’s a bit of a process, mind, involving black coffee and sometimes even dark chocolate. My wife also makes a great chili, entirely different in character – she uses beans and tomatoes in it, for example, whereas I prefer to leave them out or serve the beans on the side, and makes it with lentils instead of meat, which is a smoother and more pleasant texture. Hers is pretty damned good, too, though; it’s milder and more subtly-flavoured than my meaty efforts, which can tend towards the fireball end of the spectrum.

I have to admit that over this month I have been craving meat chili with a vengeance; I can just imagine it, thick, rich and dark brown, almost like a guisado, piled inside fluffy flour tortillas… Aagh! I’m torturing myself here.

Tomorrow will be without a post, as usual, because I’ll be at my grandfather’s in the evening. It also seems kind of fitting that the last few days of my experiment will be big posts with a lot of content. It just seems right to do it that way.

Anyway, I’m off to bed. G’night!


Day 24: The Following Events Occur In Real Time

September 24, 2008

Hehehe… Couldn’t resist that one.

Well, I had another long day again, finally leaving work at around 6:30 or so. I’m glad of the opportunity to have flexitime, I really am, but it can be wearisome doing several long and busy days right after the other.

I had teriyaki tofu tonight with a stirfry. I marinated the tofu in some teriyaki sauce I picked up cheap from the local shop, and did a stirfry with Chinese leaf, bean sprout, onion, broccoli and noodles. I added dark soy sauce to the veggies so that I wasn’t overwhelmed with the sweetness of the teriyaki; I love the stuff, but it can be a little too sweet sometimes, and adding some soy sauce cuts through that nicely.

Weird coincidence of the day, if not the whole month – I was browsing through the vegan tag on WordPress today, and I found a blog called The Vegan Experiment, which is straplined with “The adventures of a cheese-loving girl during a month without meat, eggs, dairy…or alcohol. Starts September 1.” She’s apparently having a harder time of it than me, by the looks of things, but what a bizarre coincidence!

Her “What I miss today” thing is a good idea; I wish I’d thought of it. She also has some good recipes on there, and I may have to steal some of them. The guacamole recipe looks pretty good, and I think I’ll give it a go in the next few days.

Incidentally, it’s my last week as a vegan. This happened without my even noticing it. It’s started me thinking about this whole thing coming to an end, and I kind of have mixed feelings about it. It’s been good, and I’ve even enjoyed a lot of it, even while missing cheese, and milk, and honey, and and and… But I think I might miss it at the end, in a crazy kind of way; while the vegan diet is very restricted and can be difficult to manage, it also provides a sense of purpose and order which might previously have been lacking.

It’s also been very good for me in terms of general health; I feel pretty good and healthy generally, with more energy and zest. So I’m kind of in two minds as to what to do at the end of it.

I may stick with being a vegetarian or even try to live longer as a vegan. It might be hard, but I think I could do it.

Incidentally, I found out the creators of Bacon Salt (originators of the awesome slogan, “Everything should taste like bacon”) have a blog, and that some varieties of Bacon Salt are even vegan. So I could, theoretically speaking, if I stuck with the diet, make bacon-tasting vegan food. Bacon-flavoured tofu, here we come!


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.