Sunday, April 24, 2011

Hello BACON !!!

Today is Easter Sunday.  Lent is over.

I did it - I kept vegan for well over forty days (56 to be exact, as I started early, and Lent is actually longer than 40 days).  

There were only two slip-ups:
1.  A taste of some dip at a party that I was told was okay for my diet needs, but had a tiny amount of bacon in the mix 
2.  A spoonful of peanut butter that was a special honey infused peanut butter.  
In both cases I did not know, and neither had a measurable amount non-vegan ingredients.  Thus, they were not really slip-ups.... but instead just part of living in the real world.

So how does one break the "Vegan for Lent" adventure?  Duh, ..... BACON!!!

And waffles (there are eggs in my waffle recipe) with real butter! 

It has been a great experience, and I expect to continue as a pseudo-vegan going forward.  I will be making mostly plant-based choices, but will not remain 100% vegan.  I think I will make a fairly good effort Monday-Friday, but then have more options on the weekends.  

Last night we attended a 50th Birthday Party for two friends.  It was quite an event.  There were vegetarian / vegan food options, but the birthday cake and the surrounding "cake balls" looked amazing.  I almost rationalized at 10 PM that we were only two hours from Easter.... and thus could eat the dessert (it was already Easter in some parts of the world).  But alas, I stayed strong (knowing that bacon was awaiting me this morning!).

Thank you to everyone who shared in my adventure, read this blog, sent me recipes, gave moral support / encouragement, and even those who mocked me for my "Vegan for Lent" decision.  It was a difficult Lent commitment.... but well worth the experience.

And special "THANKS" to my wife, who supported me through the whole process.  She is a great cook, and her vegan meals were among the best food I had during Lent.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Two More Days

I am in the final stretch of my "Forty Days Vegan", which is actually "56 Days Vegan" due my starting early, etc...

It really has been a good experience, AND a lesson in discipline.  It is not easy in our society to live on a special diet.  The response from other people has been interesting:  few are indifferent.... some folk praise the effort and others look at me like I am nuts.

I lost weight.  While the scale shows positive progress, it is not nearly as much as I had anticipated.  I lost five pounds in the first couple of weeks, but then it leveled off.  I lost no more weight over the past month.  I figure it has to do with the reality that my calorie count was not probably reduced very much.  I ate when I felt hungry, and I often was hungry.  I chose healthy foods most of the time, but nuts and other healthy foods are not low in calories.  I will admit that I did eat some vegan dark chocolate as my dessert of choice quite often.

I feel great.  My energy level is clearly improved, although I was not feeling bad or lacking energy before I began, so the difference is minimal.  I just like how I am feeling, so that is a good thing.

My mind is clear.  This one is hard to explain.  Again, I did not feel "un-clear" before I started eating vegan.  My focus is better, and my dreams are much more vivid.  I use the term "clear", which is subjective and hard to understand, but others who have chosen a plant based diet nod in agreement when I try to explain this side effect.

It has been educational.  The attention that one must pay to the ingredients in processed and packaged foods automatically made me learn more about food.  I also took an active role in learning about nutrition, and what vitamins and minerals the human body needs.  I don't think I will ever look at food the same way again.

Being vegan has been a conversation starter.  My favorite experience was at a Computerworld Magazine conference where I was the keynote speaker.  At lunch the waiter was visibly shocked by my request for a vegan meal (not vegetarian).  The look of horror lead to laughs all around the table, and a lively conversation about food with the lunch companions. (I blogged about this experience in a post called "I said vegan, not Al Qaeda" on March 10, 2011).

I learned to cook new things.  My wife and I both had to make adjustments to how we cooked.  While I was the only one in the family who kept a vegan diet, everyone joined in on several meals.  We discovered there were many non-meat and dairy free options that were equally delicious.  Other things were good enough.  A few things were awful.  Overall we experimented with new recipes and had some great meals.

I had fun.  The whole experience was better than I had expected.  I had worried about the level of commitment that it would take to stay true to a vegan diet, but while difficult, it was not impossible.  I was most concerned about eating while traveling, but with some planning (and carrying a stash of snacks in my backpack) I was able to navigate all my business trips without incident.

Will I stay vegan?   This is the big question.  The answer at this point is I am going to attempt keeping a vegan diet Monday through Friday.  On the weekends it will be my choice on what to eat.  I do know that I do not plan the weekends to be meat and dairy shmorgishborg, but instead the opportunity to have some wonderful foods when the opportunity is right.  I do miss really good meat and fish (no desire for fast food or processed meat products...yuck), and I want to eat homemade waffles and some other favorites.  This plan seems like a good way to keep going with the structure of being vegan, with some wiggle room.  Otherwise it can be a slippery slope back to my old habits of eating anything that crosses my path.  My hope is my weekends be mostly vegan, with the exceptions being for some great options, not crap food.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lambert's BBQ Definitely NOT the Place for a Vegan in Austin

After a business happy hour last night I was invited to join a group of CEO's, CFO's and other friends for dinner. It was a fun group of people, and I wanted to go... but I knew at whatever restaurant selected there might not be a lot of choices for my vegan diet.  This was a group of carnivores!

I have had a rule on while on the "vegan for Lent" adventure to NOT be a pain in the ass to others who are not keeping to my plant based diet.  I just went along with my dinner companions, and did not mention in advance my situation.

We ended up at Lambert's BBQ in downtown Austin.  This place is a local favorite for those who love meat and all the delicious dairy based things that can be served with and near meat (Think Macaroni & Cheese or vegetables floating in butter).  This is NOT the place for vegans.

Fortunately I was not hungry (I had made a stop at Whole Foods before the Happy Hour).  Unfortunately I am having cravings for a really good steak.  Watching the other people eat pork ribs and steaks the size of my head left me wanting Easter to arrive.

I asked the waitress what on the menu I could eat, the only answer was a side of broccoli, that would be special ordered to be cooked in olive oil instead of butter.  While good, it was hardly the experience I had at other restaurants.

The lesson learned..... If BBQ is featured in the name, vegans go hungry.

The good news was it was a very fun evening of conversation with some old friends -- and that is really what matters.  The food looked amazing (I have eaten there before, it is really good!), and I am even more wanting of that steak than I was yesterday!!!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

I Want A Steak

As I enter the last week of Lent there is a question as to what I will do after Easter.

The commitment to embrace a vegan diet for Lent was difficult.  When asked by friends how it has been, my standard answer is "it has been a lesson in discipline".  Meat and dairy sneak their way into many prepared foods.  I read every label and make conscious decisions about all that goes into my body.  However, as I round third base on the adventure, I am thrilled with the whole process.   I feel great.  I lost four pounds.  I am thinking clearly.

I have no desire to go back to the standard diet of eating anything.  I believe that the reason I feel so good is the elimination of dairy.  When I look at all items I have had to skip because of milk, cheese and eggs, I find that I have skipped a lot of "crap".  While not all foods with dairy are bad for you, many bad foods do have dairy.  The commitment to eating vegan has forced me to make good choices.

I do want to eat meat.  Not all meat, just really good meat.  I long for a small steak or some great brisket.  The thought of cheap meat is not appealing... but a small high quality steak sounds delicious.

So what do I do next week?  Not sure yet.  My guess is I stay true to vegan most of the time, especially in regards to dairy.... but not 100%.  Maybe I become a "Weekday Vegan".  A while back I watched a TED TALK by founder Graham Hill.  He is vegetarian five days a week, and eats meat on the weekend.  Not a bad idea.  (CLICK HERE to watch the video)

What do you think?  -- "Thom Singer: The Weekday Vegan".  Monday through Friday: Eat nothing with a face or a mother... and nothing that came from anything with a face or a mother.  Saturday and choice!  I think I like it!

thom singer

Friday, April 15, 2011

Eating Gluten Free - In Restaurants and Grocery Stores

My "vegan dining adventure" for Lent has shown me a whole other side of eating.  Having not had many issues with foods or food allergies, I had never put much thought into my food.  With the exception of lobster (which makes me barf three hours after eating), I basically could eat anything I wanted.  If I saw food, I ate it.

Being vegan has taught me about nutrition and ingredients.  I find myself having to read every package and consistently asking questions in restaurants and grocery stores.

This has opened my eyes to what people face who have stronger motivations in keeping to a special diet.  My wife cannot eat anything in the vegetable pepper family (think Bell Peppers).... it wont kill her, but it is not a good thing for her to injest.  My nephew is allergic to peanuts and his parents have had to be diligent about knowing what he is eating.  My father-in-law cannot eat dairy or chocolate.  Others are sensitive to any number of things.

While I have been aware of special diets, having been a "human garbage disposal" has meant it never seemed that hard to monitor everything you eat.  I now am a changed man, it is hard to have a special diet!

In recent years "Gluten" has become a leader in the news of nutrition and what many people need to avoid.  While being vegan does not mean I have to eat "gluten free", I have encountered many vegans and vegetarians who also avoid gluten.

If I thought meat and dairy snuck their way into food... WOW, gluten is everywhere.

I was recently introduced to Triumph Dining.  They publish the largest guides to dining gluten free, and they are a growing company.  They have both a grocery guide and a restaurant guide, and they also sell them in a combo pack.

I wish there were similar guides that were this comprehensive for vegans!  (Maybe there is and I just never found it).

Turns out my favorite burrito at the Vegan Yacht (my favorite food trailer in Austin, TX), The Freeto Burrito, is also gluten free!  That is just an added benefit to this great culinary delight.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Tofu Migas Scramble

I have been having fun trying to create delicious foods while on this vegan adventure.

On Saturday morning my wife encouraged me to make a "tofu scramble" using leftovers and other items that were in the refrigerator.  This became "Tofu Migas", and the flavor was off the charts good.


Firm tofu.   About 1/3 of the package.  Pressed to remove the liquid.  cut into 1/2 inch squares.

1/2 an onion, diced.

1/2 cup mushrooms, sliced.

one ToFurkey sausage, sliced into small discs. 

1 cup raw spinach.

1 tablespoon garlic, diced small

1/2 cup cooked broccoli.

2 corn tortillas, sliced into 1 inch x 2 inch rectangles.

1 tablespoon nutritional yeast

1/2 cup black beans 

1/2 cup salsa with green chilies

Saute the onion in olive oil.  Add the all other ingredients in the order of what needs the longest to cook (spinach goes in last).  Voila.  Tofu Migas Scramble.

I welcome anyone to send me recipes, as I still have two more weeks until Lent ends.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Anniversary Dinner at Trio

Last night my wife, Sara, and I went out for dinner to celebrate our 19th wedding anniversary.  We selected Trio, the restaurant at the Four Season's Hotel in downtown Austin.  Sara called ahead to see if they could accomdate my vegan diet, and was assured they would take good care of me.

Wow, what a great night..  When we were seated we were presented with a menus that read "Happy 19th Anniversary" across the top, and the hostess announced that the chef and waitress were aware of my being vegan, and that they had special options.

The chef prepared a vegetable risotto that was amazing,  I also had their mixed green salad, minus the goat cheese.  For dessert we shared a pairing of three (trio!) of homemade sorbets (apple/basil, berry, and orange). (Sara had scallops and shrimp... which she also thought were fantastic!).

The above photo was a special plate they brought along with the sorbets.  It included some chocolates and cookies. I hear they tasted good!

Erika, our waitress, did a great job of making sure that my dining experience lived up to the levels one would expect at a nice restaurant.

I have been to three higher end restaurants since I began my "Vegan for Lent" diet, and each of those meals rank amongst the best restaurant meals I can remember in a long time.  I think that even if I go back to eating meat and dairy, I will tell restaurants I am vegan, as the special dishes they create especially for me are even better than what is on the menu!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Join Me For The Last Half of Lent - Go Vegan for 20 Days!!

While my wife is not holding to a vegan diet during Lent, she is trying to eat along with me much of the time.  We had a wonderful date to the Whole Foods Flagship Store (in downtown Austin) yesterday.  We had lunch, browsed for inspirational vegan menu ideas, and shopped for the ingredients for me to make paella.

We started by eating lunch at the vegan restaurant / food counter inside the store.  The "Seitan Gyros" tasted really good, but the serving size was small, and thus I needed to buy another snack before we left the market.  This is my ongoing issue with vegan food at restaurants.... there is not meat or cheese, and then to top it off the serving size is small. If I am going to be vegan I want full-sized portions.  The double-whammy of small food and no meat and dairy is the part that turns me off.

We discovered ToFurky sausages, which were perfect for my paella.  I did serve meat sausages to the family, but my serving got the ToFurky.  Overall, it was not bad.  I wont lie.... not the best sausage I have ever had, but as a meat substitute it was really good.  The paella was great, and I added white beans to make up for the lack of shrimp.

This whole Forty Days Vegan adventure (which is now Fifty Days Vegan, because I started early) has had wonderful side effects.  I am gaining education about nutrition, learning to cook new things, exploring creativity in regards to food, and it has opened up many interesting conversations with friends and strangers.

I am now over halfway through my 50 days, and I have no complaints.  I feel great, and am finding the food mostly to be delicious.  We went to party the other night and the host made ceviche, but instead of shrimp he used Heart of Palm.  WOW.... it was the best ceviche I have ever had.

I am getting a lot of questions from friends about the effort involved to go vegan.  I am challenging people to join me for the last twenty days.  Easter is 21 days away, so start today!!!  Jump in now and do a "Half-Lent Adventure" (you need not be Catholic to participate in Lent.  It is an exercise in discipline... not a commitment to Rome!).

Come on... who is game for HALF A LENT vegan?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Veggie Tacos

Last night I had to make dinner for the family.  While I am the only one who has gone vegan for Lent, my wife is eating along with me on many occasions.  The kids? not so much.  Plus, they are kids, so the limits to what they will eat still require "kid friendly" foods.

Thus the challenge was to create one meal that would allow everyone a healthy and delicious meal.


I purchased a pre-cooked chicken breast for the kids, and then made veggie taco filling.

1 - onion, sliced.
1 - zucchini, sliced into two-inch sticks.
5 - mushrooms, sliced
1 - tomato
1 - clove garlic, diced
1 cup - spinach (added at last minute)
*(Bell pepper would be a great addition, too... but my wife is allergic to peppers)

Saute the above until soft.

Serve with whole wheat tortillas, re-fried black beans, rice, avocado slices, "veggie shreds" fake cheese, and salsa.

Dang, it was good!  I will eat this again and again.