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 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.

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 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 11: Stuffed Peppers

September 11, 2008

Sorry about yesterday’s rather lacklustre post, folks. I was dog tired and couldn’t do much more than list tofu types. I know my wife is liable to worry that it’s related to the diet, but the fact is that I worked like a mofo yesterday and was just honestly tired. I actually feel more energetic on this diet than I have for a long time, although that may be down to the huge carbohydrate intake.

Speaking of which, I started the day rather badly on that account, eating a white bagel. Eeep. Except it was a tomato and Mediterranean herb bagel, which I consider reason enough to break my vow of carbstinence.

Lunch was no better. I don’t even want to tell you. It wasn’t anything spectacularly good for me, I will say.

And so for dinner I decided to do something a little better. I’ll be having a vegetarian classic: peppers stuffed with couscous, with salad on the side.

Raw couscous

Raw couscous

The couscous (which I just made) is made with some fried onions and celery; some raisins; some cinnamon, smoky sweet powder and pepper; some harissa; and of course, couscous. It’s a little Morrocan, but not enough to deserve the title, if you see what I mean.

Usually, a good sized pepper of whatever colour will feed one person, especially if supplemented with a salad. Basically, you just cut them in half lengthways, de-seed and so on. I boiled mine in water for ten minutes or so before stuffing them, which cuts down on the cooking time later, when I’ll bake them. Some people take the peppers and just stuff and bake from raw, which I don’t think is a good idea, unless you have several hours to waste. If you boil them a dite beforehand, they cook in around 20 minutes.

So I stuffed the couscous into the peppers, and they will just want cooking a little later. Now, usually when you make stuffed peppers, you top them off with cheese. I obviously can’t use cheese, but the thought of the couscous being all crunchy didn’t seem right.

CheezlySo I topped them with some Cheezly, which is another cheese substitute. This one comes as a hard cheese, and I must admit that I was initially rather disappointed with it. Cheezly is made with a combination of soy and potato starch, and the initial taste is rather too potatoey for me. You can really taste that it’s made with potato, is what I’m getting at. OK, it’s like eating parboiled potato. Not nice. I reluctantly shelved it until just recently, when I was after something cheesy and had run out of the Sheese. So I stuck it in a pita and grilled the hell out of it.

Boy, was I surprised. While Cheezly doesn’t melt exactly the same way as actual cheese, it does melt, and when it melts, it really comes into its own. It is great for melted stuff. Accordingly, I’d recommend it as a melter to anyone experimenting with veganism or vegetarianism.

As for the salad, I’l be trying some kind of tahini-based dressing for that. Tahini, for those not in the know, is basically a paste of toasted sesame seeds and oil, and is an essential ingredient for hummus. It’s also used as a dressing and base sauce across the Middle East for salads, felafel and, well, almost everything else. People even use it to make desserts, believe it or not.

Also, for anyone looking for guidance on becoming a vegan or vegetarian can also check out, which maintains a directory of vegan blogs from all kinds of perspectives. I just saw it today, and will be checking it out; it looks pretty interesting to me. I’ll report back if I find anything particularly noteworthy.

I think that’s it for today. Come back tomorrow for more stunning insights and food. 😀

Crossposted at The Odd Blog.

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.

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.