A Thrive in Life Experiment in Almost Vegan Eating!
It was January 2015, a new year. The beginning of new years, despite the arbitrary way we track time, seems to induce a plethora of new trends and commitments. Not in my world is this a common occurrence. 2015 was different though. Coming into the holidays, I was getting tired of the monotonous cycle of recipes I had fallen into and was looking for something different. I reminisced about stories my Dad told me about his vegetarian days and figured it was high time I gave it a try. I often go through periods where I am averse to all meat and more than that, I was hungry to up my vegetarian recipe repertoire above pasta and salad.
After convincing my other half, Nick, to join in with me, we eagerly awaited New Years Day. The first thing I did was put vegan recipe blogger Angela Liddon's Oh She Glows cookbook on my Christmas Wish List. My annual BFF Secret Santa delivered and I was armed with a bundle of recipes and a beautiful teal Le Cruset baking dish.
The next step was education. For the first time ever, I actually sat down and read all of the extra bits and pieces in a cookbook. Angela details all the things you will need to prepare your vegan pantry, and why she uses, or doesn't use, common substitutes. I set out to get raw cashews, coconut oil, hemp hearts, and a number of other nuts and spices I wasn't stocked in. There was no need to shop for nutritional yeast as we always have a healthy amount at home for our popcorn (if you haven't tried that yet, do it, best thing ever)!
Then came time to pick our first few recipes. I found that with my new focus on our diet, I was more inclined to do weekly meal planning, usually only doing one big Sunday grocery shop, and maybe one smaller weekday trip for fresh produce. This saved us time and money, as I was less tempted to impulse shop many times a week and would plan meals that shared ingredients. Plus, it was a big stress off our minds as every day we didn't have to worry about coming up with something for dinner. This habit has stuck with me, and the weeks I don't do it, I am often lost for what to make at the end of a busy work day and annoyed at myself for making so many trips to the grocery store.
I approached each new recipe with trepidation, especially the ones that involved a technique or ingredient I had never worked with. I have to soak my cashews? What do you mean that ground flax seed and water is my egg replacement?
The best surprise: everything was delicious and filling! Not only for me, for Nick too, which was the surest measurement that I was on the right track. I was banging out hit after hit and we didn't seem to miss the regular meat portion of our meals at all. We found new life in big mushrooms, smoked tofu, and flavourful soups made ever so creamy with the addition of blended cashews. We also started to have smoothies every morning for breakfast instead of our usual eggs, and we both feel it starts us off feeling great. And it's so easy!
January and its plantarian menu came and went. We ate mostly vegan, throwing in a scrambled egg breakfast here and there because we already had the eggs and breaking a few rules when we were over as company. Here we are now, months later, with several lasting lessons and habits. My best take away from the experiment is the knowledge I now have in my culinary tool belt, that allows me to create easy, well flavoured meals from the vegetables in my fridge, (and hopefully someday our garden!). Just the other day I went home with no meal plan and conjured up some delicious black bean patties that we ate happily for dinner and lunch for two days. Nick has got into the spirit of things as well. Already a lover of cooking and good food, he whipped up some pretty amazing cashew pesto for us to smother our spaghetti squash in, which I have requested he re-make again several times since.
We also feel better! We are big food lovers and both of us find that even after eating too much, we feel less bloated, less unsettled, and the feeling of being stuffed doesn't follow us to the next day. We do incorporate meat into our diet occasionally now, mostly seafood, so when we do have those heavier meals with meat and cheese, we notice a big difference in how our bodies process things.
If you love dairy, nuts are your new best friend. I use almond milk most commonly for tea and smoothies, and to add creaminess to any recipe, blending up a bowl of soaked, raw cashews does wonders you can't imagine. Although, so far I have not discovered anything that can beat real cheese. That is a struggle I'll just have to live with. Cheese is my gateway drug. I mostly just try not to have it in the house.
We noticed we make way less garbage now too. I think this is partly a lucky coincidence, but the biggest factor is no longer disposing of soiled plastic wrap and non-recyclable styrofoam containers from meat that jam up our little can. We also have a rocking recycling shed with six big blue bins that makes that whole process pretty smooth.
I would have to say my biggest challenge is keeping lunch interesting, filling, and not too complicated. Despite our love of salads, it does get old if you eat one every day, especially when you are used to having meaty sandwiches that you can change up easily. This is most often the meal we splurge on, which is really only every couple weeks, and grab sushi or a burrito the size of a small child from the Mexican food truck. Mostly we try to bring leftovers, salads, and good snacks like prunes and hummus to keep us going.
My biggest challenge still to conquer: vegan baking. I have attempted a few recipes, brownies and banana bread. The first turned out decently, but not nearly as moist and satisfying as when made with eggs and butter instead of flax. The latter I could have used as a door stop, and that was about it. I will soldier on though, and in the meantime, continue to enjoy the benefits of a plant-centric diet!
A few of my Oh She Glows faves:
On her Blog:
In her Cookbook:
-Portobello "Steak" Fajitas
-10 Spice soup
-Hot Nacho dip