Monday, October 10, 2011

Traveling as a Vegan: Some Lessons Learned

I travelled for work for the first time today since adopting my whole foods, plant based lifestyle. My two ventures into chain restaurants have already demonstrated that dining out requires a level of mindfulness that I wasn't quite prepared for... And anyone who knows me can testify that I'm not the most observant person you'll ever meet.

I had a two hour layover in Chicago over the noon hour, so I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to find a nice sit-down restaurant in which I could order a nice vegan meal. Had I been in more of a rush and needed to do a "grab and go" option, I fear my choices would have been very limited and doubtless I would have experienced some "what can I eat?" anxiety.

After checking out 2 "local" airport restaurant menus and discovering that they had no decent vegan items on the menu, I decided to check out Chilis, figuring a chain like that might offer more of a variety for people with food restrictions.

After my experience with the first two restaurants, I was so elated to discover that you could substitute black bean burgers (my favorite!), for any burger, that I quickly glanced at the list of burger choices, and upon seeing an avocado burger on the menu, quickly sat down and ordered what I thought was going to be a healthy and totally delish meal. I was so proud of myself for going from restaurant to restaurant to find just the right one for my dietary requirements.

Imagine the disappointment on my face when this amazing black bean avocado burger on a beautiful whole wheat bun was placed in front of me, only to have (upon closer inspection) a nice big melted slab of swiss cheese in it, as well as a creamy ranch sauce! This was all listed in the burger's description on the menu, but I had been so excited to find my vegetarian meal that I didn't look for vegan related concerns... It was delicious but I was soooo sick a half hour after eating this that I almost missed my connecting flight because I was stuck in the bathroom! How gross is that? It was so embarrassing to be the last one to board the plane after that awful experience. Lesson #1 Learned: read the menu description carefully and don't get cocky about your food choices.

I was actually quite queasy for half the plane ride until I succumbed to a food coma induced by the massive amounts of calories and processed food I had just eaten and fell asleep... At 1:30pm! Lesson 2 Learned: my body is now HIGHLY sensitive to anything I put into it and there can be no cheating without negative physical reactions!

So here I am at a Green Mill restaurant after another adventure in vegan-dining out. This time I looked at the menu in detail in advance and knew they had a spinach tortellini that seemed like an ok option. They also substitute garden veggie burgers but I didn't want ANOTHER burger so I opted for this pasta dish without the Parmesan cheese on top. It had a cream base, but I just didn't feel like eating a house salad for dinner so I decided to look the other way. Also, I should note that in an effort to be more mindful this time, I even asked the waitress what she recommended for vegetarian dinner options in case she would suggest something not ordinarily offered on the menu.

I was feeling kind of ok about my choice until the waitress threw me a curveball by asking if I wanted soup or salad with my pasta. The soup was a cheesy broccoli (even though I had just told her I try to eat vegan), so that was an easy choice, I asked for the house side salad with the cucumber dill dressing.


The salad came with Parmesan cheese piled on top (although to their credit, the pasta had none, just like I had asked for it to be). And of course the dressing was some sort of creamy based thing. It was served to me with a delicious, very white, fluffy bread and an herbed butter spread, no margarine available. Lesson #3 Learned: be one step ahead and think broadly about things that might normally contain dairy so you remember to be very upfront and clear with your server about what you can and cannot eat so they can help you order a meal that meets your dietary needs.

I'll be on the road for 4 more days so it will be interesting to see if learned anything from these valuable lessons and improve my dining-out skills at all!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, October 9, 2011

6 weeks in and 11 lbs down!

Today marks 6 weeks since I started my journey toward eating a mostly plant-based diet and I'm down 11 pounds!  I lost this much back in January when I went on Nutrisystem for two months, but as soon as I went off their pre-packaged food, I gained it all right back again.

This time, I'm not really dieting at all.  I'm not watching portion sizes and I'm not counting calories.  I'm just consuming mostly plant-based foods with a local, organic, humanely raised animal product thrown in about once a week or so.  I do not drink caffeine and try to stay away from artificial sweeteners whenever possible.  I also try to abstain from refined and processed sugars and carbohydrates.  Basically, I'm trying to do the whole Micheal Pollan "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants" thing.

I haven't felt deprived or hungry at all, and yet the weight has been steadily falling off each week!  About 11 lbs in 6 weeks averages out to 1-2 lbs a week which is what the experts always recommend, so I feel really good about that.

I've been walking about 3-5 times a week with my dogs (like a good hour-long walk, not just around the block so they can do their business and stretch their legs a few times a day).  I'm sure that's helping some too.  I'd like to kick that up to more like 4-6 times a week with a day lifting weights in the little gym in our apartment complex.  Before my wedding I lost 20 pounds over the course of about 6 months, just by watching what I ate and lifting weights once a week (no cardio, eesh!).  So I'm hoping a combination of cardio AND lifting on a very light routine will really help me continue the downward spiral of weight loss.  I'm not looking to be my 21-year-old size again or anything, but getting down to an "average" weight can only be healthy and positive, so that's what I'm going to shoot for.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Quinoa with Black Beans and Mango Salad Recipe

Quinoa Salad with Black Beans and Mango* 


Top secret: It isn't rocket science--you can make a salad like this with any leftover grains, beans, and fruit you have around.  It is a really straight forward salad that uses simple, fresh ingredients.  Each bite will bring new flavors to the table--mango, scallions, cilantro, red peppers... you never know what you're gonna get!  Best of all, it takes practically no time if you have some leftover quinoa on hand.

TIP:  If you don't have any leftover quinoa, don't sweat it; it's easy and fast to prepare.  Bring 1 cup of dried quinoa and 2 cups of water to ta boil in  a small pot.  Once the mixture is boiling, lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, until all the water has been absorbed.  Then remove from the heat and fluff with a fork.  Set aside to cool, and once it has cooled you can prepare this salad.

1 mango, peeled and cut into small diced pieces
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced as small as you can get it
1 cup chopped scallions
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tbs red wine vinegar
2 tbs grapeseed oil
1/4 tspn salt
2 cups cooked quinoa, cooled
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed)
a few leaves of lettuce for garnish

COMBINE the mango, red bell pepper, scallions, and cilantro in a mixing bowl.

Add the red wine vinegar, grapeseed oil, and salt and stir to combine.

Add the quiona and stir until everything is well incorporated.  Fold in the black beans.

You can serve immediately or let it sit for a bit for the flavors to meld.  To serve, place a few leaves of lettuce on a plate ans scoop some salad on top.  This tastes good chilled and is even better at room temperature.

I made this recipe once exactly has listed above (and the pictures shown reflect that first attempt).  It was good but didn't knock anyone's socks off that I shared it with.  I made it a second time today and this time used two small apples instead of mangoes, added a diced up zucchini, and used 2 15-oz cans of black beans instead of one.  Also, I might have gone a little heavy on the cilantro last time so this time I lightened up on it a bit.  I'm taking it to a pot-luck later today so we'll see if my modifications make it more of a crowd-pleaser.

*Recipe from Veganomicon: the ultimate vegan cookbook, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero, pgs. 84-85.

Vegan Lentil Salad Recipe

Lentil Salad*

Thyme, tarragon, and garlic flavor this easy-to-prepare and hearty lentil salad.  Serve over red leaf lettuce (or whatever kind of fancy-shmancy lettuce you can get your hands on) with oil and vinegar on the side.  Having some warmed pita bread on hand wouldn't hurt, either.  For a cute hors d'oeuvre idea, spool small scoops of salad into endive leaves.

4 cups vegetable broth
2 or 3 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 tspn dried tarragon
1/4 tspn salt
1 cup uncooked French lentils
1 small red onion, chopped very finely (about 1/3 cup)
1 small tomato, seeded and diced (about 1/2 cup)
2 radishes, grated (about 1/3 cup)
1 small carrot, grated
Several pieces of freshly ground black pepper

2-4 tbs olive oil
1 tbs balsamic vinegar
1 tbs Dijon mustard
1 tbs fresh lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)
1 clove garlic, minced

BRING the broth, thyme, bay leaves, garlic cloves, tarragon, and salt to a boil in a medium-size saucepan.

Add the lentils and bring again to a low boil.  Cover the pot with the lid tilted, allowing a little steam to escape.  Let cook for 20 to 25 minutes.  The lentils should be soft enough to eat but still firm enough to not lose their shape.

While the lentils cook, stir together all the dressing ingredients in a mixing bowl.

Drain the lentils in a mesh colander (so that the lentils don't fall out the holes). 

Let cool, giving the colander a few shakes every couple of minutes so that they drain and cool faster. 

Once the lentils are lukewarm (about 15 minutes), remove the bay leaves, chunks of garlic, and thyme sprigs.

Add the lentils to the dressing along with onions, tomato, and radishes and toss to combine.

Season with salt and pepper to taste, cover, and chill for at least half an hour.
When chilled, serve over lettuce with oil and vinegar on the side.

*Recipe from Veganomicon: the ultimate vegan cookbook, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz & Terry Hope Romero, pgs. 84-85.