We are cooking at home more and eating out less. This was one of my primary goals with the decision to go vegan for Lent: break terrible, lazy habits about food. I don't know how many evenings in our household went something like, "I dunno, whadda you wanna do?" until we were starving and decided, "Fine, Taco Bell again?" Being vegan -- especially being vegan and eating gluten free -- we have about three viable options for eating out:
- Taco Bell, still. A bean burrito minus cheese (for the husband, who is not gluten intolerant); triple layer nachos minus cheese; or pintos and cheese, minus cheese.
- McAlisters. Spud Olé, with veggie chili, no cheese, no sour cream or butter. Or just a bowl of veggie chili itself.
- Qdoba. Grilled veggie burrito (naked for me), with only salsa and guacamole for toppings.
None of which are bad, but all of which get very old very quickly. I'm pretty done with Taco Bell atm, and McAlisters and Qdoba are too pricey to do very often. So we're cooking more at home.
And because we're cooking more at home, with an altered diet to pay attention to, that means we're trying a ton of new recipes, being a lot more creative with what we're making, and eating a lot more vegetables than we had been. We don't feel the need to have meat every meal and top everything with cheese or sour cream or whatever other additives, either, which has been pretty eye opening about what we didn't need before that we were simply in the habit of doing, anyway.
This also means that we're both slimming down! Which neither of us will complain about, thanks. (...Of course, I'm a terrible cook, so a lot of the nights I cook instead of Rich, we'll also have smaller portions, because "tolerable" does not lend itself to being overeaten.)
Some of the recipes we've encountered or otherwise concocted for ourselves, have been pretty dang good, if I do say so myself. For example, enchiladas without cheese, covered in homemade enchilada sauce that doesn't use broth, filled with refried (or simply mashed) beans, veggies and rice, are fabulous. Neither of us even missed the cheese, or the meat. They were tasty, and filling, and there was no problem finishing off the leftovers.
Also? Vegetable pakoras. Holy. Crap. I could eat this every day. The two year old loved them, too, for the record. And being gluten intolerant and loving Indian food meant we actually had all the batter ingredients on hand. We did it a little differently than the recipe says to, though, based on what we've had (and liked) at the local Indian restaurant. Rather than cutting up cauliflower and slicing onion rings to dip into the batter and then fry, instead we shredded together (thank you, food processor grating attachment) carrots, mushrooms, yellow squash, cauliflower, and broccoli -- basically, what we had in the fridge and needed to use -- and then mixed the shredded veggies into the batter, and deep fried spoonfuls of the mixture. Rich said that he held it in place on the spoon for 30 seconds before dropping it into the oil, so it would sear around the outside and hold together better. Super, super tasty.
Another recent favorite is vegan bean taco filling. The toddler thought they were a little spicy the first round, so I cut back the cayenne the second round and it seemed to work better. (Yes, I cooked this, and it still turned out good! That says a lot.) Different salsas would give different flavors and spice levels, I'm sure, too. (The first time I made them, I thought we were out of salsa so I used Ro-Tel. The second, I'd found salsa, but it was Medium, so still a bit spicy.) The husband found the mushy bean texture combined with the crispy taco shell to be a little weird for him, so he, instead, steamed some corn tortilla flours and made it into a burrito or soft taco instead. He also whipped up some guacamole to top them with, and, the second time I made them, I planned ahead and got some fresh spinach (we rarely, if ever, use lettuce for anything) and alfalfa sprouts to put in the tacos as well. Because we're hippies. But I liked it, so there. In fact, some of the leftovers are sitting in the work fridge right now, just waiting for me. Taunting me.
The husband also whipped up some makeshift "pie," because we had both a sweet potato and a butternut squash that had been bought with the best of intentions, but were starting to go bad. He sliced and steamed them, then used a recipe for pumpkin pie to determine which spices to use, and used vanilla almond milk instead of evaporated or sweetened condensed milk or whatever it is that pie calls for. (For crust, he just mixed together rice flour, Smart Balance Light margarine, and oil. It dried out a bit too much but worked.) We didn't add eggs, obviously, so it didn't firm up, but the flavor was still there. He'd made enough that we've been eating the rest like pudding :). Since, I've found some recipes for vegan egg replacements, some involving starches, some involving flax. Maybe next round, we'll try one of those.
For the quick and easy end of things, we've discovered Tasty Bite brand microwaveable Indian food. We've had other microwaveable Indian foods before, with um... little success. But every single one of these that we've tried, has been excellent. Of course, not every meal is vegan, nor is every meal gluten free, but guess what: it is clearly labeled on the back of the packaging! At one glance, we can clearly find "vegan" and "gluten free," along with "vegetarian," "no MSG," and a few other options I can't remember off the top of my head. Let me tell you, this makes life easy. Some meals you have to dump into a bowl and then nuke for 90 seconds, others you can heat in the package for 90 seconds and then dump into a bowl, so it's six of one, half a dozen of the other on that, really. I do think they seem a little runny, but if you add rice, that problem is solved. (The microwaveable brown Minute Rice is nice, though I keep meaning to make up a large pot of my own brown rice to stick in the fridge for such occasions. Really, I'm not big on microwaveable stuff at all, and used to not even own a microwave, but when it comes to needing to eat at work and such, well, sometimes isn't terrible, and I just try not to do it often.)
Of those, the husband favors the Bombay Potatoes, and my favorite is the Channa Masala. We also bought the Pad Thai simmer sauce, which was used as another "what veggies do we have in the fridge that need to be used?" type of dinner, and was also a success. Again, the toddler approved. I do wish we'd planned ahead and baked some tofu to toss in with it, but oh well, there's always next time.
It's less than a week now until the end of Lent. Frankly, we expected the transition from a standard American diet to a vegan diet to be a lot more difficult than it was. It's gone well enough for us, that we actually want to continue this type of diet... mostly. I feel that our purposes for trying this diet have been met -- we're eating healthier, eating more veggies, cooking more at home, and wasting less money eating out. It's easier to turn down treats at work because they are typically in cookie or cupcake form, and it feels good to be able to say no. We both feel better, and as I said, we're both slimming down. But like I said at the start of this, I do think that humans are biologically built to need some meat. So, here's what we've decided:
- Since eating a vegan diet has helped us turn down foods that we should probably be turning down anyway (given my gluten intolerance and his sugar processing issues), we will continue to eat a vegan diet while out of the house.
- At home, we will primarily eat a vegetarian diet, mostly because the husband feels like he is going to die without eggs. This will still probably mean a good portion of vegan dishes, as not everything needs milk, cheese, or egg. And since we'll be using less of it, anyway, I personally would like to justify the expense of only getting free range eggs, but we'll see how long that lasts, because we're also cheap. I'm thinking I may continue to skip dairy entirely... or at least for the most part. I'm actually kind of curious to see, now that it's been out of my system for a while, if I have a reaction to it the way I think I might.
- Once or twice a month, we will treat ourselves whether at home or at a nice, good quality restaurant, to some kind of meat something. This will also include birthday outings with our friends, so they don't have to accommodate for us weirdos. But we don't want this to revert us back to lazy habits of, "Eh, it's almost been a month, I'm hungry and lazy, do you wanna just grab some burgers?" If we're going to eat meat, it will be good quality meat.
Notice I said I want to eat a "primarily vegan/vegetarian diet." I do not want to be "a vegan" or "a vegetarian" who "cheats" on occasion. Mostly, because I don't want to label myself, and then feel like I have to justify eating anything "a vegan" or "a vegetarian" wouldn't eat. As I said before, I'm doing this because of how foods affect my body, not to save the planet. I just want to be healthy. And I think eating some meat, sometimes, is healthy. I'm just very glad I broke the mindset that meat and dairy have to be everywhere for something to be a balanced meal.