Thursday, January 24, 2013

Reconsideration & Resolutions

I've been waiting until late January to post. You see, while I really did love eating vegetarian and the new foods that it opened me up to, it wasn't something that I was able to sustain long term (with the habits that I had! I do think that vegetarianism is a perfectly sustainable diet if care is paid to eating properly). I was vegetarian for nearly six months before I realized this. Around this time (and a few months after the beginning of the semester when I was too busy to cook like I had over the summer) I began to experience health related symptoms that suggested I wasn't getting the all of the right nutrients- in particular I suspect iron. I didn't have the money to run to the doctor to have my blood tested so I did the next best thing and decided to introduce meat back to my diet and see if it helped my issues. Well it did, slowly but surely.

Now, I know I could go back to being vegetarian if I really made a conscious effort to eat iron rich foods but that brings me to my next issue. I also became vegetarian as a way to curb my eating out and to make healthier choices. Once I found those loopholes (grilled cheese at Whataburger?! Yes, please!) I realized that I was turning down meals that contained meat for options that were even less healthy because they didn't contain meat. That was so radically different than the point of going vegetarian was to begin with.

I am reminded of what an art professor recently told a group of students that were embarking on developing their own conceptual ideas and plans without the structure of assignments and deadlines. He said that they would start in a direction and it may not work out and they'll abandon it and go in a different direction; there was nothing wrong with that false start and they would learn from it.

I don't regret my decision to eat vegetarian nor do I regret my decision to start eating meat again. Every experience we have becomes a part of who we are and informs our future decisions. I know now that vegetarian dishes can be just as fulfilling as those that contain meat and that just because you don't know what to do with a vegetable doesn't mean you shouldn't buy it.

Then came the month of January. A new year and a recently passed birthday. Once again, just like last year, I felt recharged. I was just coming off of a break after one of my most difficult semesters yet and was feeling like this could be a fresh start for me. I've also learned over the past few years that I have fleeting interests. I get very much into something for awhile only to find something else to replace it. Rather than making life altering, massive changes in my life that I would abandon in a couple of months, I'm learning how to work with my personality and keep things fresh. I decided that this year I would create a new goal every month. Allen was on board and actually helped jump start this year with the January resolution of only dining out once a week. This goal was in part due to the fact that we were spending way too much money dining out but also that we would probably eat healthier if we prepared our own food. That was the *only* rule of the month.

Developments began to take shape. I downloaded the "My Fitness Pal" app and began to log all calories. I wasn't too terribly concerned with where I ended up as long as I was logging them. Eventually I found that I was coming in at or under my calories for the day just by making decisions to "spend" my calories wiser. However, since the only hard rule was no dining out, I found the best solution was that if I was craving something, I would buy the supplies to make it at home: hamburgers, nachos, ice cream sundaes, even coffee (granted I have had coffee out twice this month!). We purchased a lot of "convenience food" such as rice mixes. However, our main goal was to simply break the habit of hopping in the car and going to a restaurant/drive through/etc.

I got off to a rough start, eating out a couple of times the first week. However, by mid month, we were both only dining out once a week. By this week, essentially the last week of January, what was once a strong driving urge to dine out daily has become a weekly take it or leave it option where we are just as happy (if not more) to go home and cook something up.

February is looming on the horizon and I have two new goals to introduce while continuing to only dine out once a week. I am avoiding restrictive language in these goals. I see it like training my dog. I can tell him no all day long when he is doing something he's not supposed to. Instead I prefer to redirect his behavior into something the he knows how to do and reward him for that rather than telling him no and not providing a redirection. Within these goals, my true goals are to drink less soda and eat less crap (therefore eating more actual nutrients). I am wording my goals as such:
Drink water with my meals
Eat more servings of fruits and vegetables

I am excited to see what challenges February brings and what I inadvertently learn along the way.

January's Accidental Lessons
Soda truly is empty calories: I knew that but it never really hit home for me until I began to keep track of my calories and other nutrients throughout the day. What a waste of what could be perfectly delicious and nutritious food!
Counting calories can be helpful: I've never been a big fan of worrying about calorie count. I don't believe that low calorie is equal to healthy. However it does help keep tabs on just how much I am eating while curbing my junk consumption- not my real food consumption.
My Fitness Pal rocks : If you're eating something with a bar code you can just scan it. If you make something from scratch, you can enter the recipe/ingredient. I love this app for more than just the calorie counting. It also gives you a daily and weekly summary of important nutrients and vitamins and lets you know if you're over/under.
Fooducate rocks: This app is great at giving you a quick glance of a food's quality, especially if you're in a hurry at the grocery store and don't have time to scour the ingredients list of everything you're buying. Just scan it and it alerts you to GMO probability, questionable ingredients, level of processing, and MSG (under all of its various names). It also offers healthier alternatives to your scanned choices if you decide to go with something better.

That's all for now! That was long and I have no idea on earth why anyone would want to read it, but if you did, thanks!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Where I Started...

I was feeling discouraged about what to have for dinner tonight and just generally tired and a little cranky. If I can't decide what to eat, I could always blog about eating, I thought. People are always asking me why I'm vegetarian. To cram it all into one post would be a disaster. It would be unorganized and scatter brained, so I'm going to do a series of posts describing how my eating habits of today came to be. This series can grow with me, as my philosophy continues to develop.

It started December 28th, 2011. I turned twenty-four years old and it hit me, I'm in my mid-twenties. I knew I would be thirty with the blink of an eye! So I decided that I needed to grow up a little bit and take care of my body. I was literally living off of fast food. Burgers, chicken sandwiches, fries, bacon and egg biscuits, the usual from the most conveniently located fast food joints. I typically ate two large, fast food meals a day- both of them on the run. I would get tired easily through the day, but correct it by drinking a soda or a Red Bull. I would get a headache and pop Excedrine. In fact, I was getting headaches often. One of my professors was telling me how taking OTC medication too often can cause even more problems, especially in the realm of headaches. I began to think that maybe my lifestyle needed to change.

When I was in high school, I spent an entire summer waking up at 6 AM to meet a few friends to work out together in preparation for volleyball season. I was active year round. Now I was looking down at the scale that, while not climbing too much, was fifteen pounds over what I was in high school. This wasn't a drastic amount, considering that I had been out of high school for five and a half years, but I knew that it wasn't getting any better and I felt more unhealthy than ever.

My birthday gift to myself on December 28th, 2011 was running. I started with Budd Coates' running program and my favorite beginner's running book ever, Running For Women. This book actually has the linked running program in it, so all of you ladies should buy it! As you can see, during week one I was running for simple two minute intervals. It was kind of tough though, especially by the last one! I realized just how poor of shape I was in that week. To help maintain motivation, I would buy Runner's World magazines each month. One month I was reading about Scott Jurek, ultra marathoner and vegan aficionado. I found this article at a point in my running where it was getting really tough and my legs felt like lead. I believed that my terrible diet (that was still based on eating out two meals a day) was probably a big contributor to how awful I felt.

In just a couple of weeks after reading this article, I had a vacation to Florida coming up. I'd already lost about eight pounds in about five months just from running and was feeling pretty good about that, but hanging out on the beach will make anyone want to work on themselves! Scott Jurek's book wasn't available yet, but I knew I was going to need something to read on this long drive to Florida and the vacation that ultimately, would be my last hurrah before changing my life. I ended up settling for the Engine 2 Diet book after finding it through looking for other vegan/vegetarian stories, since Jurek's book wasn't out yet. It came highly recommended by its readers, so I ordered it and had it rush delivered so I could read it on the way to Florida.

And read it I did! I was hooked and ready to (somewhat regrettably) take a stab at living at the very least, meat free. While in Florida I ate enough meat and amazing food to carry me over for awhile and even make me sick of eating out to an extent. I was ready to cozy in at home and start a new lifestyle.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Spicy Tempeh Nori Rolls

A couple of days ago, I received my first vegan cookbook- Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a vegan cookbook- comfort food style. I can't speak to the healthiness of all of the recipes, I'm certainly no nutritionist. They are, however, undoubtedly healthier than how I've eaten the other 20+ years of my life, so I'm not complaining.

 I already knew that I loved some of these recipes by the website that got me into vegan baking, and then vegan cooking- The Post Punk Kitchen. I have yet to bake any recipes associated with PPK without overwhelming success. Simply put, every single one of them has been a delicious hit. So I decided I needed Veganomicon as my first vegan cookbook. 

The first true recipe in the book is for Spicy Tempeh Rolls. Allen had said earlier this year that he wanted to make sushi this summer, so why not start with this recipe? I went around town gathering my supplies, which proved to be taxing in 105ยบ weather. I ended up having to stop by three stores to get it all. I found the sushi rice, rice vinegar and avocado at Wal Mart, easily. I ended up going to two specialty stores to pick up the nori seaweed, bamboo roller and oils. I say oils because this recipe calls for hot chili sesame seed oil which proved to be impossible to find in my town. I ended up substituting "hot oil" found in the Asian section mixed with sesame seed oil. Tasted just fine!

Here are the ingredients and directions as posted on the PPK recipe page

Bamboo sushi rolling mat
Really sharp serrated knife
Rice cooker or pot for rice
Large preferabely glass bowl to cool rice down in
Small saute pan
Tongs, if you are going to be roasting the nori
For the rice

1 cup sushi rice made with 1 1/4 cup H20, prepared according to package directions
About 2 Tbs Rice vinegar (do not use regular or any other kind!)
1 tsp sugar
4 sheets nori*
For the filling
1/2 package tempeh (4 oz)
1/4 teaspoon sesame hot chili oil or to taste
1 1/2 Tablespoons vegan mayo
1 green scallion, white part removed, sliced lengthwise into narrow strips
1 Tablespoon black sesame seeds if put inside of roll, or 1/4 cup if used as coating for “inside-out”
For the rice

Prepare rice according to package instructions. It should be something like 1 1/4 cup H20 to 1 cup rice. Cook till rice is tender but firm, even a little dry.
Empty hot rice into a large glass bowl. Sprinkle with about rice vinegar and 1 tsp. sugar. Fold rice gently with a large spoon or rice paddle. Rice should be moist and have a mild vinegar flavor. Cover with plastic wrap. When rice is slightly warmer than room temperature it’s ready to work with.
Meanwhile prepare the filling
Steam and cover tempeh in a small saute pan with enough water to cover it till tender & not bitter (about 10 minutes). Mash with mayo and sesame chili oil
to taste. Layer with scallion, sprinkle with sesame, or make inside out roll if feeling Iron Chef tonight
*If you like, use a pair of tongs to roast the nori sheets over the oven flame for 2-3 seconds.

I was feeling Iron Chef myself and made the rolls inside out. To do this, you mash out the rice on the nori like normal, but then lay down a sheet of saran wrap and pick it up, including the bamboo roller. Gently flip the entire thing over, take the roller off the top and lay it down. Lay the flipped over nori on it with the saran wrap in place on the bottom. From there, I laid out my tempeh, green onion (I cheated a little...), and avocado at the line where the rice stopped. I then began rolling the edge with the filling, using the bamboo to help squeeze it tight- just be sure to get that plastic wrap out of the way too! It wasn't nearly as hard as I thought it would be. I'm not completely sure I even did it right, but it was tasty and held together well and that's all I'm worried about.  

The last picture are Allen's rolls, he set up their presentation! They also happen to not be inside out, so if you make them without the flipping, that's how they'll look! I coated my inside out rolls in sesame seeds, although the second picture was perhaps a bit too heavy on the seeds.

Overall, this was a delightful adventure and fun to roll my own rolls for the first time! I do recommend keeping water in the sink and throwing anything that touches the rice in there when you're done using it, otherwise cleaning up dried sticky rice is kind of difficult. The directions here don't mention it, but keeping a small bowl of water with a dash of rice vinegar around to keep your hands wet so that the rice doesn't stick to you helps a LOT.

If you're like me and you appreciate a visual of all of this, here is the first episode of Post Punk Kitchen showing how to make these. Video Link!

Happy rolling!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Super Easy Black Bean Burgers

These burgers are a new go-to staple in our house. They can be prepped in advanced for a great quick lunch. The credit of using quick cook oats goes to the Engine 2 Diet New York Time's Veggie Burgers. However, I don't choose to include quite everything that they do and get a fabulous tasting, custom burger. The great thing about this is that you can change your seasoning and extra add ins to create the perfect burger. Popular burgers at our house include Buffalo Ranch (yes, awful, non-vegan ranch. I am experimenting with making my own and also bought a vegan ranch that I'll try using after I use up the other ranch) and BBQ burgers (using our favorite BBQ sauce!). I almost always garnish with pickles, lettuce and red onion. I think next I want to try a Southwest Burger, with toasted corn and peppers and chipotle seasoning. Maybe some custom, homemade salsa on top too.

Super Easy Black Bean Burgers

You Will Need:
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can corn, drained
Quick cook oats
Favorite fixings

Green onions
Desired seasonings
...whatever else you want.

This recipe isn't an exact science, which is part of what's so great about it! I always start out with 'no salt added' black beans and about 2/3 of the 'no sugar/salt added' corn in the blender. Do NOT add the oats to the blender. Once I get these two blended together, I start adding whatever else I want, depending on the type of burger I want to craft. Adding carrots is a great way to get them into your diet- I'm not a huge fan of but I added shredded carrot to my last patty mixture and couldn't even taste it. One carrot isn't much, but now I know I can add even more! I always add a few finely chopped green onions and yellow onions. Really- add whatever you like. It's a great time to clear out the fridge if you have any veggies that you need to use up. Don't forget seasoning! You can season it just like a hamburger patty.

The oats come as the last step. Empty your bean goo into a mixing bowl. I like to use the remaining 1/3 of my corn to mix in after I'm done blending. Mostly because I think it's pretty, so you can do that if you'd like. Start adding oats and stirring them in. The oats are the binding element that stops your burger from falling apart. Most black bean burger recipes I've read call for a bread of sorts- finely chopped, bread crumbs, etc. Oats are so easy to use and still taste great! Again, this isn't an exact science and how many oats you add really depends on what all you blended up and how wet your bean mixture is. I just add oats and stir until I get a consistency that I can form a patty out of that won't fall apart.

Next, turn a burner to medium or medium-high heat. I use a non stick skillet and a spray of Pam Olive Oil just for extra anti sticking security. Sometimes they stick without Pam, but luckily I haven't had any be ruined because of it, they're just not as pretty.  After I get a slight browning on each side, I begin to smash the burgers a little so that they flatten out a little bit more and don't have a gooey center. I smash them with my spatula and then let them cook on that side a few moments longer. I flip them and repeat until they seem to be smashed enough that they aren't gooey on the inside. If you do this too long, they simply get a bit dried out and crunchy around the edges, which wasn't entirely unpleasant either.

I typically just refrigerate my left over mixture and make patties as I need them. Some people I've read about form patties and stick them in the freezer for later. Ours don't really stick around long enough to warrant putting them in the freezer since we eat them pretty quickly, but I imagine you could if you wanted to.

They're pretty versatile little burgers. So go wild! If you do make them, take a picture, I'd love to see!