Friday, November 1, 2013

The Vegan Loses Her Day Job...

So it's been almost 2 months since I've posted, and it was for a silly reason. I was trying to hang onto my day job. It was such an exhausting struggle, pretty much everything else in my life was put aside (although I managed to stay on my vegan path).

Last week, everything changed, as I lost my job. I wasn't alone, which makes me feel better and worse, but it was still weird. I've really never been unemployed before. And that's pretty scary. Anyway, I luckily have quite a support system, and I've been a local photographer for awhile, so I'm going to take a bit of time and try to make that my full-time job. That and taking care of my 3 year-old, who is the most energy-filled little boy I've ever seen.

Anyway, this is my return to blogging about my vegan adventures.

Hey! Know what I did last week? I made tofu for the first time! I've had it in restaurants before, and I always thought it was okay, never spectacular, but I finally bought a pack of the little watery substance and decided to try it for myself. I went with extra firm, and I had read a LOT about how to make it, how to press it, etc. It was exhausting just figuring out how to make it. In the end, I pressed it for awhile on a plate, between some napkins, with a heavy cookie sheet on top (and a jar filled with beans on top of THAT). It was kinda gross.

But I'm finding that I don't mind touching things that gross me out if they're vegan. Touching raw meat always gave me the heebie-jeebies. But touching raw tofu, while weird, didn't make me want to gag, so there's something.

I marinated the tofu in tamari and garlic, and, once that was absorbed, I dusted it with cornstarch and fajita seasoning and sauteed it in some canola oil. I read a lot of horror stories about how it would crust up and then the crust would stick to the pan and it would be awful. This is where I think my experience cooking chicken and fish came into play, as I already knew that trick of letting it sit until the crust forms and THEN turning it (insert fancy cooking term here).

So it was pretty good, and it actually ended up tasting kinda like chicken nuggets, which I know sounds weird. I ended up adding some bbq sauce to it and baking it for a bit anyway, and we had some tater tots with it. My son was over the moon about it, which was awesome, and I thought it was pretty good. I did buy another container of the weird stuff this week at the store, and I haven't decided exactly what to do with it.

If you're reading this, what is YOUR favorite way to eat tofu?

And, if you're in the market for a photographer... (shameless plug, but forgive me, as I AM unemployed for the moment...)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

IKEA! And... The BF Eats Hummus!

Last weekend we found ourselves without our son for the day for the FIRST TIME EVER. No, really. I can't think of another day that we've had together where we haven't had him around. Hmm. It was due.

So, knowing we were going to get this day to ourselves, we decided to spend the day at IKEA!! Several things to note... first, we live in Jacksonville. There is not an Ikea in Jacksonville, and the closest one is in Orlando, about 2 hours away. Also, the BF had never been to Ikea before, and, although he hates shopping, he was kind of excited about going. I've been a few times, and I've had a toddler with me each time. This was sure to be a different kind of experience.

Now, Ikea is one of my favorite places ever. I know some people don't like Ikea. Some people think it's for college kids or hippies or whatever. But here's why I like Ikea: the designs are mostly streamlined and clean, the price is right, it's great for people with kids, you get the satisfaction of building your own furniture, and they have flipping everything. My couch is Ikea. I can remove the cover and wash it. And it's yellow. And, if/when I get tired of the yellow, I can buy a new cover. My glass kitchen jars, son's crib/toddler bed, my bedding, bookcase, chair, new desk, buffalo shower curtain and apple slicer? All from Ikea. Ikea love-rant over.

My main concern with our trip, besides me going out of control spending, was where we would eat. Trips to Ikea (or Orlando in general) usually included several things: breakfast on the road (typically an egg/cheese croissanwich from Burger King), lunch somewhere awesome such as Earl of Sandwich, and dinner and dessert on the road (usually drive-through and an ice cream stop). These rules have changed a bit. Or completely. However you want to look at it.

I spent several days trying to find the right place for us to go to lunch. I figured I couldn't fudge the rest, but I could at least find us an awesome place for lunch. Using a combo of Happy Cow and Urbanspoon, I came upon quite a few options. I wanted somewhere that, first and foremost, could service a vegan. Second, I wanted it to be appealing to the BF, who is not vegan, but, bless him, has tried pretty much ever vegan thing I've had or made, with mostly positive results. Third, I wanted it to be close to the Ikea. And, fourth, I wanted it to be a little special. Not expensive special, but somewhere we wouldn't normally go. We could've just gone to Tijuana Flats, but that's where we usually go out to eat, and, while a safe choice, it wouldn't have been special.

I finally chose Mediterranean Blue, which had fantastic reviews every where I looked. I told the BF the night before, and he was pretty excited to get his hands on a gyro. When we passed downtown Orlando around 11:30, I pulled up the map again, and we took some back roads and a couple of turns, and we finally found it across the street from our stoplight. While sitting at the stoplight, we decided against going. Sigh. Neither one of us likes to go to a place that's empty, much less one that's in a slightly dingy part of town, especially when neither of us have ever been there. The red light was long. So we decided to go. Then, we pulled into the parking lot, and almost decided against it. I left it up to the BF, so we headed inside. We were the only people there... for about 10 minutes, when it became incredibly packed!

We started our meal with a small hummus and warm pita. The BF didn't like hummus but also had never really had hummus. He just figured he didn't like it. Um, he loves hummus. He was scooping up that hummus like there was no tomorrow. The warm pita helped too. It was definitely the best pita I've ever had. Hummus too. And I've had my share of hummus. I've even made it myself. This totally won out.

The BF had a gyro with feta cheese on that same warm pita, and he loved it. But, the real adventure of the day was my falafel pita. Although I've had garbanzos/chickpeas in more forms than I can count, I'd somehow never had falafel. It's no surprise to me that I fell in love with falafel this day. Warm pita, a layer of hummus, flavorful falafel, creamy tahini sauce, topped with lettuce, tomato and green onions... happy. Oh, and I didn't mention that we spent the extra $0.99 on the side of Greek Fries? Crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, with a drizzle of olive oil, sea salt and oregano, these were some awesome fries.

Mediterranean Blue also has a whole case of side options as well. I'm guessing these change on a regular basis as they aren't part of the menu. I saw a few salads (greek and bean varieties) and some desserts in there, but I don't remember all the options. Lunch for both of us, including two fountain drinks, was about $21. And this meal completely sustained us, not only through Ikea, but also through the ride home. Even though I napped almost the whole way. But at least I wasn't longing for ice cream!

So here's to trying something new and being adventurous. And to furniture. From Ikea.

Mediterranean Blue on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Faux Meats... Yum or Ewwww?

There was once a time in my life, many moons ago, when I went the good part of a year eating turkey sandwiches and not much else. I also just mentioned my love of tuna salad. Grilled cheese, hot Italian subs with lots of dressing, meatball subs with sauce and melted cheese, chicken tender subs from the Publix deli... sandwiches have been a staple in my diet forever. And I figured I'd really be giving them up by going vegan.

That's one of the good lessons, though, that I've been learning. There are items out there that I don't have to give up. And sandwiches are one of those.

Let's start with my first experience with faux meats. After seeing non-vegan co-workers eating faux chicken patties, I got up the nerve to try them. My first try was with the Whole Foods 365 brand "Chickenless Patties". Are these a nutritional powerhouse? No... but on bread with vegenaise and pickles, they remind me of a Krystal Chik, which used to be a really gross guilty pleasure of mine. These are NOT GF, but they are vegan, and they only contain traces of soy.

Why do I care so much about soy? I've read for years the pros and cons of soy, how it interacts with estrogen, how it reacts in your body... I don't avoid all soy, but I avoid things that are overtly soy (soy milk, edamame...) because it never really sat well with me, and there are other substitutes. But I was not at Whole Foods the other night, and I wanted more not-chicken patties, so I tried the highly-rated Gardein Crispy Chik'n Patties. I made one the next morning and took it to work for lunch. Oh boy. It sure was delicious. This is actually closer to a "chicken" taste and texture, if that's important to you (it's not to me).

However. About 15 minutes after eating it, my cheeks were on fire, I developed intense stomach cramps for the first time in seven weeks (since going vegan), and it was not a pleasant afternoon for me. I was nauseous for the rest of the day.

I'm certainly not saying anything bad about Gardein products. I've read tons of great reviews on them, and their product tasted amazing. For the vegetarian and vegan community, they do great things. I think I just have a real issue with digesting soy, which I kind of thought anyway.

So I'm sticking with my 365 brand for chicken. Oh, and for meatless meatballs (also not GF)! The boyfriend and I had these last night, mixed with GF pasta and bottled tomato sauce that was doctored up with a nutritional yeast cheese sauce. Even the bf ate them! I thought they reminded me of those meatballs you would find in Chef B canned spaghetti, which was fine by me, because I always liked those. These are also made with a base of textured wheat protein instead of soy isolate. These would be completely awesome with some Daiya and tomato sauce. I'm also going to try to trick delight my family and bring these to a gathering in my crockpot covered in bbq sauce.

I think my favorite, though, of the faux meat products I've tried, has to be Amy's Sonoma Burger. I picked this particular one to try because not only is it vegan, it's also GF and soy free. It also has a quinoa base and lots of good ingredients (and nothing I can't pronounce).

Sonoma Veggie Burger

I threw it in the oven for 5 min on each side, topped it with some Daiya Mozz, kosher dills, ketchup and vegenaise, and it was AWESOME.

I think I've mentioned that there are aspects of meat that always made me a bit uncomfortable. I mean, I liked the flavor, but I've never liked textures that don't seem to bother most other people. Fat on meat or poultry, chicken skin, the graininess of ground meat... Eww. The meat I would eat had to be incredibly overcooked, well-done steaks, burnt bacon, extremely crispy chicken fingers. But sometimes I would like a really good (well-done) cheeseburger. Doused in ketchup and plenty of American cheese and pickles, this burger would call to me about once a month or so.

This burger totally meets that need. Plus, I feel fine after eating it. Eating a regular burger always made me feel really stuffed and bloated afterwards. Do you know how amazing it is to eat something that is truly fulfilling, hits on all the taste buds and all the cravings you have, but doesn't make you feel sick afterwards??

If you're vegan you do. :)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Big Tuna

There are a multitude of things that I have encountered as a new vegan that just blow my mind.

  • Why do I crave Chinese food so much when I was never a big fan before?
  • How can vegan donuts from Sweet Theory Bakery be better than any donuts I've ever had?
  • Why am I so apprehensive about Vegenaise when I've spent my whole life loving mayo and I am actually less bothered by the ingredients in the vegan stuff?
  • Who can actually stomach SeaSnax?
  • Why do I think that falafel is going to taste like crabcakes and why don't I just go ahead and make/try them and get over it already?
  • How is it possible that so many delicious meals can be made from such easy ingredients, most of which are standards around our house anyway? 
I'll give away a little piece of myself right now. I have a small set of things that are sacred to me. Things that are intricately connected to my being in ways that they cannot be removed. They are literally embedded in my bones, and they will be a part of me until I die. One of these things is tuna salad.
I know, I know, that sounds ridiculous. But I'm being really serious. Tuna salad has been a huge part of my life. My family lived with my grandparents growing up, and even when we didn't live there, we were always there. My grandfather died when I was 14, and my grandmother is now 94 years old, and she's a tough lady. And while my idea of a "great cook" has changed over the years, she is who I think of when I hear someone talking about southern cooking. A lot of my memories growing up revolve around the kitchen and her and my mom cooking. And one thing will stand out to me always is that everyone always said she made the best tuna salad they ever had.
Frankly, it wasn't my kinda thing. She put eggs and raw onions in it, and it just wasn't my favorite. My favorite, hands down, was my moms. Lots of mayo, chopped dill pickles, and topped with mayo. Delicious. While the other kids had PB&J or bought their school lunch, I was pampered with tuna sandwiches. Kids thought I was weird, but man did I love those sandwiches. One of my favorite memories with my mom was one summer when each of us took a can of tuna, made individual tuna salads, split them, and had a recipe contest. Mom's was clearly the winner.
For years and years, I ate more than my share of mercury-filled tuna. Knowing what I do now about mercury, I'm kinda surprised I've never had mercury poisoning. Friends still make comments on how many tuna sandwiches I've eaten in my lifetime. I'm pretty sure I've tried the majority of tuna salads in the greater Jacksonville area, and I've made just as many of those sandwiches myself, using my mom's recipe (with a few minor adjustments).
So one of the things I've missed most in these six weeks of being vegan is tuna sandwiches. Last week I attempted a mock salad made with almonds, and it was good, but it was not an adequate replacement. After seeing tons of recipes using chickpeas, I decided to put my old tuna recipe to the chickpea challenge. I knew it wouldn't come close to the same, but, maybe it would be enough to satiate that tuna craving that's been lurking.
1 15oz can chickpeas (or feel free to make them from scratch)
1/3 to 1/2 cup Vegenaise (I like a lot of "mayo", so if you don't, scale it back and go from there)
1/4 cup dill pickles, chopped
Dash salt
Dash pepper
Dash garlic powder
Dash lemon juice
Toss the rinsed chickpeas into your food processor, pulse until they're chopped but not pasty (you can do this by hand, but it's so much easier this way). Empty into a bowl and chop pickles to the fineness of your liking. Add all ingredients, adjust seasonings to taste. Throw in the fridge to chill and let the flavors meld.
So the first bite I took was like "eh... okay... that's a chickpea with vegenaise" but bites two and three became revolutionary. What?? This is good! And it reminds me of tuna salad!!
Look. I'm okay with kale not reminding me of anything but, well, kale. And I'm okay with a green smoothie not reminding me of a milkshake. These things can just be good in their own right. But if I'm making a cheesy sauce or eating a vegan donut or making cream of mushroom soup or having a veggie burger or making fake tuna salad... I want it to be reminiscent of the old food item. And it looks like I found a winner. I'm gonna stuff that mix in pita pocket and enjoy the crap out of it for lunch tomorrow. Vegan win.
And, you know what? This is just the next chapter of me and tuna salad. We don't have to break our lifelong bond. We just mixed it up a little. 

Harpoon Louie's

Friday night, my parents watched the wee one while Newman and I went out to dinner. This is something that doesn't happen all that often, and this was the first time we've been out to a restaurant since the veganism began. I told him that we were going to my parents' house for dinner, so he was completely surprised when he found out we got to go out together. Yay!

Now the issue was where to go. I had been researching all day, trying to have a couple of places in mind in case he wasn't in the mood for Mexican (which he wasn't), etc. I found that Happy Cow was pretty helpful. Have you ever used it? It has restaurant listings and reviews and is searchable by location. It gave me a few ideas, so I was armed with options.

We ended up at Harpoon Louie's. I'd been there a few times years ago, and he had been there once a long time ago as well. I knew they had some vegan options, and I figured it was worth a shot. To be sure, I did call ahead and was assured that they were vegan friendly. As a side note, I had seen several reviews stating that they had a separate vegan menu, and I did not experience this. However, their regular menu has all vegetarian and vegan items noted, which Newman noticed and thought was really helpful.

Grabbing a seat outside, we saw we were there in time for happy hour, which is Monday through Friday from 3-7 p.m. They have drink specials, but they also have some of their apps marked down. Chips and a fresh salsa was $1. Chips were yellow corn and fresh, and the salsa was chunky and definitely not from a bottle. Spring Roll Bites (I'm guessing a smaller portion of their app Spring Rolls), were six halves of spring rolls with a tasty sweet and spicy sauce ($2.25). They are fried, but they are also vegan! Newman really liked them, which completely surprised me as he despises anything cruciferous, and these were filled with cabbage. The filling also included clear noodles and carrots, and they were awesome! He offered me the last one, and I fought the moral dilemma of letting him have it because, let's face it, any time I can get him to eat cabbage I'm happy, but my mouth won out, and I ate it instead. Oh well. Next time we're getting the whole order.

He had wanted a burger going in, and that's what he got. I had a couple of options including a few salads (minus the cheese) and a vegan bbq sandwich, but I decided to go with the veggie burger minus the yogurt sauce ($7.50). They both came with a choice of sides, but we both got the fries, and we were happy we did. Hot and crunchy on the outside, soft and potato-y on the inside, these were what fries should be. When the waitress sat down my burger open-faced, I took my fork to it and tried a bite first. Awesome!! I had Newman try a bite, and he agreed (although I'm sure he was happy to have his beef). Toppings included a nice slice of tomato, plenty of pickles, a large leaf of lettuce, and a thick slice of red onion. I promptly removed the onion and lettuce, added a large squirt of ketchup and a smaller one of yellow mustard, and I was in heaven.

I think I mentioned that I've never been a big burger fan. Meatloaf and meatballs were about the extent of my interest in ground meat. And even those had to be really good for me to be interested. But I could eat that burger every day. It was so great. Newman kept laughing at me because I looked so content.

 We agreed that we will most definitely be back. I'm thinking sooner rather than later. I could totally go for one of those burgers right now. In fact, I'm going to go work on researching a good burger recipe. Wish me luck.

Harpoon Louie's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Let's Get Physical

Hey, so, you know what sucks? Having a cold in the summer. But for the last week and a half, I've had one. Yesterday, I also woke up with a killer toothache. So... I'm kinda falling apart.

I'm on week five of veganism. I've cheated three times in small ways... I've had a brownie that contained eggs, some potato salad that contained mayo and eggs, and half of a cookie that I am assuming had both eggs and butter. But that's it! I've been doing pretty well! (Oh, and I've broken my no soda rule with a couple of Sierra Mist/Sprites while being sick.)

I've had a couple of people tell me that the reason I've been sick is that I'm detoxing. And that could certainly be true. I know the inside of my mouth feels a little rough, like I'm having an allergic reaction of sorts, and this cold has really messed with my ability to breath in that in feels like something heavy is sitting on my chest. So I was on some meds, and I keep my little inhaler close by, and I'm finally starting to feel better (except for the toothache).

Anyway, enough complaining. I'm down about 10 lbs, which is kinda awesome, and I've started having people tell me that I look like I'm losing weight, which is pretty cool too. The energy has started waning a bit, so I've decided to start taking a B-12 (started today), and I'm hoping that will help with that.

So what have I been eating? Lots of stuff! I have been really hungry for the past few days, and I've just been feeding myself with whatever will satisfy me.

One of my favorite dishes I had several times while I've been sick is a take on ramen noodles. I always want ramen when I'm sick, so the boyfriend and I made a vegan recipe with them. A co-worker started calling them Ramen Newmans, after the boyfriend, so here you go:

Ramen Newmans
1 pkg ramen noodles (throw out the seasoning packet)
2 cups water
1 spoonful Better Than Bouillon Veggie
1-2 tbsp tamari GF soy sauce
1 tbsp chopped garlic
handful frozen corn and green peas
Bring water, garlic and bouillon to a boil, add noodles and cook until soft. Turn off heat, add other ingredients, salt and pepper to taste, let the hot broth warm the frozen veggies, done!
For the first time the other night, I made a green smoothie. It was good! Well, I mean, it was good considering I added peanut butter, and I despise the taste of peanut butter. But could I taste the spinach? Nope. Do I need to find a replacement for the peanut butter that doesn't cost $14 a jar (cough, cashew butter, cough)? Yes. And, once I find that, I'll add a recipe.

One thing I find interesting about this is how I'm craving things that I normally would've never eaten. Example? Sloppy Joes. I've never, ever, ever been a fan of ground meat in dishes. I love meatloaf and meatballs, and I would occasionally have a burger, but loose ground meat always made me want to gag. I think I probably ate maybe one or two sloppy joes growing up, if that. But, for some reason, I've been desperately craving sloppy joes. I've made two recipes so far, the second one today, and I'm pretty happy with what I found. It's not exactly what I want, but I had a sandwich and a half from today's recipe, so I would say it's certainly edible.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Uncovering Junk Food and Zucchini

Today is Day 4 of being vegan, no cheating. I've noticed a couple of things.

First, I have a ton more energy than I normally have. Now, I normally have zero energy, so the fact that I'm a little energized is a huge thing for me. So that's awesome.

There's also some crazy digestive things that are going on that I won't elaborate on, but it's good.
So let's talk food. I had vegan cheese (Daiya brand) for the first time last night. I made brown rice and broccoli, and I thought it would be a good place to try adding some in. Out of the bag, it tasted a little like playdough. But I thought I'd take a chance, and throw some in. And... it was actually cheese-like. I used the mozzarella style, shredded, and I'll use it again. Look. It's not cheese. If you go in expecting it to be cheese, you're doing to be disappointed. But one of the things I'm craving most is something warm and creamy, and this works as a fix for that. I was really impressed with the way it melted, and the flavor could've passed as cheese if I didn't really think too hard about it. So I'm happy with it.

One of the other challenges for me as been the idea of junk food. I like some junk food, mostly chips/salty/crunchy. Nuts doesn't fill this need for me. I decided to have a bag of chips today, and I struggled to find one from the neighbor business store that wasn't filled with crap or dairy (why do bbq chips have dairy??). Cape Cod Waffle Chips only have potatoes, oil, salt. Winner!

Okay, I know, the whole idea with this is to NOT eat junk. I get it. But I have to work into this. I'm trying to find solutions that will work with my cravings instead of just telling myself to not eat junk. I'm not going to eat potato chips daily. I do have some whole grain pita chips that I've been dipping in hummus, but I consider those healthy. I think it's important for me to find these items that will fill a craving early... it will help keep me on track.

Alright, enough justifying. Except... I did eat those chips instead of taking part in a potluck we had at work today. I know it would've been the awesome move to bring a killer vegan dish to share. I know that. But I couldn't decide what to make, and, at the last minute, I brought nothing and didn't take part. My cube-mate was kind enough to get fried chicken with Polynesian sauce from Chick-fil-A (one of my favorite things), and literally hold his fan up to it towards my desk in order to envelop me in the scent. If I didn't adore him, I would've killed him.

Beyond chips, I have a delicious-looking lunch waiting for me. I made what I'll simply call Zucchini Not-asean. No recipe, just sauteed onions and garlic along with a whole bunch of zucchini and some veggie broth, cooked all the liquid out, threw in a bottle of Bertolli mushroom tomato sauce, cooked that down, and placed it over brown rice. I would've made rice pasta, but I didn't want to boil water. I think I've mentioned I'm lazy.

There are several things that have been difficult about this so far... Not having creamer in my coffee, no sodas (I've cut out diet sodas completely), and the ice cream I was consuming at an alarming rate. I'm drinking at least 60 oz of water a day, and I'm trying to increase that, which is pretty difficult, even cutting out sodas. But even these things aren't that hard. Now I think it's lunchtime!