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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

COUNTING CALORIES....OR NOT



TAKING STOCK
Coming off the Memorial Day weekend may be a good time to reassess how much food we ingested while celebrating our freedoms and the lives to secure them.

The terms vegetarian and/or vegan are not necessarily synonymous with being slender, ‘thin’, or otherwise lean. I have seen many a hefty person who is totally plant based. And, truth be told, there is such a thing as vegan junk food. Just because it says vegetarian or vegan does NOT mean it’s totally good for you. I make some great cookies that are vegan but if you eat a LOT of them, you can certainly pile on the pounds.

You’ll find that there are as many schools of thought about counting calories as part of a weight-loss/maintenance regimen as there are chia seeds in a tablespoon.  You just have to do your research or homework to determine what works best for you. As obesity is epidemic and diabetes rates skyrocket, we do need to look long and hard at how to manage our diets to get rid of the excess weight and prevent the onset of diabetes.  I’m no nutritional expert or registered dietitian so will never tell you what you should do. I WILL share with you what I do…I count calories (and other nutritional values such as sugar, fiber, protein and sodium) and have for the past 3 years. It is now a way of life. Initially, I was compulsive about entering everything that went into my mouth and could barely swallow something before rushing to the computer (or cellphone) to enter it. Thankfully, those days are pretty much over; I do monitor my intake but am not so crazed that if I miss a day, I get freaked.

ESTABLISHING A HABIT
That being said, it did take some initial compulsivity to keep me on track to lose weight. I was not obese but my BMI (Body Mass Index) was borderline over-weight. At 5’3”, it’s easy for weight to show and accumulate. Years of eating on the road had me gaining about 30 lbs…I mean, REALLY..when you travel to great places such as Seattle, LA, San Francisco, San Diego, Denver, Minneapolis, Portland Maine (to name a few), it’s only RIGHT that you sample and indulge in the best restaurants in the area and eat local delicacies—INCLUDING dessert. Not to mention that ‘after-work’ reward of a martini or two.  Couple that with NOT taking time to exercise (there’s always an excuse) and it doesn’t take long before the weight is on you like a one of those lead aprons you wear when getting an x-ray. So, I went from a size 4 to a size 12 or in Chico’s terms from a 0 to a THREE!!

 IT’S ALL ‘HER’ FAULT
Shannon down 70 lbs
 When Shannon Hall (the ultimate culprit in my move to plant-based) decided to become vegetarian, the slow change began. I watched her be rigorous in her commitment to vegetarian eating (not vegan) and in making sure that she ate smart.  She took on exercise, finding time even on 14 hour days to make it to the gym (as I watched and just shook my head). And as she did this, the weight fell off of her. Every time we’d meet to work together, which was often, there would be less of her than before. She lost and lost and lost and as she lost, she was more energized than ever. SEE! As of this picture, she'd lost 70 lbs with exercise and eating vegetarian.

Oh Gosh!
I on the other hand, was stagnant, disgusted With wearing the same comfortable clothes (those LARGE Chico’s traveler pants and a blousy silk top) to hide as much of me as possible. I FINALLY saw a picture of myself (YE GODS!!) that threw me for a loop. THAT WAS IT!! And as embarrassing as it is, HERE YOU GO…

 AND SO THE CHANGE BEGAN
So, I sorta backed into the counting calories…I knew what I weighed, I knew what I WANTED to weigh and then sought the best online (free) programs to help with that. 

Ultimately, it was My Fitness Pal--easy to find with Google, Bing or however you look stuff up. Now, as free programs go, this is a good as any I’ve found but I’ll qualify that by saying that their search engine and capability to share recipes is VERY FRUSTRATING! For instance, when I’m entering a recipe that calls for a cup of a certain ingredient…the ONLY size I can find is like ½ tsp. How in the HELL do you figure that one out. OR…finding a food that you want to enter (such as vegan lasagna) and your serving size comes up as ‘a piece’.  WTF!! I enter a LOT of the recipes I use because I tweak them with either more/less ‘stuff’ such as less oil or more pepper. BUT, I cannot copy them to Big Solid’s MFP (My Fitness Pal) nor can he import them. So he winds up having to RE-ENTER.  Those of you who may be MFP devotees may be able to set me straight and that would be totally appreciated. 

So, for me, counting calories works and is habit now. I know besides calories if I am getting enough of (or too much) other nutrients such as protein, fiber (enough) or fat, sugar, sodium (too much).  I find cookbooks/recipes that do NOT include nutritional values and serving SIZE to be very irritating. But if the recipes are good enough, I’m still game. Over a year's time, I lost 35 pounds and feel better than I have in a very long time.

Bottom line is that you just have to explore what works for you. I'll tell you one thing though, no matter WHAT you do...when you start tracking the foods and the amounts you eat (whether you are counting calories or not), your eyes dang near fall out of your head. When you THINK you don't eat much....hmmm, it's a revelation.

NEW FEATURE
Resources, Links, Sites and People
Starting with this post, I’d like to salute/acknowledge or otherwise offer up some of the sites and resources that have been meaningful to me. Instead of just listing a bunch like we have previously, I want to take one at a time and explore them a bit with you.

In our inaugural post, we noted Fat-Free Vegan http://blog.fatfreevegan.com/ as one of my ‘go-to’ resources. This blog is by a fellow Mississippian, Susan Voisin, and has some really good recipes. For those of you who are really watching the amount of fat you ingest, Susan does a terrific job of minimizing the amount of fat (if any) in her recipes.  She is also very accessible and responds to questions, comments or general acknowledgement. Susan's Fat Free Vegan Kitchen is also found on Face Book at https://www.facebook.com/FatFreeVegan and of course, everybody on EARTH is on Pinterest.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Vegan Klutz



You know, when folks find out I’m vegan, there are typically two responses—“I couldn’t do it. I love meat”; or “I wish I could do that but I just can’t”. Since people aren’t alike, the path to plant-based eating can be just as varied. Many people just decide to go “whole-hog” (pardon the reference) and just dive right in. Others chose a less dramatic and restrictive path by going meatless (not necessarily vegan) one or more days during the week. Or choosing to go vegan
One of our favorite meals!!
one or more days a week. It’s up to what one feels they can do and maintain. It’s really not so much about what you HAVE TO GIVE UP as it is learning how to adjust your eating to be healthier. Gosh, I miss a lot of foods I no longer eat such as wings, egg omelets, cheese, prime rib, BACON to name a few. But it has also been a great pleasure to learn new foods to prepare and ways to ‘veganize’ recipes, such as these fabulous Tofu Scallops.



  
Eating Out and About—Date Night and Beyond

One of the most challenging components of being vegan, especially in the South (land of bacon, bar-b-que and fried everything), is finding restaurants who not only offer menu items that comply with being vegan but also work with you as a customer rather than look at you and smirk.

I live in Madison Mississippi…it’s a great small town just outside of the capital of Jackson. We have a number of chain restaurants, growing all the time as well as some fine ‘home-grown’ restaurants. Jackson has an abundance of fine restaurants also, so the opportunity abides. Later on in today’s blog, I'll mention some restaurants that we frequent and tell you why. This is just from my experience and the experience of several vegan friends.

First of all, the internet has been a blessing to folks who eat out because now you have a chance to look at menus online and see what foods are available or if a restaurant even has a vegetarian/vegan option.  In the ‘early days’ when I would ask for a vegan option, the response was “well, we can put some sides together for you”.  And yet, many of the sides were cooked with meat or in butter. Most restaurants in this area do not have vegetarian options on their menu but a few have stepped to the plate (no pun intended) to become very vegan friendly.

Big Solid and I LOVE Friday nights—even though we are retired; it just seems like the most liberating day of the week. It’s also ‘date night’ for us. And, wouldn’t you know, we go to one of our favorite places on date night (hold on to yourself) -- KATHRYN’S STEAK HOUSE!  Pre-veg days, we frequented there because it’s like our local Cheers. Everybody knows your name, there’s good music, good drinks and good food. When I became vegetarian and then vegan, they didn’t miss a beat by letting me bring my own food to supplement a gigantic salad chock full of mushrooms and tomatoes. They also adjusted their sautéed mushrooms from sautéed in butter to a small amount of olive oil. Big Solid will sometimes have their seared tuna. All I had to do was ask if I could bring my own ‘stuff’ and they were on board and supportive. http://www.kathrynssteaks.com/

I have found that calling a restaurant a day or so ahead and asking if they could prepare a vegan entrée is a nice way to establish contact with the restaurant, to challenge them in terms of a real entrée and not a selection of sides and to promote the growing appeal and validity of plant-based eating.

A Vegan Night delight at Bravo!
Two local restaurants have added a ‘Vegan Night’ which includes a three course vegan dinner.  Bravo! in Jackson (http://bravobuzz.com/) and Strawberry Café in Madison (http://www.strawberrycafemadison.com/index.php). Bravo! has a Vegan Night every Thursday and Strawberry Café’s Vegan Night is the first Thursday of each month. Bravo’s Matt Mabry challenges himself weekly to prepare entrees, salads/soups and desserts that are delicious, creative and fun.  Bravo! has also added special designations to items on their menu that are Vegetarian and can be easily ‘veganized’.

Anjou restaurant in Ridgeland (http://www.anjourestaurant.net/) is perhaps our favorite restaurant. They have never disappointed when preparing a special entrée for me as I always call ahead. They have now added a delicious vegetarian (which is easily veganized) entrée but will still honor a request to prepare something different. The ambience at Anjou is quite nice as it is quiet and people can carry on a conversation without having to scream across the table.

Chef Lance, middle, dwarfing me on his right
Chef Lance at Capitol Grill in Jackson (http://capitolgrillofjackson.com/) is also happy to prepare a vegan meal if given notice and was more than thrilled when I contacted him.  In this picture, Chef Lance had just prepared a lovely three course vegan dinner for Big Solid (on the far left), me and our good friends Gigi and Kevin Carter (on Chef Lance's left)

Scrooge's in Jackson has been around for YEARS and is another restaurant that will work with you for vegan options and let you bring a few items to supplement what they can prepare for you. You just have to be savvy about their cooked vegetables to make sure they are prepared without being cooked with meat. Scrooge's does not have a website but does have a FaceBook page as do all the restaurants mentioned today.
Of course, the most vegan friendly restaurant in town is the High Noon Café located in Fondren (http://www.rainbowcoop.org/cafe.htm). Totally vegetarian/vegan, Chef Troy is accessible, creative and works hard to bring good plant-based dishes to the table.  The drawback for High Noon Café is that it is not open on a regular basis in the evening.  Hopefully, someday soon, Jackson and surrounding areas will sustain a totally vegetarian restaurant.

And recently, Jackson became home to a Whole Foods Market (http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/jkn) that has vegetarian/vegan options galore both in the produce/grocery store as well as prepared foods that can be eaten on site or take home. The Jerk Tofu is to die for.

I have found that MOST restaurants are very accommodating and willing to prepare a vegan alternative if called ahead of time and treated with respect. In the meantime, restaurants are gradually ‘getting’ that people are exploring the benefits of a plant-based eating regimen and savvy restaurants will capitalize on that. Comments about restaurants that I am not aware of in the Jackson area that will respond to a vegetarian/vegan request would be a welcomed addition. AS WELL AS comments from non-local folks who read this and can advise on possible great places elsewhere.

Y'all have a glorious Memorial Day weekend full of good friends, good food, and the freedom to enjoy them. Take a moment to remember those who have served to assure we have the freedoms that we do. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Vegan Klutz



Holy Cow!! After I started this blog yesterday, I thought I would have an EPIC FAIL on my hands last night.  You see, I finally got all the ingredients together for a Cauliflower Artichoke Lasagna recipe someone forwarded the other day  (http://www.veganricha.com/2014/05/cauliflower-alfredo-spinach-artichoke.html) This recipe also has an embedded recipe for a cauliflower Alfredo sauce for some of the layers. The sauce is easy to make and absolutely delicious!! I had enough left over to use for another pasta dish…probably using shiritaki noodles of some kind.

The recipe also uses No Boil lasagna noodles that I FINALLY found at the local Kroger. I dutifully read the ingredients on the box to make sure there was no egg and stuck it in my basket. La di da…

After making (and taste testing the cauliflower Alfredo—yum!) and pre-heating the oven, I got all my stuffs together to begin layering the lasagna. It occurred to me after the first layer that the noodles seemed to be pretty stiff for ‘no boil’ noodles. I had picked up the wrong box and had accidentally gotten the boil kind. What a dumbass. So, rather than dismantle (or better yet dis-mangle) the lasagna, I plunged ahead using the ‘hard’ noodles. I had read once that using the raw/unboiled noodles worked just fine, so I trusted that latent guidance. Threw some Daiya mozzarella shreds on top. Covered it and placed it lovingly and with a hopeful heart in the oven.

WHEW!! About 50 minutes later, I pulled a great smelling, great looking lasagna from the oven. Let it sit for a bit to firm up and then we dove in. Now, Big Solid is NOT a fan of casseroles or lasagna, so when I asked if he liked it…he said “It’s ok.” Not a rousing endorsement but at least he tried it. I, on the other hand, thought it was delicious. So, please, forge ahead and buy the right noodles.

Old friend Oster
Cooking the ‘V-Way’ can lead you down two paths…sometimes simultaneously. One path is seeing many recipes as labor intensive with what appear to be a million ingredients, many of which can be hard to find especially in the south or small towns.

The other path is that of seeing this way of cooking as a fun-filled challenge to be met fully equipped with patience, a clean apron, a really well seasoned iron skillet, lots of wooden spoons and dozens of bowls. Am saving my pennies for a Vita-Mix which I’m sure will change my life. This Oster has been an amazing little machine for OH SO MANY YEARS…time to relax and find a nice place on the shelf. Maybe an occasional blender driven toddy.

Today’s featured resource is one I use a LOT and that’s The Gentle Chef (http://www.thegentlechef.com/). I have both of Chef Skye’s cookbooks (downloaded to my PC instead of hard copy). The pictures of his creations make you want to dive right into the screen.  I’ve made his ‘better butter’ and several of his seitan sausage recipes and been really pleased with how easy and delicious they are. He’s very accessible via email in the event you have questions.

Hope you've enjoyed today's post. Tomorrow or the next day, I want to talk a bit about eating out as a vegan. Sometimes it's a good thing and sometimes it's WAY challenging.