I ate vegan cheese!

I went out to dinner with friends last night and did some research ahead of time before choosing a restaurant. I found out one of my favorite pizza places has vegan pizzas! So of course I has to try it, and I have to say it was really good. It was a thin crust with daiya vegan cheese and I added onions and green peppers. The place already is not cheap so my bill came out pretty steep. It was worth it to be able to go out to dinner and eat (almost) like everyone else.

In other news I’ve been making delicious and filling smoothies, burritos and stir-frys with different starches (pasta, rice, quinoa, etc)

I’m also in Colorado now and hoping I will find lots of vegan-friendly and interesting options!

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Black Bean Boredom

I love black beans so much. I love them as soup, put them in burritos, make them into burgers and have even thrown them on top of toast with some sriracha for breakfast on occasion. But I gotta say, I am getting bored of them. Now that I’m one week in and have 3 weeks left, it is time to take this up a notch and get creative and do some research. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before, but I think that Pinterest is going to be my new best friend. I’ve always been a fan of the site, but now it’s going to really be a taste bud saver. I sifted through some vegan friends’ boards today to find some new tools, blogs and recipes that I’m really excited about. Now I am off to the store to buy some tofu, nutritional yeast and veggies that I don’t normally buy to mix things up a bit. Hopefully I’ll have some good experiments to report on later!

4th of July Vegan BBQ

Black bean burger on a whole wheat bun with tomato, onion and ketchup; Pasta salad – same as my mom’s classic one that everyone else made except mine had no cheese and goddess dressing instead of cheesy Italian; Grilled potatoes instead of potato salad – olive oil, salt pepper and garlic topped with malt vinegar. I had a few people ask if there were extras of those 🙂

4th Festivities: Animal products are hidden everywhere!!!

It’s really amazing. This is such a learning experience even just at 5 days in. On Wednesday night I went out with my sister to get a head start on wishing America “Happy Birthday.” The drunk food at the end of the night is when I really started feeling hungry and limited. We went to Pickleman’s – known for it’s meaty sandwiches and cheesey pizzas (it’s like I’m trying to torture myself). At first glance on the menu there were maybe only 2 vegetarian options (but one of them was a pizza). We tried to ask the cashier if the bread was vegan and she just gave us an annoyed and helpless look like “Why should I know that? I only work here.” My amazing sister would not back down since she used to work at this fine establishment and made the girl at least go look. Alas she was worthless and couldn’t tell us, so I ate it anyway in blissful ignorance hoping there were no animal products involved. I did cheat and get some honey mustard dressing (really, honey counts?) since, like I said, my main goal here is the nutritional aspect, and I don’t see anything unhealthy about honey (sorry bees) and the rest of it is vegan (unlike the other creamy dressing options).

Yesterday I finally had something that filled me up for several hours – simple yet beautiful peanut butter toast with banana slices on top. For lunch I took the leftover veggies from our delicious stir-fry the night before and added them to some spaghetti sauce for my pasta. It was comforting to eat this meal since it’s something that is a normal part of my diet. For a moment, it didn’t feel like I was vegan! I had to bulk up that morning/afternoon on filling meals because I was going to be spending all day at Fair St. Louis’ 4th of July celebration under the Arch.

Yes, a Midwestern fair celebrating Independence Day – corn dogs, cheese fries, turkey legs, and funnel cakes galore. I never even eat corn dogs and found myself craving one! I did find ONE vegan option – there was a falafel stand. However, I decided to venture outside the fair grounds to find a better option. And that’s when I learned my second lesson in going out to eat. I thought I would be able to wing it and figure out my order on the spot, but it is so important to look up a restaurant ahead of time. Normally I am so flexible in what I eat and hate to cause any disturbance (my midwestern attitude at heart I guess), but I’m going to have to get a little more ballsy and annoying and check every ingredient. This is much easier done ahead of time online rather than in person in line.

I chose St. Louis Bread Co (Panera for those of you not familiar with St. Louis) since it is one of my favorites and I know they at least have some good vegetarian options. This woman (unlike at PIckleman’s) didn’t give me any grief for looking to see if the black bean soup had dairy in it. But then I got so flustered asking about that (I know, it’s stupid), that I completely forgot that the Greek salad comes with feta cheese. And I hadn’t checked their bread or dressings to see which were vegan until I was in line waiting for my food. Luckily I was good on the dressing (although apparently it contains MSG – awesome), but the bread is not! The oil they use to make it is derived from animal fat. Damn it!! I didn’t want to waste any food, so I ate the bread. And the cheese I picked around. The place was a mad house or I would have tried to edit my order. Do you know how hard it is to have cheese (and not just any cheese – feta) on your fork and have to push it to the side and throw it in the trash? I know now. Next time I will plan ahead to avoid the stress.

But I have to say, I left the fair feeling good. If I wasn’t vegan, I would have had a corn dog and crab rein goon and felt like a blob the rest of the night. 

 

Next challenge: today we are having a 4th of July pool party/BBQ. I’m going to modify some of my favorite dishes so I don’t have to miss out on all the great food!

The First 3 Days

July 1st happened to be in the middle of a family reunion. I had warned everyone the day before that I was taking on this challenge. Luckily I do have a few family members who are  or have been vegetarian or vegan. That didn’t help me too much though when I heard what was for breakfast: bacon and eggs. Even as a mostly-vegetarian, I cannot turn down bacon. Except this time I had to. To make it even more difficult my cousin, MJ, offered an out to me that I should delay the start of the challenge until after the group-eating, family reunion days were over. I almost took her up on it since it was she is mostly-vegan, but I decided to stick to my commitment since there is never going to be a convenient time to give up meat, eggs, and dairy.  Instead, I went grocery shopping with a list that she helped me put together.

A few things that are going to be huge game changers in this challenge are:

Coconut-milk yogurt: I know right? I never knew it existed but is genius. The only difference I could sense was the consistency was a bit thicker almost like greek yogurt which I prefer anyway! And there was no coconut taste, just the strawberry or blueberry flavor.

Goddess salad dressing: It tastes so creamy I’m shocked they haven’t used any dairy in it. This is going to be my guilty pleasure that I see myself pouring on everything.

Vanilla Almond milk: I am not a huge fan of soy milk so I was not looking forward to that substitute. However, MJ suggested this alternative and I am sold. It is so delicious and also low fat!

Other staples that I stocked up on: Veggies, brown rice, cereal, granola bars*, HUMMUS, pita pockets, tortillas, beans, salsa, veggie burgers* etc.

*Be careful with these though since many contain dairy even if it doesn’t seem like they would. I accidentally bought granola bars with milk in them (and ate one before I realized) and I also knowingly bought black bean burgers that contain egg whites. I know that’s cheating but at least for my first week I gave myself a pass on that since they are mostly vegan and I need some variety until I will be cooking on my own.

So, breakfast day 1: Organic raisin bran with vanilla almond soy milk and a banana

Lunch: This I thought was going to be very difficult since we were at 6 Flags, and amusement park. That’s probably the least vegan-friendly place on the planet right? Wrong! Luckily there was a burrito shop so I was able to get beans and rice with salsa, corn and lettuce (they didn’t have a vegetarian options with peppers or onions but I made do). It was heart-wrenching to say no to the creamy nacho cheese and sour cream, but after I ate I didn’t have that same gross feeling I usually do after I pound a dairy-stuffed burrito.

I was sad about not being able to get my traditional huge waffle ice cream cone at 6-Flags, but instead I got some delicious frozen lemonade as an mid-day treat!

Dinner: Veggie burger in a pita pocket with hummus. The fam ordered some Super Smokers BBQ (this wasn’t hard for me to pass on since I don’t like BBQ). There were some sides I could eat, or at least thought I could eat 😦 like green beans (which I later found out were probably cooked in pork fat) and apple sauce.

Day 2: Breakfast, same as the day before

Snack: Carrots and hummus

Lunch: Pita pocket stuffed with spinach, tomatoes, onion, yellow pepper and cucumber topped with goddess dressing.

Snack: Chips and salsa

Dinner: Black bean burger on an English muffin with leftover veggies from my lunch wrap and goddess dressing. (I know getting repetitive, but like I said I had limited resources the first few days)

Dessert: Strawberries

Day 3: I came to a sad realization when I wanted to make peanut butter and banana toast: the bread that my mom has contains milk and butter.. So back to cereal and almond milk until I can find an alternative.

Lunch: I’m about to make a pita pocket (since there’s no bread) with grilled peppers and onions with tomatoes and cucumber and avocado.. and let’s be honest probably some goddess dressing.

Dinner: tonight my mom is making fish, but I will make a stir-fry on the side to go with it with some brown rice. I’ll make extra rice so that I can have a burrito tomorrow!

The Last Supper

June 30th – the last day of eating without thinking first. The smart way to start the challenge probably would have been to ease my way into it the week before so I wasn’t starting cold turkey (excuse my cliched pun). Alas, I apparently wanted to clog my arteries as much as possible before cleaning them out. So Imo’s pizza was ordered and devoured in all of its cheesy, gooey goodness. I even ate the bacon and pepperoni slices that I would normally forgo for the vegetarian or plain cheese option. I watched as my 3-year-old godson piled shredded cheese from the salad onto his cheese pizza and realized how early a love a cheese can develop. I tried to savor every last bite and at the same time began detaching myself from the stuff. Pizza is going to be a hard one to say goodbye to but it has to be done.

 

Why am I doing this?

I hate to sound selfish, but I am taking on this challenge more for myself than for the animals it will help. Don’t get me wrong, I am very excited that that is going to be an added benefit, but the idea was inspired by my curiosity in nutrition and a plant-based diet. The past couple of years I have seen friends go vegan or vegetarian, read plenty of articles about the nutritional benefits of giving up animal products and have tried to educate myself on the meat industry. Maybe it’s been laziness or fear of how difficult it will be, but I haven’t gone all in up to this point. I’ve gone through phases of being vegetarian and have never been one to eat a lot of meat anyway, but I am finally ready to commit to cutting it out for a month to see what the benefits are and if it will change me in any way (I’ve heard the side effects can range from better skin and even breath to more energy to weight loss – who wouldn’t want to give that a try?). Giving up meat may be difficult at times, if only for the fact that you want something more when you can’t have it, but my real challenge is going to be my beloved cheese and eggs. Sigh. However, I know that at least cheese is never really giving me any nutritional benefit, so like a bad relationship I need to cut it off before I get too attached and prove to myself that I’m better off without it. The fact that I just spent 10 days in Paris gorging on the stuff should provide with me extra motivation to give it up. So here goes nothing, the month of July I will be focusing on eating vegetables, fruits, grains and beans to nourish and restore my body the way nature intended. And I guess if I’m saving some animals and helping out the environment at the same time, then I’m okay with that 🙂