Saturday, October 29, 2011

Day 60--The Halloween Party That Wasn't

If you don't already know, Halloween is kinda my thing.  Every year, I have a huge party, costumes are mandatory, I decorate the house, buy a ton of food and candy and beer, prizes for "best costumes,"  the whole nine.  It's a huge event, and we usually get way more people that our house can even hold.  I look forward to it for months, and most of my friends do, as well.

I didn't time this 60-day thing to be ending on party day, but when I realised the coincidence, I was excited.  The original plan involved making a big pot of vegan chili, (and some regular chicken taco meat) slicing up some veggies and having a taco bar tonight, then cooking breakfast for those who crashed in the morning, and inviting those who wanted to stay to get celebratory sushi with us tomorrow.

Nothing ended up going according to plan.  See, we're right smack in the middle of the bizarre Northeast US October snowstorm, and it ended up being worse than anyone had feared.  Some of our friends tried so hard to get here that they only turned around at road closures or serious car issues, but in the end, we had to cancel.

The night wasn't a total loss; Erica and I actually found everything to hook up my original Nintendo and playing Dr Mario, and of course, since I made the chili last night, we ate like kings.  Now she's about to show me "Night of the Living Dead," which I have never seen.  Not the evening I planned for, but not bad by a longshot.

At least we don't have to clean up tomorrow!

Tomorrow I'll post some wrap-up thoughts on what I've been through so far, as well as what's next.   I'm sorry, I just don't have the spoons for it now.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Day 56--Eggplant, and What's Next for This Blog

People have pointed out that it's weird that I've never had eggplant, especially while doing a vegan diet.  I don't know, I have a pretty extensive blended family, and I don't remember any grandmas, aunts, or moms claiming that they had the best Eggplant Parmesan.  Nonetheless, recipes for eggplant dishes always seem to be generational things, so I somehow felt it wasn't my place to try making eggplant, if I wasn't inheriting the recipes from older generations.

The more I thought about it, the sillier that seemed, so I got a recipe for roasted vegetables that included eggplant.  I used the recipe as a very rough guide (what the hell is red rice, anyway?) so I threw together red onion, broccoli, mushrooms, carrots, and eggplant in some EVOO and balsamic vinegar.  I've never roasted veggies in balsamic vinegar before, so it was more than one kind of risk.  But it turned out pretty good!

The eggplant was a bit mushy and thus not my favorite, but the rest of the veggies turned out quite nice.  I may try eggplant again, but I think next time I will have someone else make it for me.
The french fries were an emergency backup plan =D

Well, my 60-day vegan stint is rapidly coming to an end!  I can say I've learned enough about this lifestyle that  I do want to keep, for the most part.  Probably not as extreme with the "vegan rules" as I have been, but I'll continue to try new things and post my findings.

Erica and I have also committed to another extreme 60-day challenge that will start as soon as we get back from Vegas (November 13).   More details on that to follow, but I'm telling you, this one is probably going to be even harder for me.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Day 52--A Solution to My Sandwich Problems

For the longest time, the idea of permanently adopting a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle has really appealed to me.  There are a lot of reasons I didn't act on it until now, but one of the main ones I've always given is "I can't live without sandwiches."  It sounds like a lame excuse, but it's very real.  I used to eat a turkey sandwich every day for lunch, and I could continue that for the rest of my life, and I'd still never get sick of it.  Turkey, American cheese, mayo, lettuce, tomato, and oregano--not even close to vegan.

So, of course, lunch adjustments have been pretty difficult.  I tried a meatless sandwich wrap back at the beginning of this 60-day stint, and it was pretty ... awful.

So after this past Sunday's amazing mushroom sandwich at Isaac's, I tried to recreate the magic. And it worked!  Here's what I did:

3 portabella caps cut in thick slices
4 tbsp. Olive oil
Garlic powder
Onion powder

Pour the olive oil into a bowl, mix in the spices until they're even throughout the oil.  Spread the oil mix on both sides of each mushroom slice.

Grill on each side for 4-5 minutes.
I used a grill pan because it's cold outside. Also, I'm out of propane.

These were fantastic.  I put them on a sandwich with tomato, lettuce, and dijon mustard.  Very different from the bland turkey and mayo that I'm used to, but it was awesome!  These mushrooms are a little pricey, so this will have to be a once-in-a-while thing, but the wait will be worth it.

Eight days left, and I finally figured out the sandwich.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Day 49--Another Attempt at Eating Out

Today is my lovely girlfriend's 29th birthday, and I knew that would mean eating out.  If you've been following, you might remember that I avoided eating out almost completely in my first 30 days, and my one attempt at eating out recently was only partially successful.

 But, determined to be able to keep to a diet and still live my life,  I planned ahead when it came to Erica's birthday.  Her parents came into town on Sunday to take us to lunch, and we agreed that Isaac's would be a good place for everyone to get what they want.  If you're not from the central PA area,  they're an upscale soup and sandwich joint that has a ton of vegetarian options for sandwiches, and they're very accommodating about substitutions.  The only reason I hadn't gone there yet was because they have this ah-maz-ing pepperjack tomato soup that I was afraid would be too much of a temptation.  But part of this was supposed to be about being able to rise above temptation, so that's what I did--I had a sandwich with portabella mushrooms, sprouts, tomatoes, cucumber, and dijon mustard.  It was totally perfect.

Then tonight we decided that we'd try this Indian place in town.  We've been meaning to get there forever, and we have no excuse for not going before, because it's literally across the street from a building I worked in for two years.  Anyway, we finally got around to checking out Tulsi and wow, was it worth it.  Their menu was over half vegetarian, and we both ordered only veg options.  I haven't had Indian cuisine since high school, and literally everything I tried, from the naan, to the soup, the samosas, both our dinners, everything was so excellent.  Plus, I have enough to take to work tomorrow as well!  Man, I cannot wait to go back there.

Something I realized while we were at Tulsi; we were brought some chutney and dipping sauces without being told what they were, and as I tried them I could tell which ones had a lot of cumin, curry, etc.  Cooking almost everything I eat is really training my palate!  Mmm I can't wait to try cooking Indian food.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Day 44--An Attempt at Vegan Baking

So, I've been putting off trying baking, mostly because yummy cookies and breads are some of the very things I've been trying to avoid.  But also because I was super intimidated at the prospect of baking without eggs.  And, I mean, applesauce as a substitute?  Really?   I can't even remember the last time I bought applesauce.  So I found a recipe for vegan sugar cookies that didn't call for anything to really replace the eggs.  I should have known something was off then and there, but whatever, I'm new at this, so I gave it a shot.

I should also know by now when a recipe calls for an ingredient I don't like, I'm probably not going to like the result.  But I figured, how much could a teaspoon of almond extract really bother me even though I hate almonds? Hmm, red flag #2.  Moving on.  Wait, did I mention that this sugar cookie recipe did not have any regular white sugar in it?  Yeah, powdered sugar only, what.  You know, sometimes a guy in a uniform tells you he's a cop, and you just trust that he knows what he's doing with the handcuffs.  I followed the recipe. Sue me.

So the rest of the ingredients went something like water, soymilk, vanilla, cornstarch, and flour.  And, in my classic tradition of making something for the first time, I made a huge mess:
The wine was totally necessary

As you can see, I had the regular sugar out anyway.  That came later.  When I got everything mixed to the consistency of caulking, I decided it was maybe a bit too thick, so I added some water.  Not much change, but it's cool, I've got flour, I can roll this mess into the shape of a cookie....

Then comes my favorite part, toppings.  See, I've long been a fan of the classic chocolate chip cookie, and until now, that was the only kind I ever made from scratch.  But they have a significant downside in that it's never appropriate to garnish them with cinnamon sugar and assorted colored sprinkles.  The sugar cookies were my chance to go all out. 

Two things I found out, one will be a surprise, and one won't--not-surprise first:
  • These cookies were gross.  They were dry and flavorless, oh, except for the almond extract which made them smell like anise.  Ugh.  But surprisingly,
  • The batter, which we were free to eat without fear of salmonella (not that that's ever stopped me before), was actually pretty decent.  Just goes to show that cookie dough is the most awesome thing in the world.  That's right, even better than cookies.

 At least they look really good, right?

Nonetheless, Erica has been a real trooper, "taking one for the team," and eating the cookies.  At least one of us thinks they're edible.  I'll try again someday, but for now, I think baking may be way too much effort and mess for treats I'm not supposed to be eating anyway.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Day 42--Adventures in Eating Out

This past Sunday was a busy one.  I went with a group from work to Outfest in Philly, an LGBT pride festival that's an official National Coming Out Day Event.  For the first time, though, we didn't go simply to enjoy the festival, we were acting in official work capacity.  We had a tent, stuff to give away, surveys for people to take, the whole nine yards.  I've never worked an event like that, and I can't even begin to tell you how much fun it is to be able to talk to so many different types of people in an atmosphere where everyone is happy and safe and comfortable being themselves.  I literally cannot wait to do it again!

The day itself, however, was really trying.  I did plan for breakfast.  We stopped for bagels at the same place we always stop when we go to Philly, but I read ahead, ensuring that my bagel of choice had no eggs, and I packed my own vegan spread for it.  Delicious, and I was really proud of myself for avoiding cream cheese.  I also brought along a water bottle to curb the typical coffee and soda cravings that come along with being out and about. 

I didn't really have any way to pack a lunch, because I didn't want to drag that kind of stuff all through the city (we parked far and did a lot of walking).  But I figured, "Hey. It's a gay event in the middle of Philadelphia's famed Gayborhood, how much trouble could I really have staying vegan and healthy?"  Turns out I was way wrong.  I ran into a lot of trouble with my diet.  

First to rear its head was the temptation of street vendors.  I know lots of cityfolk who will swear by the food that comes out of their hometown street vendors, and Philly is no different.  From cheesesteaks to Philly pretzels to fries with salt and vinegar, I'm a big fan of all of it.  But I'm not from Philly, I'm from closer to the Chesapeake Bay, and don't you know the vendor closest to our tent had Maryland Blue Crab Cakes.  I had to smell them all day long, and it was nothing shy of torture.

But I resisted the vendors, and when we were done, we went in search of a place to eat.  I had Erica and my good friend Dan with me, so I was trying to consider the fact that they were also hungry, but every place we saw had nothing on the menu that would work for me, except a salad.  (I don't order salads as meals at restaurants, because they're not filling enough, and they charge for meat and cheese, even if you ask for it without.)  So we kept walking until we made it back to the car, striking out all the way and finally decided we'd wait til we got back to Lancaster, and we'd find somewhere here.

Then we sat on the interstate for two hours, progressing less than 15 miles in that amount of time.  (Yeah, I really like living outside of Philly.)  By this time we were all starving, exhausted, thristy (one bottle of water and one lemonade was apparently not enough for a whole day in 80 degree heat), so we decided to stop in King of Prussia for food. At this point I would have eaten anything.

But we sat down at Rock Bottom Brewery and they seemed to have the answer to all my problems:  a house made, fire-grilled veggie burger. It was all I wanted.  Then they brought it out, and it had this giant slab of cheddar cheese melted onto it, which, I just double-checked, is not listed on the menu as an ingredient on the burger.  Then Erica and I had an exchange that went something like this:

Erica: You have to send that back.
Me: You have to be kidding, I'm eating this thing!

And I did, making this the second time I've broken the vegan rules I set forth for myself forty days ago.  I could have sent it back.  I should have, especially since they had the freaking gall to charge extra for the cheese.  But can I just tell you, that was absolutely the best veggie burger I've ever had, and I barely tasted the cheese.  I'm going to try to re-create the burger (minus the cheese) tonight, and my mouth is already watering for it.

One thing this did teach me though:  our culture is extremely vegan-unfriendly.   I already knew that, it's part of the reason I only ate out once in my whole first month of this project, but you know what--our life is busy. Sometimes we have to grab something out.  How do true vegans do it?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Day 39--Quick Update

I had every intention of updating over the past few days, but life sometimes has other plans.  Yesterday, my grandfather died, so most of my time and energy has been dedicated to my family over the past few days.  Cooking and food planning has been a bit pushed to the back burner, but I'm far enough along in this that I have some standard fallback foods that I can rely on to be quick and easy and, when necessary, portable.

With the sad news, my overproductive overdrive has come to a halt.  I feel like I'm falling behind on a number of things, but I have the energy to deal with exactly none of it.  I'll get it back, I'm sure, but there's a sadness right now that I haven't yet kicked.

We'll miss you, Pap, but I certainly hope you're feeling better now that you're on the other side. <3

Monday, October 3, 2011

Day 34--Groceries

Ugh I'm still struggling with the "grocery shopping" thing.  I'll be very honest about the fact that I'm not a very "savvy shopper."  I don't get the paper and search ads for what's on sale where, I don't clip coupons, and I don't keep a running tally of how much I'm spending as I go through the store.  Sometimes I don't even shop with a list.  And when I do, it's more of a reminder not to forget certain things; I always buy more than what's on the list.

So I wanted to compare what I spent on food before I started this vegan thing and after.  The best way to do that was month over month, so here it is:

August actual for groceries:  $441.86

September actual for groceries: $507.12

I was disappointed but not surprised that my total for my vegan month was higher than previous months. (I was, however, surprised that we were so close to our goal of $100/week in August, because I was just as bad of a shopper then).  I think a couple of things factor into the jump:
  1. This was the first month of a total change for us which meant taking a hit on some things--like spices--that will last us more than a month, 
  2. This account is never used for eating out, which we did more of in August and almost none of in Sept., so naturally, the grocery bill will go up.
  3. We didn't really have a feel yet for how to be savvy vegans.  Just like with any other diet chioces, some foods are really expensive and should only be a once-in-a-while thing.  For us, that's hummus.  We bought several conatiners before I was finally like "whoa, this stuff is four bucks a pop, let's reign this in."
But I can't blame it all on this stuff.  A big reason we spent more instead of less is simply because produce at my local supermarket is expensive.  I try to have an idea for meals before I go to the store, and that usually means grabbing asparagus even if it is $3.99/lb.  I stopped by a store closer to my work the other day and I was in shock at how much lower their produce prices were!  And their selection was so much better than it was when that was my "local" store.  I made a mental note that I need to do my shopping there.  But there's a problem in that plan, too.  I like to shop on my day off, and this store is 35 minutes away.  If I just shop after work, I know my shopping will never be complete.  But I have to figure it out, because the difference is huge.

Also, I think even $100/week for two people is excessive, and we can probably do with less.  But for now, I'd like to just get back down to that.  I'm going to start by always making a list and sticking to it, planning meals so I use everything I buy (although I've been doing a pretty good job of not wasting much), and vowing to somehow get to East York for produce at least once a week.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Day 33--A Dinner Guest, and Thai Food

My sister has been one of the people most interested in my vegan journey.  We've been talking about it a lot, she's always interested to know what I've been eating, and she's been following this blog pretty regularly.  We live pretty close to eath other, and we've been saying that we need to get together more often.  So when she suggested we get together to a vegan-themed dinner on Friday night, I thought that was perfect!

We decided on Thai, which was another first for me.  I found some really great recipes for Pad Thai and a cucumber salad, and I couldn't wait to get started! I know most of my plan was to focus around being healthy, but guess why everyone likes Thai food so much?  It has a ton of sugar in it.  I figured what the hell, the only sugar I've had in weeks came from grapes and apple juice, so I can afford just this one meal.  Plus, as soon as I saw the recipe for Pad Thai, my mouth was watering for it.

I was nervous about having a dinner guest, and I don't know why.  As much as I've been sharing talking about this, I've been a little reluctant to share food. I don't know what I'm afraid of--judgment, people thinking I'm one of those "pushy vegans," people thinking my food is gross or my choices are invalid.  I was also a little afraid of asking other people to eat tofu, because I know it's one of those things... I've only ever made it two times myself.  But I knew my sister would be willing to try it!

In any case, dinner was a huge success.  It took forever to make, and I kind of made a huge mess, but I always get better at that kind of thing the second and third time I make the same thing. Part of the reason I lovew Thai is because of all the extras you get to put on it, and everything looked so good with the peanuts, lime wedges, and sesame seeds on the salad.  The only thing I didn't get to put in it was sprouts, because my grocery store was sold out of them.  But overall, proabably the tastiest thing I've made so far!  The girlfriend and the sister really enjoyed it, and the night was a lot of fun.  I can't wait to do it again!
Cucumber Salad with toasted sesame seeds;
Pad Thai w/ tofu, peanuts, and lime