2 months of Plant-based eating

It has now been 2 months of exclusively plant-based eating. Some of my observations:

It’s fun exploring the plant-based lifestyle. It’s fun to go to vegan festivals or other meet-ups where everyone is as excited as you are about all of this, because let’s face it – it’s not a diet, it is a lifestyle. As with any lifestyle, here you will find your hard-core extremists who chastise you for eating things that even resemble meat, to the other extreme, folks who exalt restaurants like Doomies that recreate a vegan version of the Big Mac, fries on the side.  There’s a Facebook group called WHAT F.A.T. VEGANS EAT that features a lot of familiar comfort food that they’ve “veganized”. (F.A.T. means Fanastic, Amazing, Terrific by the way).  In this dish below, king mushrooms stand in for scallops. I put them on a bed of stir-fried garlic kale with a little mango salad on the side. Delicious! 11071307_10155467883235057_6376315003040691846_o-2

The plant-based lifestyle has been touted for a long-time, even though it’s just starting to become chi chi in the mainstream. Over the past few years, I have watched many documentaries and purchased many a cookbook to inspire. Two good ones are Forks Over Knives (plant-based, no oil diet) and Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead which focuses on juicing for good health.

Inspiration. I have always loved cookbooks as literature. Reading them, poring over the photos, imagining the recipes on my table. Vegan cookbooks are just as lovely as any other. Angela Liddon’s  Oh She Glows and the Thug Kitchen are recent favourites. I also follow several plant-IMG_4408based blogs and Instagram accounts, which never fail to inspire with gorgeous photos of beautiful, colourful,  healthy plant-based meals. Not only that, but who knew you could make plant-based meringue from aquafaba, aka bean water?  My favourites at the
moment are the Minimalist Baker, Chef ChloeVegan Richa and Manjula’s Kitchen, which is not fully vegan, but has many fabulous plant-based Indian recipes.

Beginning to look at meat with sadness. Unlike many vegetarians and vegans, I have enjoyed cooking and eating meat. I love animals, but have always considered them a necessary part of the food chain. I chose to go plant-based primarily for health reasons. As I progress with this vegan journey, I’m feeling more empathy and compassion for animals than ever before. There is no excuse for the horrific treatment of animals marked for slaughter in factory farms. None.  I respect the work of people who try to help and locally for me, it is Happily Ever Esther animal sanctuary. Esther’s Facebook and Instagram feeds are so much fun —  highly recommended.

Health benefits After two months eating only plant-based meals, I am noticing small improvements in health thus far. First of all (and I don’t mean to overshare here) but both the quality and quantity of bathroom visits have increased and it’s fantastic! I have also lost approximately 10 lbs. and this is with zero exercise since I tore the miniscus in my left knee. I feel as if my digestive system has calmed and for the first time in I can’t even tell you how long, no heartburn. My stomach does makes very strange and loud noises from this plant-based diet, but it doesn’t hurt.

 

V+ at Pita Pit

Since beginning this plant-based diet over a month ago, one thing I’ve noted is that fast food isn’t as easy as it used to be. Sometimes I just want to grab a quick bite and don’t have time for much else — just want to dash in, dash out, meal in hand. It used to be that my biggest question was “What do I want?” Thai? Chinese? Pizza?

Now it’s a bit more complicated. Do they have vegan options?  Do they use chicken stock in their vegetable soup? Do they have an ingredients list?

I felt a bit of relief when I walked into Pita Pit the other day and found the menu had items marked with a V.  The little green V is Vegetarian and the V+ menu items are vegan. In Canada, they have six vegetarian menu options, four of which are vegan: Garden, Baba Ganoush, Falafel and Hummus.

The staff atgarden-pita the franchise I went to was happy to accommodate by pointing out the vegan options. I ordered the Baba Ganoush on a whole wheat pita. Grilled mushrooms, onions or peppers are options — yes please! Then more choosing from a myriad of toppings similar to those   found at Subway or any other “fresh” fast food joints: romaine or iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, hot peppers, spinach, onions, olives, and more, followed by an array of dressings to choose from.  I kept it simple with romaine, tomatoes and a few jalapenos on the toasted wrap.

It was good and as fresh as it gets considering the toppings are pre-cut and in containers. I got to customize my wrap with with my preferred toppings. Vegan fast-food that hits the spot at $6.99 – an inexpensive, guilt-free lunch for me.

I’d give it a fast food 4/5.

 

Carrot Apple Ginger – and then some…

img_4439Juicing fruits and vegetables is a quick way to add extra nutrients to your diet. I have a lot to say about juicing, but for now — here’s a sweet introductory juice for those who are a bit nervous about juicing greens.

CARROT APPLE GINGER…and then some

INTO THE JUICER:

  • 3 carrots
  • 1 sweet potato
  • 1 apple
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1 thumb-size piece of ginger (more if you like it spicy)
  • 1 thumb-size piece of turmeric root (optional) If you do add it, add a little pepper too, which helps with the absorption of curcumen.

Vegan Caesar Salad with “Parmesan”

img_4436Nine days vegan thus far, and I am not missing the meat, poultry, eggs or dairy just yet. I won’t say that I haven’t thought about them. Images of the forbidden foods seem to come bubbling up from my subconscious saying, “Oh hey. What about me?”  The strangest thing is they’re foods that I haven’t eaten in years: English-style halibut and chips, hot dogs, pastrami on rye…

I’ve noticed a small drop in weight, although still fluctuating. In this late summer heat wave, I can’t seem to find the right balance between salting the garden tomatoes and drinking enough water to flush the salt, which may be the problem.

The most fun has been exploring vegan cookbooks and blogs and watching how a familiar omnivore recipe becomes 100 per cent plant-based with just a few alterations. Caesar salad sprinkled with parmesan is a favourite around here , so thought I’d give it a whirl.

I tweaked a wonderful recipe for vegan Caesar dressing, croutons and parmesan from Vanilla and Bean. Their salad is kale-based, while I stuck with the traditional romaine. It’s pretty garlicky, but astounding how much this tastes like a “regular” Caesar salad. The capers stand in for anchovies and of course, the cashews add the creamy texture.

Caesar Dressing (For about 1 1/2 C)
  • 3/4 C Raw Cashews, soaked in water at least 1 hour but as long as overnight, rinsed and drained
  • 3/4 C  Water
  • 2 Tbs Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 2-3 Large Cloves of Garlic depending on how garlicky you like it
  • 2 Tbs Capers
  • 1/2 tsp Ground Black Pepper
  • 1/4 + 1/8 tsp Sea Salt
  • 1/4 C Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Vegan Parmesan (3/4 C )
  • 1/2 C  Raw Cashews
  • 2 Tbs Nutritional Yeast
  • 1/2 tsp Sea Salt
  • 1/4 tsp Garlic Powder
Croutons
  • 2 slices whole-grain bread, any kind
  • 1 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/2 tsp Sea Salt
  • 1/2 tsp Garlic Powder or 1 small clove crushed in garlic press
  • Pinch of dried oregano, thyme and basil
Salad
  • 1 large head of romaine
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
  • lemon wedges
METHOD
For the Dressing:
  1. In a high-speed blender, add the soaked and drained cashews, water, lemon juice, garlic, capers, pepper and salt. Start to puree on low, then increase speed to high for 30-45 seconds, until mixture is smooth.
  2. With blender on low speed, slowly pour in the olive oil until all ingredients are creamy. Adjust salt and pepper if necessary.
  3. Store in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving so it can chill, develop and thicken. If the dressing is too thick, add 1 tsp of water at a time, by whisking in until desired consistency is reached.
For the Parmesan:
  1. To a bowl of a food processor, add the cashews, nutritional yeast, salt and garlic powder. Pulse ingredients until a fine meal consistency is reached.
For the Croutons:
  1. Dice the slices of bread into small crouton-sized squares
  2. Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized sauté pan
  3. When hot, put the croutons in the pan and sprinkle with garlic and all of the spices
  4. Gently toss with wooden spoon and keep stirring the croutons around until they are crispy and toasted on the outside
  5. Sprinkle a little of the parmesan before removing from heat
For the Salad:
  1. Wash, spin dry and tear the romaine leaves into bite-sized pieces
  2. Place lettuce and sliced red onions into a large salad bowl
  3. Toss with at least 3 Tbsp dressing, more if you prefer more dressing on your caesar. (NB: Leftover dressing can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. It’s also delicious as a veggie dip, or even in veggie sandwiches or wraps.)
  4. Sprinkle with at least 2 Tbsp parmesan cheese, again, more if you prefer (NB: leftover parmesan can be stored in a tightly-closed jar in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.)
  5. Toss in toasted croutons
  6. Add freshly ground salt or pepper to taste
  7. Serve with a lemon wedge on the side

 

 

 

Corn, Tomato, Avocado Salad

 

14886124_10157667748130057_2081374544_n

I just stumbled upon this combination. So simple, yet so delicious.

CORN, TOMATO & AVOCADO SALAD

14875285_10157667722830057_741652613_n

INGREDIENTS

2 large or 4 cocktail tomatoes, diced

4 ears of corn, boiled and cooled

1 avocado, diced

1/2 red onion, diced

Juice of 1 lime

1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

Drizzle of agave or maple syrup

Salt, pepper to taste

METHOD

In a large bowl, add diced tomatoes.

Cut kernels off corn and add to the bowl.

14886165_10157667740095057_1870335160_n

 

Add diced avocado

Add lime, syrup, cilantro, salt and pepper

Mix well.

 

Eating exclusively plant-based for 365 days

Fruits And Vegetables in wooden box

Welcome to my vegan experiment of one year. The goal is to eat nothing but plant-based (preferably whole) food for 365 days starting September 1, 2016, aka my 53rd birthday. Why this? Why now?

I have been toying with vegetarianism, veganism and raw eating for the last several years. I love to cook, love to eat, love to experiment. I love animals and can’t bear the idea of cruel and inhumane factory farms. I understand there are many health benefits of eating this way and this is my main motivation.

Until now, I have been a hard-core carnivore. My Polish heritage ensured that growing up I had my share of pork chops and braised beef, schnitzel and roast chicken. A meal wasn’t a meal without a starch: bread, rice, potatoes or dumplings plus some sort of vegetable or salad and the main feature – the meat dish. Open-faced sandwiches of cold cuts on buttered rye bread topped with cheese, slabs of garden tomato and diced green onion graced the table when unexpected guests arrived. Pierogi smothered in fried onions and bits of fried bacon were the norm. Antipasto platters of more cheese and various deli meats and breads appeared at any family gathering. For barbecues and picnics, the meat on the grill was the star.

Eating this way coupled with aging saw my weight creep up higher and horrifically higher and higher still. My doctor started warning me about high blood pressure, cholesterol levels and high triglycerides (the bad fat) and I saw more and more belly fat – I am the unfortunate “apple shape” that has to worry about things like metabolic syndrome. I entered a pre-diabetic zone and like my mother before me, developed atrial fibrillation.

Enough! Right?

Bolstered by watching documentaries like FAT, SICK AND NEARLY DEAD , FORKS OVER KNIVES and many others, I started incorporating more plant-based foods into the menu. Now I’m ready to go whole hog, so to speak, and give up all meat, poultry, fish, dairy and other animal products including honey. Vegan it is – although plant-based seems less militant a label if we must label at all.

I hope to chronicle the journey here. I’m sure it won’t be easy, but I hope it will be interesting.  Stay tuned.