What is The Vegan(ish) Experiment?

Our family (me, my husband D, and our four-year-old Molly) started 2009 with a mostly-vegan, macrobiotic-inspired diet (although I have to admit, the strict macro rules have pretty much gone out the window). I have seen a marked improvement in my chronic migraines, and I'm enjoying proving that we can make amazing, mouth-watering, memorable food without animal products. For a more in-depth intro, click here.

I stopped updating this blog quite awhile back, when life got in the way. I'm still keeping a mostly vegan kitchen, though, and loving it. Have fun browsing my recipes!

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Day -1: A Guidebook, and a Delay

It's been awhile since I've posted - we spent a wonderful few days in Minnesota with D's two older daughters. Ate lots of junk (even when trying not to; chain restaurant food uses lots of additives to make up for poorly-trained chefs and a resistance to buying quality, fresh ingredients), and paying the price now, migraine-wise.

The first piece of news: We're having a snowstorm here in the Northeast, and D has to work today (we share one car), so it looks like we won't be able to do a good shopping trip until tomorrow. I've decided to start our experiment, instead of tomorrow morning, either tomorrow evening or the next morning. My next post will be a menu of what I'm planning on cooking in the upcoming week.

The delay will also enable us to get Molly a little birthday cake - she's a New Year's baby, turning 2 tomorrow - without worrying about breaking our (admittedly breakable) rules. No birthday party yet (it's a bad time for it, with so many people out of town), but maybe in a couple of weeks.

The second piece of news: As I alluded to last week, I have found a book that I think is going to work very well as a guidebook for me. In fact, I put it up as a "Book That Will Change How You Think About Food" in the left-hand column of my blog. It is The Self-Healing Cookbook, written by Kristina Turner. Ms. Turner lost her husband to cancer, but he held on for several years before succumbing. During that time, they changed to a macrobiotic diet. It helped his health immensely, and made his last few years probably better than they would have been. One thing I love about this book is that it was written after his death. She knows that a diet is not a cure-all; but she believes so strongly that macrobiotics improved her husband's quality of life - and continues to improve hers - that she still wrote a book on it.

This book is .... hard to explain. It's typed on a manual typewriter, with hand-drawn illustrations and hand-lettered headings. And it's sold almost half a million copies. It just has heart (and I'm not normally that sappy). Plus, it has great recipes and a wonderful attitude. It encourages readers to do eat what makes them feel good -- not good in the short run (like a sugary cupcake), but overall good. And it gives excellent guidelines for doing so, but admits that the rules are different for everyone. It encourages moderation and occasional splurges. I wish my words could give a more powerful explanation ... I guess I'll just close by saying, read this book. Just see if it touches you. I dare you! Click on the small icon of the book in the left-hand column of this blog to purchase it, or just to read an excerpt (by clicking "Look inside.")

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Day -8: I am not a Hip Chick

I've taken a break from blogging for the last few days, trying to absorb all the reading I've done. I've also struggled with more migraines than I'd like to admit, which tends to slow me down.

The first book I read to try and prep for our experiment was The Hip Chick's Guide to Macrobiotics:

I really thought I'd love this one. And it is a good reference for cooking different whole grains and such. And it does have lots of yummy-looking recipes, like ...
  • Mediterranean Barley Salad,
  • Millet-and-Cauliflower Mashed "Potatoes" with Mushroom Gravy,
  • Vegan Lasagna,
  • Pumpkin-Seed Salad Dressing, and
  • Lots more that I'll have to try!
And ... well, first let me say that I really think I read it with an open mind, although an "open mind" for me means, "Could this Eastern philosophy conceivably be explained in a Western scientific way, at least in the future?" (Eastern-origin treatments that I think Western science should look at more closely include yoga, acupuncture, and such.)

But I read way too many statements like,
  • "Throw out the microwave. . . . The electromagnetic radiation necesary for microwave cooking is so intense and so yin (whereas normal heat comes from yang energy) that it is weakening to the blood and produces chaotic energy."
    .... HUH? This really bugged my science teacher self. Microwaves, in fact, are electromagnetic waves -- LIGHT that our human eyes just happen not to be able to see. They are of a wavelength right in between RADIO waves and INFRARED waves. Infrared waves are coming out of our bodies all the time, since we are warm-blooded. Night-vision goggles usually detect infrared heat. And radio waves ... well, those are all around us too. Microwave ovens work by taking liquid in food and speeding up the molecules, which makes them hotter. Regular ovens do the same thing, but with a different type of wave that feels "hot" to us. That's it.
  • And, "Go out and get an apple. And a saltine cracker. Put them next to each other and just relax. Let your inner compass feel if there is any relationship between them. . . . " If this statement resonates with you, blog reader, please go out and take the advice. Let me know what your inner compass tells you about the apple and the saltine. I'm trying not to say anything TOO snarky here, . . . so I'll just stop.
After I was done reading through the book, I said to D, "I just can't buy in. I don't think the macrobiotic thing is going to work for me at all, except that I'll get some good recipes out of it. This is just not how I view the world."

And then I read the second book I had bought, and . . . WOW. More on that in my next post!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Day -11: The Great American Meal

A timeline:

6 PM - Walk into the snowy night, bundled up. Go two blocks and walk into Hancock Tavern.
6:15 PM - Get beer. Discuss appetizers. Starving after a day of Christmas shopping.
6:15-6:35 - Wonder what's taking the server so long.
6:35 - Order food. Ask server for water (for the second time).
6:50 - Get buffalo chicken tenders. Eat too many while waiting for entree.
7:15 - Get entree (single-sized Mediterranean pizza). Eat two small pieces and stop. It's not very good, and the chicken filled me up during the 40 minutes between ordering and actually getting the entree.
7:40 - Where is the server? Start putting Molly's snowsuit and boots on to send a message.
7:45 - Get the check. Try to convince D that we should only give a 15% tip. (That's like a 10% tip in states outside of the Northeast.) He righfully points out that, although this server is really not good, we come here a lot. We don't want to get on her bad side. We settle on a 22% tip. That'll show her.
8:00 - Arrive back at home, feeling pretty gross. D points out that most restaurants that take almost two hours end up costing a couple hundred bucks. I think you get what you pay for...
5 AM - Stagger out of bedroom. Find Mylanta. Chug it straight from the bottle.
5:01 - Stagger back to bed, holding stomach. Go back to sleep repeating the refrain, "I really do feel like crap when I eat crap. I really do feel like crap when I eat crap."
5:10 - Dream of bloatedness, heartburn, and indigestion.
6:30 - Molly wakes me up. I still feel gross.

I'm definitely ready to start this experiment. We eat healthy enough most of the time, which just highlights how absolutely disgusting bad-for-me food makes me feel. How on Earth do some people eat like this every day?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Day -12: The 2-Year-Old Macrobiotic

I've started doing a little reading on macrobiotics, and a lot of it sounds very familiar. In fact, it sounds an awful lot like my 2-year-old Molly's preferences.

  • ... is a vegetarian by choice - she does not like meat
  • ... loves miso soup, edamame, every type of bean she's ever tried, many vegetables, brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat couscous, whole wheat noodles, nuts, seeds
  • ... thinks raisins and other dried fruit are gummies. (We don't discourage this little self-deception ... she often asks for "raisin gummies" for dessert.)
  • ... thinks peeled cucumber slices are cookies (again, we don't discourage this, and "cucumber cookies" have become a treat since we discovered it)
  • ... doesn't like most nightshade fruits/vegetables (eggplant, peppers, tomatoes ... although she does like potatoes, which are nighshades)
Molly isn't vegan; she drinks skim milk and is a cheese lover. But it's still 12 days till our experiment starts, and she's far more than halfway there already!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Day -14: Sweet Potato & Black Bean Tacos

First, thanks so much to the several wonderful folks who have commented in support of our experiment. I think that, just like any major change in habits, having a support group will be a big help.

I bought some sweet potatoes the other day, planning on making a yummy-sounding sweet-potato-and-lime dish I saw on The Crockpot Lady's blog. And while that still sounds good, I found something even better on Amy's blog, which I investigated after she commented on yesterday's post. So tonight I'm going to try Sweet Potato Burritos. Oh, yum yum! I know our experiment hasn't started yet, but (a) the recipe sounds too good to wait, and (b) I already cook a lot of vegetarian food -- so this won't be a shock to D or Molly.

Update after dinner:
It turned out tasty! D loved it (with lots of chipotle salsa), and Molly ate a few of the black beans and a whole tortilla - but wasn't into the sweet potato. Oh well.

Here's the pic:
This is my first real attempt at food photography. Out of focus, I know!

And the recipe, modified from the above link based on what I had in my pantry / fridge:

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Tacos
2 T. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced (1/2"-3/4" cubes)
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 T. cumin (or less if you aren't as much of a cumin fiend as me)
1/2 t. chili powder
1 t. ground coriander
dash cayenne pepper (optional)
salt & pepper to taste
3 T. tomato paste
1 1/2 c. water
1 can black beans
12 corn tortillas, warmed
shredded baby spinach

Heat olive oil in a skillet at medium low.
Saute onion, garlic, sweet potato, and spices until the sweet potato starts to soften (10-15 minutes).
Mix tomato paste and water and add to the skillet. Bring to a boil and lower heat to a simmer. Simmer until sweet potato is cooked through and soft, but not mushy (20-25 minutes).
Add beans and heat through. Use a potato masher to mash about half of the mixture. Stir well.
Overlap two tortillas on a plate. Place mixture on tortillas, adding shredded greens and salsa on top. (I used Trader Joe's salsa verde; D used homemade chipotle salsa prepared by blending Herdez chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.)

Serves 6.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Day -15: Introduction

A few weeks ago, in the middle of one of my tougher migraine periods (translation: 3 or more in a week), I said to D,
"Hey, I'm thinking of radically changing my diet. Any time I've read about anti-headache diets, they focus a lot on staying away from certain meats and cheeses, and on eating more fresh food and fewer additives. I wonder if it would work for me."
D's initial reaction was one of skepticism ... but, after a few days, he said out of the blue,
"You know, I've been thinking about what you said about changing your diet. I'd like to try it with you. But let's wait until after the holidays."

And so the one-month vegan(ish) experiment was born. We aren't doing it for ethical reasons, so we'll be cheating occasionally. I doubt that D will give up milk (he has a glass of skim milk with dinner every day), and we aren't asking Molly to give it up either.

A little bit of research has shown me that a macrobiotic diet is almost what I'm looking for. I tend to be a Western-Empirical-Science-type, and am not particularly into the yin/yang approach taken by macrobiotic theory, but the diet does a great job of balancing foods. I won't cut out nightshade vegetables (couldn't live without tomatoes, peppers, etc.) or avocados. But we will use a lot of macro guidelines so that we can make sure we're getting all the nutrients we need, and we'll use lots of macro recipes because there's a ton of yummy ones out there.

I've ordered a couple of books: The Hip Chick's Guide to Macrobiotics and The Self-Healing Cookbook. They should arrive by the end of this week or the beginning of next, and I'll blog about them as I'm reading them.

So welcome, readers, and thanks for supporting us in our experiment!

12/18/08: Edited because I'd misremembered one of the books I ordered!

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