It’s just not working for us right now. I’m trying to study for my master’s comprehensive exam which takes place April 1&2, Jon is working like crazy this month (don’t even get me started on how much I hate the ER shift from 3-midnight that means he misses bedtime), and we just don’t have the time or energy or head space to think and plan as much about food as this whole project requires. We were both tired of feeling hungry all the time. I just want a damn grilled cheese sandwich.
I really considered hanging on, solely for the sake of the blog. It appears my readers like vegan food posts. I like happy readers. But I’ve already “cheated” on this thing a few times (currently eating red beans and rice with andouille sausage as I type), and I just have to come clean that it just isn’t happening anymore.
I don’t have any big spiritual insights about failing my Lenten devotion. I have some clarity now that being a vegan is harder than I thought it was, and that it’s most definitely not for me. I shall return to my usual “less meatarian” (per Mark Bittman) diet of largely lacto/ovo vegetarian eating with supplements of sustainably raised meats. I guess I am just really grateful for the bounty available to me, and the fact that the only deprivation I know is the kind I choose (and then fail to keep choosing).
One of my favorite Bible verses is from the Psalms: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” It seems petty, maybe, and possibly anti-Christian, but I think food is a great way to experience the goodness of God. Despite a sort of anti-fleshly strain in our faith, one that preaches denial of the body and being above bodily things, we are enfleshed, and we worship a God who became flesh. A God who, in Jesus, seemed to really love eating good food with people. One of the first things he really wanted after he rose from the dead? BREAKFAST. Sure, he chose fish where I might choose a runny-yolked egg, but I think in Jesus we see that while denial is good for a time, there’s nothing inherently sinful about enjoying good meals, good wine, and good company.
I also still believe that what we choose to eat is a spiritual issue, an opportunity to demonstrate our care (or in Christian lingo, stewardship) for our bodies, our neighbors, the poor, and the planet. And I will probably always be wrestling with how my diet reflects my values. But, for now, I won’t be doing it as a vegan. I need to focus on studying and taking care of my family in a way that I was not able to on this diet.
I know I said in my last post on Vegan for Lent that I was having issues with breakfast. Until this weekend, when I somehow concocted the BEST BREAKFAST EVER. Yes: a breakfast worthy of all caps. I didn’t even wish it had a runny yolked egg on top, which means you *know* it’s good.
It started, like some of my best dishes, with trying to make something with the weird odds and ends we had left a week after my last grocery trip. In this case, I had 4 small potatoes starting to go soft, and thus an amazing breakfast was born:
Makes 3-4 servings
4 palm-sized potatoes
1 onion, halved, one half quartered and sliced thinly, the other half diced
1 jalapeno, diced
1 can pinto beans
3 cloves garlic, minced (we reallllly like garlic, so if you don’t, maybe start with one clove and see what you think)
Chipotle chile powder
Creole seasoning (even I admit this is weird, so skip it if you want)
Red wine vinegar
Oil of your choosing (I used vegetable oil for the hash browns and coconut oil for the beans)
The thing about a no-recipe recipe is that I sort of threw this together while feeding breakfast to my babies. When cooking on my own, I rarely measure things. I just pour spices out into my palm or sprinkle them over a dish and go with what feels good. So, if you need exact spice measurements, this recipe may not be for you, but I say go with your gut and taste along the way.
I shredded the potatoes using a food processor, then pressed them in a fine mesh strainer to dry them out a bit. Meanwhile I heated up enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom of my skillet. I added the shredded potatoes, jalapenos, and sliced onion once the oil was hot. Then I seasoned with salt, pepper, and yes, Creole seasoning. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I saw the shaker sitting there and went for it. It tasted delicious. Fry the potatoes, stirring occasionally, until to your desired crispyness. I totally believe that frozen hash browns would work here, but I needed to use the potatoes.
In another skillet, I melted a couple tablespoons of coconut oil, because I like the subtle coconut flavor with the beans. Then I added the diced onion and garlic and sauteed til softened. Then I added cumin, paprika, and some chipotle chile powder to the mix, stirring for about a minute. Then I drained the can of pintos and added them to the skillet with the garlic and onions. Then I remembered a favorite rice and beans recipe and added some oregano and a few dashes of red wine vinegar, along with salt and pepper. Cook until the hash browns are done.
Layer the beans over the hash browns, pour some salsa over the top (we used a roasted garlic and cilantro salsa), and serve with a couple of corn tortillas on the side.
Variations: I’m sure any kind of beans would work here, except maybe garbanzos. And yes, it would be excellent with a fried egg or some pepperjack cheese or a dollop of sour cream on top, but it’s perfectly tasty by its own vegan self.
We are now one week into Vegan Lent, and I have to say, I’m enjoying it. Is one supposed to enjoy a Lenten fast?
So far, it hasn’t been a profoundly spiritual event, but my husband and I have both felt like this is another step in a journey we have been on for a while, a journey that has been very much spiritually motivated.
I haven’t felt majorly deprived, but I have missed little things, like cheese on a pasta dish, or butter on bread. Honestly, when we were already not eating much meat and my husband is lactose intolerant, this is probably how we should be eating in general, anyway. I will miss occasionally having fish or eggs as part of a main dish, though.
A friend commented on my initial post that Vegan Lent might end up “sticking” long after Lent ends. I think we might end up mostly vegetarian with eggs and fish thrown back into the mix, plus butter and cheese for me. One problem for me is, I don’t eat fake food, and this makes me uncomfortable with butter and egg substitutes, though I must say, Earth Balance buttery spread is not bad. I want to be able to bake cookies and breads and stuff with all real ingredients. I refuse, on principle, to eat things like “Chick’n,” though tofu and seitan that aren’t trying to pretend to be something they’re not are fine by me.
Also, we have agreed not to go fully veg at this time because we don’t want to make going to dinner at friends’ a giant hassle for them, and we want to be able to enjoy cultural food and hospitality when we travel.
Still, I think this experience is helping us see the rich variety in vegan eating, and I feel healthier. I think, from a week in, that it will certainly affect how we eat going forward.
Here’s what we’ve eaten so far:
This Lemony Cauliflower Pasta was a recipe from my Fresh Green Table cookbook, slightly modified because I couldn’t find broccolini and also because the original recipe called for butter. It was super tasty, and I didn’t miss the cheese I usually sprinkle all over my pasta at all, I think because the flavorful (homemade) breadcrumbs served that purpose well. Etta also loved this dish, so hey, baby win!
Both the noodle kugel and lentil salad recipes are from Veganomicon. The lentil salad is excellent, but I’m something of a lentil fan. The kugel uses tofu as another baked pasta recipe might use ricotta cheese. It was quite tasty hot, but reheated, it seems to be lacking something. If I made it again, I might try to spice it up a bit somehow.
This salad is excellent, and another Veganomicon recipe. I still don’t love mushrooms, though, so I might leave them out next time. I make my hummus using this recipe from Girls Gone Child, with the addition of a can of artichoke hearts to the whole equation. It makes for extra creamy, slightly artichokey hummus. I love it.
This meal was largely a chance for me to attempt to make crispy tofu a la this method from Herbivoracious. The tofu turned out OK, but the meal honestly would have been fine without it– it just didn’t add much to the dish. Otherwise, I used a pre-sliced bag of fresh veggies and winged it.
I attempted to make vegan sandwich bread. It had good flavor and texture, but was a little flat. Part of the problem is that my metal loaf pan is just too wide. The loaf I made in my narrower glass pan turned out a little taller.
I love Lent. I know that sounds morbid, but I think in a way, Lent suits my natural spiritual normal. I am not always an exuberant Easter believer, ready to shout from the rooftops. I’m more given to contemplation, dwelling on mortality, even doubt. And if this was my natural state before my near death experience, it’s only been intensified by my recent brush with the impermanence of my flesh. While I have often wished to be more certain in my faith, the older I get, the more I accept that if the Body needs all kinds, it needs people who over-intellectualize, over-analyze, and who get scared in the middle of the night. So long as it is God to whom I take my millions of questions, even when I question his existence, I will count myself blessed with enough faith. As my “patron saint” Flannery O’Connor said, “When we get our spiritual house in order, we’ll be dead. This goes on. You arrive at enough certainty to be able to make your way, but it is making it in darkness. Don’t expect faith to clear things up for you. It’s trust, not certainty.”
So, though I skipped Lent last year, this year I’m continuing to make my way in the darkness and have decided to pursue a Lenten devotion. Food has long been a faith-like progression for us, and I felt pulled to try to be vegan for Lent this year. Jon has decided to join me, and if you feel so inclined, you can join in as well. Fasting from foods has long been a Lenten tradition in the life of the church. I hope that whenever I experience a desire for say, my favorite food of all foods, cheese, I will be able to first remember that God abundantly provides for my every need, that I will remember that I have never been forced to go hungry, and that others do, every single day. I will also try to practice gratitude for the abundance in my kitchen, gratitude for the earth that produces that abundance, and gratitude for the farmers who steward that earth. It is my hope that the whole experience can be one of mindfulness and gratitude.
Expect to see musings on this experience, as well as some vegan food blogging through this season.
I will say one thing though: I will be ending my fast one day early, as Etta and Claire’s first birthday party (their First Fiesta) is the day before Easter, and I want to be able to eat tacos and cake!
It’s hard to believe the Bufflo Gals have gone from this:
And as they’ve grown, things have changed with the way we feed them around here. Some things have worked great, others haven’t worked out.
I really wanted to make my own baby food.
And then I met my babies. One wants nothing to do with being spoon fed (as I mentioned in an earlier post) and the other vomits the minute she tastes my homemade food. Not just spits it out. Vomits.
At first, I was sort of offended by this. I thought I had a picky baby, since she would happily gobble down jars of purees both veggie and fruit, and then immediately gag and choke on my homemade stuff that, to my eye, seemed exactly the same as the stuff in a jar. In fact, I remained irritated and offended by this for a few months.
And then I finally googled “spina bifida texture issues” and learned that this is common to many babies with spina bifida, and often requires occupational therapy to fix. And then I felt like a jerk.
We’re looking into our OT and PT options and will be getting a referral soon, but in the meantime, I have accepted that homemade baby food is just not our thing. I can make a few very thin varieties that she will eat (like tomato carrot!), but, since straining every puree through a fine mesh strainer is a huge hassle, I will just be buying jarred purees for Claire. There’s a huge variety of organic Earth’s Best foods available, so that’s mostly what we’re going with. I even got over my aversion to pureed meat, because if she’s gonna be on these things for longer than average, I want to let her have some proteins, and the only other option is lentil dinner.
Meanwhile, Etta is doing a sort of half-assed version of Baby Led Weaning. I haven’t read the books, but I’ve read about it on the internet, and, like most of the rest of my parenting, am sort of doing what feels right. She gets soft chunks of things cut into pieces she can hold in her fist. Sweet potato, pasta, carrot, watermelon, cantaloupe, cheese, and toast are all favorites. It’s going pretty well.
Next step: transitioning from formula to milk in about a month, and also trying to transition from bottles to sippy cups. Anyone have tips on that? Both of my girls still have issues with fast-flow nipples, and they nearly drown in sippy cups.
Recently, our doctor told us it was time to start feeding the gals some rice cereal, to let them practice eating from a spoon and start them off on a solid least-likely to cause an allergic reaction (food allergies may be an issue with Claire’s spina bifida). Claire, who is already our happiest eater when it comes to bottles, took to the rice cereal immediately. Etta seemed to think we had devised a fun new way to kill her. The results were pretty funny:
And for my friend Stacy who said Etta needed to be a meme:
So, big news yesterday, huh? I’m still trying to wrap my mind around it. Jon and I just look at each other and laugh. I keep saying to him, “TWINS?!” The word must always be typed in all caps, with extra punctuation. Everyone around us is so super excited, but as Jon says, “Everyone’s excited about twins…so long as someone else is having them.” Our entire world has been turned upside down, and it’s going to take a while for it all to feel real, I’m sure.
One of the things Jon said to me, in between all of the TWINS!? talk was: we’re gonna have to revise your estimated wait gain. And: “you’re gonna be SO BIG!” I’m having a hard time imagining myself getting SO BIG, because I’m having a hard time eating at all.
It’s not that I’m puking my guts out and unable to eat. (I’m knocking on wood, but I haven’t puked yet!) It’s not that I have weird food aversions (my friend who is having a baby any day now has had to avoid chicken for her entire pregnancy because it makes her want to puke). It’s that absolutely no food sounds good to me in the slightest. I can’t even picture myself eating anything, let alone working up the energy to figure out something that sounds appetizing and prepare myself something to eat. A complete and total lack of energy has been my major symptom so far, and I’ve been getting plenty of sleep at night, as well as regularly taking 3 hour naps. I have no energy to think about food, which is weird, because I’m kind of a foodie. See that whole tab up there, dedicated to food?
I will say that I finally understand this whole pregnancy craving thing. It never made any sense to me before, because hey, don’t we all crave foods sometimes? But it’s not like we’re going to die if we don’t get them, and why are pregnant women allowed to pretend their cravings are just UNSTOPPABLE? I still don’t feel like my cravings are any stronger than the cravings I got when I wasn’t pregnant, but when my default state is now total apathy to feeding myself, actually wanting and being excited about eating a particular food is a considerable improvement over the status quo. So, if I crave a Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich, that’s what I’m having, dammit, because it’s something I’m willing to eat, and that’s better than nothing.
Supposedly I’m supposed to be consuming an extra 1,000 600 calories per day. So far, I’m positive that’s not happening. I’m eating about as much as I did before. I’m making a real effort not to be a nervous nellie about all things pregnancy, so I figure for now, unless my doctor or the doctor I live with tell me differently, I will attempt to listen to my body, like always, and eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full. So I finally went to the store and bought a bunch of stuff that I don’t have to cook. Things like pad thai noodle bowls and frozen pizza and whatnot. It solves the problem of having no energy to think about or make food, and it works out fine because I’m not actually opposed to any foods at this point. So, food in boxes is where I’m at. Because eating is better than not eating, even though I’m usually Little Miss All Natural Sustainable Foods.
Last Saturday I actually made it to the Farmer’s Market. This was my haul:
Don’t you love how I subconsciously arranged everything in ROYGBIV order? I swear it wasn’t intentional.
I figured it might be fun to turn my Farmer’s Market trips into posts about how we eat for a week on our delicious local produce.
The cukes and the yellow squash immediately became pickles, the squash joining some zucchinis we had grown to become summer squash bread and butter pickles (seriously, such a good recipe, though I skip the whole ice bath part and they still turn out just dandy), and the cukes becoming my absolute favorite, I swear they’re as good as Claussen’s, dill refrigerator pickles.
The gorgeous heirloom tomatoes and the Japanese eggplant joined some mozzarella and some home-grown basil to become a delicious margherita pizza.
The pattypan squash was sauteed in olive oil with home-grown herbs and served alongside a red lentil salad with heirloom tomatoes, and some tilapia.
And the remainder of the squash, eggplant, and tomato were turned into a sort of ratatouille which we ate with goat cheese over pearl couscous:
So, food blogging. It’s something I have definitely fallen down on, what with being busy with learning about literature and generally falling out of regular blogging in the post-a-day way I used to do. But, I’m still a total foodie, and have been meaning to get back into geeking out about food.
Add to that, I was recently chatting with a friend about our less-meatarian diet, and she was asking me questions about what our meals actually look like. It’s definitely hard, when first transitioning to a less-meat diet, to figure out what to put on a plate that isn’t a meat and two sides. Mark Bittman addresses this in his book (an AMAZING resource) How to Cook Everything Vegetarian:
Even those people who do cook at home reckon that the easiest way to anchor a meal is to throw a steak or a chicken breast on the grill or under the broiler and scatter a few nominal vegetables around it…But a vegetarian meal is more commonly a table with a few dishes on it, all of them of equal importance…The grain is not less valuable than the cooked vegetable, the salad, or the bread: they’re all there to compliment one another. Pickles you made yourself, a nice piece of cheese, or a bowl of nuts–all are valid courses in the vegetarian meal.
Now, Bittman is certainly not a vegan (note the cheese reference), and neither am I. I choose to eat much less meat than the average American for environmental, humanitarian, and health reasons. I try to follow the dictates of Michael Pollan’s famous maxim: Eat food, not too much, mostly plants. I try to eat food, by which he means whole ingredients, rather than food products or processed foods. And I try to eat more plant-based foods. But I still eat fish, eggs, and cheese, and the occasional ethically-raised meat when I can afford it.
Anyway, I figured that a weekly roundup of what we actually eat might help friends looking to transition to a less-meat diet get some ideas about what less-meat meals actually look like. These posts will be characterized by most-likely iPhone photography of our meals, which, I confess, more often than not are eaten on TV trays in our living room while we watch something from our DVR. I’ll share links to recipes when I can, or share which cookbooks the recipes came from. My two most frequently used cookbooks are both by Bittman– the aforementioned How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and The Food Matters Cookbook.
So, what did our meals this week look like?
This meal was definitely the most veggie-licious of our week. I tossed a bunch of sliced veggies (red bell pepper, zucchini, squash, onion, grape tomatoes) with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic, and some Herbes de Provence. I broiled them for about 15 minutes while I made some pearl couscous and cooked a couple of pieces of fish in a skillet. Such a tasty and colorful meal. The fish was really not even necessary. Might have poached an egg and served it on top or just tossed in some chickpeas for a fish-free version.
This is a common meal for us. Cuban-style black beans (I skip the radishes) over coconut rice (the idea for the rice came from this recipe). Almost always eaten with a Cuba Libre (rum and Coke with a lime).
Do those veggies look familiar? They’re leftover from meal #1. I cut them into bite sized pieces, sauteed them til warm, and then added some eggs and gruyere cheese to the mix, for a sort of veggie scramble. I do some variation of this a lot when I have leftover veggies that need to be used up.
Our other meals this week: cheese dip and margaritas and guacamole at a fave Mexican restaurant. Cheese dip and salsa another night too. Chicken and veggie pizza from another fave place. And Mexican night at our church. Might be avoiding anything with a Mexican flavor for this next week!
I’m a foodie. To ask B.R. Meyers of The Atlantic, this apparently makes me an immoral hedonist, whose insatiable appetite for food and pleasure and elitism will be the downfall of our civilization (seriously, he references the fall of the Roman empire and manages to blame it on food).
Meyers’ piece reads like a particularly strident sermon against what he sees as gluttony, and he lumps a wide variety of people together in order to make his case against the immorality of people who dare to enjoy their food. What do Anthony Bourdain and Michael Pollan have in common? I like both, and both think people should cook more and enjoy food more, but they have pretty different food philosophies. Bourdain probably does fall closest to Meyers’ hedonist vision of a foodie, being a big fan of pork products of all sorts, and unafraid to eat even the nastiest bits of an animal in his worldwide quest for good food on his Travel Channel show. He’s sort of like the Dr. House of food: abrasive, provocative, selfish–he’s doing it on purpose to get a rise out of people like Meyers. But as a longtime fan of Bourdain’s, I think he’s really a softie. He gets off on the kindness and similarities of people all over the world as much as he does a greasy pile of pork, and he’s so very genuinely warm with even the poorest folks who share meals with him on his travels. Sure, he’s known for his profanity-filled bestsellers about the food industry, but he’s a secret softie.
Pollan, on the other hand, comes at foodie-ism from an environmentalist point of view. His mantra, “eat food, not too much, mostly plants” is about a more sustainable way of eating, not dependent on industrial farming and emissions-causing shipping of food around the world. The “not too much” part flies directly in the face of Meyers’ anti-glutton arguments. Pollan does a lot of advocacy work for things like organic and small farms, and he’s educated a lot of people through his involvement with the movie “Food Inc.,” which personally changed my life and my relationship with food. I’d put him in a category with someone like Mark Bittman, New York Times food writer and author of some of my favorite cookbooks (the Food Matters Cookbook and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian), who advocates a “less meat-arian” diet that is better for our health and for the planet. I wouldn’t put either of them in a category with Anthony Bourdain.
Meyers also seems to think that people who really care about and enjoy their food are simply elitists pursuing physical pleasure rather than people trying to live out deeply held convictions in their daily lives. For one thing, I’m not so sure there’s anything wrong with flat out enjoying food. Being able to taste is a miracle and a gift. That we can take pleasure as we must take sustenance is a wonderful thing. Enjoying the blessings of food is a way of being thankful for it. I’m personally a “foodie” because I care deeply about my impact on the environment, the treatment of animals and workers, the way my eating affects global hunger, and the way my eating affects the health of my community’s economy and my own body. I try to eat less meat, more local organic produce, and to avoid all processed foods. And I love every bite.
Supposedly Meyers is a vegan and has a problem with meat eating in general, and that’s part of his issue with Bourdain. I can respect that. But while I may in fact be drawn toward vegetarianism myself, you aren’t going to win me, or many people, to veganism by suggesting that it’s immoral to really enjoy food. Come to our side! We don’t enjoy our food! Come not enjoy it with us! Why not illustrate that there is pleasure to be had in a deliciously prepared vegetarian dish? What would be wrong with enjoying a perfectly prepared piece of produce?
Are there foodie elitists? Sure. I’m not sure Bourdain is one of them– he’s as likely to eat at a street cart as he is at Le Bernadin. I’m not sure Pollan is either, since one of his major areas of activism is getting people access to fresh, healthy, whole food. And my food hero, Mark Bittman, points out that 90% of Americans own a car and spend an average of 30+ hours a week watching television, so acquiring healthy food and cooking it at home is actually achievable for a large chunk of us.
To me, food is sort of the opposite of elitism, because it’s about sharing. Meals bring people around a table together. They facilitate conversation and understanding and connection. People who are really excited about food want to share those experiences with others–to say “you have GOT to try this,” rather than keeping the experience locked away for only a privileged few. Real foodies have a curiosity about other food cultures, and an interest in reaching out and having new experiences, even if it’s just trying some new and weird looking vegetable that suddenly showed up in a CSA box.
Finally: who is the real elitist? Someone who cares passionately about food (much like others who care passionately about their hobbies and interests), or Meyers himself? Many times in the article, he suggests that people who care a lot about food don’t devote much time to what he believes are higher pursuits, for example:
Needless to say, no one shows much interest in literature or the arts—the real arts. When Marcel Proust’s name pops up, you know you’re just going to hear about that damned madeleine again.
I mean, the guy in the effing Atlantic quoting Roman historians and referencing Proust can hardly be calling OTHERS out on their elitism, for one thing. For another: you don’t have to choose between the stomach and the mind. Mr. Meyers: I’m a budding foodie and a home-cooking hobbyist. I’m also pursuing a graduate degree in English Literature and hope to be a professor one day. I’m just sayin’, one can love both food and the great thinkers and their great thoughts.
Ultimately, Meyers’ piece comes off as a particularly whiny rant about some people he seems to just not like. He seems particularly bothered by some of the foodies’ use of the f-word and likes to quote them using it, I guess in an attempt to point out that these hedonists use appallingly coarse language and further underline their supposed amorality. And yet, Meyers doesn’t offer an alternative. I can see how he might criticize Bourdain’s meat-fest gluttony, but I really don’t get what his issue with Pollan is. How DOES he think Americans should eat? What exactly is the problem with trying to eat in a way that corresponds to one’s values (Meyers seems to have no problem with people who keep kosher, for example) and enjoying it along the way? What’s so immoral about caring about how my chicken was raised, and how the farmer who raised it was compensated, and how the workers who slaughtered and packaged it were treated, and how much gas was used to get it to me?