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Viva la Vegan Day 12 (disappointments and talk of tempeh)

September 28, 2017

Don’t panic! Nobody panic! The cookies are tucked away in a pan with a lid and a slice of bread to keep until Saturday after the race. Phew! It’s all going to be alright. Not even being temporarily vegan can stop me from taking some cookies to pound town.

(p.s. This is not a birth announcement. This is Sloppy Joan workin’ some hand-me-downs. Don’t freak, Mom!)

This morning, on my drive in, Rich Roll was discussing his Vitamix blends. Essentially, homeboy rounds up every ingredient of the earth – fruits, veggies, hemp, herbs, coconut kefir, spirulina, nuts, chlorophyll – throws them in the high-powered blender (whole, i believe) and pulverizes them into various juices. He has one for breakfast, one before dinner and one after dinner, if he wants dessert (fruit, coconut milk and cocoa). His ingredients vary, depending on whether he needs energy or recovery.

Curious, I jumped online. I want to pulverize healthy stuff and drink it. Did you know that the most basic Vitamix is $300? Three hundred dollars!! For a blender. A small machine with blades in the bottom. I’m really going to need to turn up the heat on this side hustle business if I’m going to procure a $300 blender. Can it possibly be worth it? Would I get my money’s worth? My questions are endless.

7:30 a.m.
I changed up my smoothie today. My Ninja suddenly seeming subpar, I managed to liquify my experimental recipe: 1.5 teaspoons spirulina, .25 of a banana, 1 scoop chocolate plant-based protein powder, 1 tablespoon slivered almonds, 1 teaspoon hemp seeds, ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, 1 cup spinach.

This drink is turquoise, man. Surely it should turn me into a superhuman powerhouse with one sip. If I don’t finish this post, that happened.

There’s an appreciation cookout at work today. It’s a meat fest. I wonder if I will ever get to a point where slow cooked pork just isn’t appealing to my olfactory senses in the least. This spread featured phenomenal smelling Korean BBQ sandwiches, Black and Blue Salmon Burgers and hot dogs … For me? Bagged lettuce and asparagus. I decided to head home, instead, for a delightful repeat of my taco salad from the day before. Leftover taco “meat”, guacamole, a dollop of plain coconut yogurt, salsa, and crushed tortilla chips. Today I also added a tablespoon of Seeds of Change quinoa and brown rice. Hoping to feel a little fuller a little longer today.

Confession time: In some ways it feels like I’m not doing this right, or my body isn’t adapting. Something is off. The last few days I’ve felt so bloated. Like, none of my skirts fit and it kind of looks like I’m a tad pregnant … with twins. Not exactly the look I was going for when I set out on this whole thing. I launched a full investigation, meaning I pulled up MyFitnessPal and started diving into the macros, because that’s the only thing I know to do. My sodium was high yesterday; 900g high to be exact. I’m thinking that’s part of it.

The biggest offenders appear to be the fake meats (seitan and “beef” crumbles), which tend to be pretty high in sodium, as does guacamole, which I didn’t really realize. I cooled it on the nuts and seeds, because I suspected those were contributing to my vegan weight explosion, but I was still over yesterday without them. And I can’t lose the guac, you guys, I just can’t.

Guacamole has been my constant. Through all of the Whole30s and sugar detoxes and now vegan experiment, guacamole has been there. It’s a comforting, indulgent, familiar friend that makes me smile in every way. On an egg sandwich, with tortilla chips, on hot dogs, on burgers, on fried tofu, on tacos. I don’t care, I love it. I need it. I want it. I can’t fathom the thought of a world without the green stuff. I don’t want to. So that sodium in particular is going to have to stay.

Luckily there’s Google to fetch me a sea of strangers who have experienced or are experiencing the same crazy things as me. According to the blogosphere, bloating is incredibly common for beginner vegans and usually subsides within a month or so of adopting the diet. So 16 days after this experiment is done, I’m going to be in good shape.

These veteran vegans recommend a range of things to get your tummy moving in the right direction. Those who attribute the bloat to a messy microbiome, suggest strong probiotics and foods that naturally promote more of the good bacteria in your gut. Others point the finger at the dramatic increase in fiber and carbohydrate consumption that accompanies the vegan diet, and recommend good grains, patience and Beano.

The answer for me, specifically? No clue. Bigger skirts.

But it does feel like, although I am feeling some success in other, more subtle, ways, I’m not seeing the weight loss people probably expected or were hoping to see (no one more so than me). And that kind of feels like I’m letting everyone down, mostly myself.

7 p.m.
Another night, another recipe that demands way too much time to prepare. I made a Madeira Peppercorn Tempeh from the Crazy Sexy Kitchen cookbook. It’s my fault, I should have read ahead. The tempeh had to sit in a stovetop sauce for an hour, at least. Then the sauce had to sit and thicken for 20 extra minutes. I ask you, who has 80+ minutes to watch something cook?

And let’s talk about tempeh for a sec, shall we? It’s soybeans fermented to make a cake. Earth Fare had original, flax or whole grain. I figured original would be best for a beginner. I ate it. But I still don’t really know what it was. Who knew that soybeans could be manipulated to create so many questionable food things?

Everything was going wrong tonight. The fuse in the kitchen kept popping and dinner was already running late because of the generous marinating times and JoJo was trying to climb the crabapple tree in the backyard and it was all just a big, messy shit show. And to top it all off, it wasn’t that good. I hate nothing more than when I work my ass off to make something and it tastes like pink school erasers in a semi-decent breading.

It wasn’t a total loss. The sauce with this recipe was good. A pain in the ass to make, but good. It was basically scallions, wine (I used Chardonnay because who the hell has Madeira laying around), vegetable stock, vegan butter and thyme. It had a really nice flavor, which was good, because the tempeh was less than awesome. In the recipe’s defense, it would probably be really good with tofu. The tempeh texture was bizarre and off putting. Even Hank struggled with it. It got worse the more I tried to push through.

I rounded out the meal with baked potatoes (I put vegan shortening and half a slice of this new Chao Creamy Original cheese I got at Earth Fare that was so good), roasted beets, sweet potatoes, parsnips and carrots, and berries.

Then I ate two vegan sugar cookies – such a loser – and watched the premier of This is Us. You guys, that last scene …


Livin la Vida Vegan Day 11 (pissy pants and sizzling seitan)

September 27, 2017

I need to take a pause from the vegan diet updates for just a sec to talk about something very troubling. It’s pee. Piss. Urine. Golden streams. Or yellow puddles. In my regular routine, I come into contact with pee – not my own – no less than three times a week. Whether it’s my kid, or another kid, or a dog or a frog, there is a No. 1 situation flowing right through my day, at some point in my day, every day.

It’s like running a kennel for special puppies with small bladders. Yesterday, when I got home from work, JoJo’s sheets were in the laundry room. One of the kiddos who comes to our house during the day had an accident during nap. It happens. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that we basically live in a giant urinal. Well, my eldest was having nothing to do with it. She funneled her fury – which was only further fueled by her discovery that Spike and I might also start a pen pal exchange, similar to the one JoJo and I have – into a very strongly worded letter.

It read as follows:

Dear Mom,
Tomorrow I’m giving MeeMee (the sitter) a piece of my mind about my bed!!! I’m ganna say that no more kids in my room and no kids sleeping in there! And you and Spikey canot be pen pals! Focus on you and my Because I’d crie to my death.

[Illustration of JoJo with a happy heart (“Mom and JoJo pen pals”) and then a messy stick figure with the caption “me cring. heart Broken.” just below that.]

Love, JoJo

But oh how the mighty do fall. At 4 o’clock this morning, I woke to the gentle whispers of our oldest daughter, confessing that she herself had an accident on our floor. Why she was on our floor, right next to the hairy, nasty dog bed, and not in her sister’s cozy queen size bed? I don’t know. I never know. This is an every night thing in our house. Does anyone else know?

Hank threw a towel over it, cleaned her up and moved both her and Spike (who was spooned up next to her on the ground) back down the hall so we could go “back to sleep”. Of course, we’re never really back to sleep, are we? Parents. Anything past the REM cycle is considered a luxury at this point in life. Right up there with solo time on the toilet and sitting. I guess that’s just what this chapter looks like … tired souls with urine on their hands.

7:30 a.m.
I put a full teaspoon of spirulina into my smoothie today, and backed down a bit on the powdered peanut butter, which has more sugar than I’d like. The algae flavor was slightly more noticeable, but not enough to tickle the ole gag reflex, so on we go. I’m thinking phase 2 is cutting the creamer from my coffee. It’s a liquid sugar bomb, and it’s got too tight of a hold on my heart.

I had a text from my bud Ryan:

I mean it’s not hard, because that’s really what this is. It’s totally doable, but also an insane life choice that’s making everything ten thousand times harder. It’s natural and against my human nature. It feels healing and like all my weaknesses are exposed. It’s funny because it’s really just food, but the change is making me a bit of a kook. And kooky people are freaking hilarious.

Earth Fare run for seitan and tempeh at lunch. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d type.

I came home to throw together a taco salad with my leftovers, but something was wrong. Terribly wrong. There, on the counter in the kitchen, sat a box with a dozen cookies from my favorite local bakery. Come inside my sick mind for a sec, k …

“What … the truck … is that? Why are those there? Who put those there? Is someone messing with me. Someone’s messing with me. Is there a camera in here? Who would do this? What kind of sick, twisted person would do this?! [Find card.] The car dealership?! Why in the hell is the car dealership sending us cookies?! It was a gosh dang trade in for crying out loud! Those bastards. Those car-selling bastards, with their sweet treats and good customer service. OK, I’m just going to lift the lid. [Lift lid, stick nose into sugar cloud. Close eyes.] Oh, shit. Alright, what’s my end game here? Should I throw them away? Just throw them away. My God, you can’t throw these away! You’ll be arrested. I’m a grownup, just set them out for the kids. But they won’t appreciate them the way I would. Maybe we can freeze them. Yeah, I’ll freeze them. We’ll just pull out our favorites and freeze those, give the rest to the kids. But I love them all. I’m going to put them down in this cabinet until Hank gets home. He’ll know what to do.”

And then I put the box of cookies down low, behind my slow cooker, and walked away; unable to discard them and unable to give them up. This, brothers and sisters, is how you know you are ill.

I assembled my salad: leftover taco “meat”, guacamole, crushed up tortilla chips, a dollop of coconut yogurt and salsa. It was bomb. I stood, leaning against the cabinet door where my cookies were sleeping and enjoyed every single bite.

“Goodnight, sweet cookies. I’ll see you again soon.” I whispered.

3 p.m.
What I really want is chocolate and popcorn, so what I’m having is the rest of my suja organic ginger kombucha. Really hoping that quenches the craving.

6 p.m.
Made it! Tonight, we’re cookin’ up some Crispy Orange Seitan from the Vegan for Everybody cookbook. Oh my gosh … you don’t know what seitan is? How do you not know what seitan is, you silly, carnivorous fool. Psych! I don’t know what the hell it is, either. And I looked at the ingredients, so that makes it extra scary. From what I gathered, it’s like globs of gluten or something? They call it “wheat meat”. So there ya go.

The toughest thing about these recipes is making sure you have all of the ingredients on hand. “It looks like you emptied out your cabinets,” our sitter said, as she watched me assemble the handfuls of sauce components. But once I had it all in there, this one came together pretty fast. The nice thing about cooking with these fake meats – tempeh, tofu, seitan, veggie crumbles – is they cook up fast as Rizzo. It’s a big time saver.

I used bagged cauli rice from Costco for a side, along with some peanut butter + celery courtesy of my sous chefs and chopped up plum, mango and blueberries for dessert. (I’d like for it to be known that I did NOT have a cookie tonight.)

This was pretty darn good, I gotta say. The cauliflower needed a little more flavoring, but the seitan was a pleasant surprise, as seitans go. Hank dubbed it “fine” which, if you speak Hank, you know translates to, “not exceptional, but good”. I would make it again.

This is my 6-year-old on seitan:

7:30 p.m.
I knocked out my last training run before the race Saturday; A snail-like 3 miles with lots of sweat. I notice on this diet, I don’t cramp as much and I can steady my breath a little easier during the run. Could be the training or it could be some vegan magic. Either way, by the time I was done, I knew my body needed something. I slammed a handful of walnuts, dried blueberries and pumpkin seeds.

JoJo was waiting for me at the top of the stairs. She found the notebook I gave Spike so we, too, could be pen pals. She told me I broke her heart. That she wanted to be special. That Spikey could never write messages as special as hers would be. It felt like the emotional climax of a Nicholas Sparks novel. I think I got her down off the ledge enough to sleep tonight, but we’ll see. There could be tears. Or pee. Maybe pee.


A whole lotta Whole30 fun

February 3, 2017

That’s a wrap on Whole30 round No. 4!

It always feels bittersweet at the end of these little resets. Like, I’m so relieved I don’t have to carry emergency food in my purse and cook ALL OF THE THINGS, but also so concerned about what happens when I drop the reins and give myself some food freedom again. You have the best of intentions to ease in, go 90/10, but then one evening you wake up delirious face down in a plate of Texas Roadhouse cheese fries with ranch up to your elbows. It gets away from ya that fast.

Every time I do a Whole30, I get the same two comments/questions: 1) I don’t think I could do that, and 2) So, then what?

Let’s address these.

I don’t think I could do that.
Yes you could. You really could. People get their panties in a pinch over hearing the word “no” so many times consecutively, but simply put, the Whole30 guidelines specify you must eat real food for 30 days. This means no sugar, no alcohol, no grains, no legumes, no dairy, no carrageenan, sulfites or MSG, no corn and no processed crap. It means you’re going to be gettin down on a lot of eggs, meat, nuts, seeds, healthy fats, fruits and veggies. This is not a tragedy, folks. It’s really just doing what you should always do, which should be easy but isn’t at all because, it turns out, “food” in our country is in kind of a sad state.

The secret, I’ve found, is in the cooking. And let’s just say it, it is so much freaking cooking. If you can’t use a food processor or chop produce like a boss, you will not survive. If you don’t like meal planning, you will not survive. If you don’t like doing dishes, you will survive (it just blows). It’s kind of like having a newborn; You live on a 2-hour cycle. You prep the breakfast, eat the breakfast, clean up the breakfast, prep the lunch, eat the lunch, clean up the lunch, prep the dinner, eat the dinner, clean up the dinner. Go to bed, start over. The first time we did a Whole30, I took some epic missteps in regard to meal choices. Ones that haunt me to this day. I remember one night I just threw a pan with a pile of shit on it in the middle of the table, cried and told Hank not to eat it because I was pretty sure it was poison. It was a little Pinterest lie called “pizza with cauliflower crust” if memory serves.

But now, four rounds in, I’ve developed quite a repertoire. I can do things with a bag of almond meal, carton of eggs and pound of bananas that would make you– I don’t know where I was going with that … Anyway, this time, I checked the official Whole30 Cookbook out of the library. It was legit. Its pages were packed with game changers like Crispy Spicy Turkey over Cauli Rice and the like. We kicked things off on January 3 with the Curry Turkey Meatballs with Roasted Potatoes, Cauliflower and Kale, and we ended on February 1 with the same dinner. When you find something that works, hold onto it and serve it up as many times as you can for sanity’s sake.

The funny thing is, the food is really good. After your taste buds are revived from the 11-month waterboarding they’ve been served by sodium- and sugar-drenched deliciousness, a meager strawberry suddenly dances on your reinvigorated tongue. Roasted vegetables are inviting. Cashews are silky. It’s amazing what real food can do when you take all the crap away and just let it do it’s natural thang.

For whatever reason, I didn’t detox quite as hard this time around. In the past, it felt like I had the flu. I’d be exhausted, pale, sweaty and down with a throbbing headache for much of the first week. Am I pregnant? I thought. Maybe mono? Oh, no, that’s just me coming off sugar. Although, in my body’s defense, I’m pretty sure my consumption rivals that of the rats they use to test whether candy or heroine is more addictive. It’s up there. So my withdrawals might be magnified a bit. This time, however, I think my body was begging for the cleanse so hard it decided not to put up much a fight.

The benefits are the same, but a little different, every time we do this. This time, it was the sleep. I was like a bear in the Smokies. It was so good, I almost always got 8 hours. I’d get horizontal and my body just automatically signed off for the night. It was a beautiful thing. I felt clear-headed and alert and loved the sustained energy.

Another bonus, Hank and I discovered the best fruit flavor combination on earth. Stuff a red grape into the cavity of a red raspberry and just put my thank you card in the mail. I’ve often wondered if it’s really that good, or just that good because fruit is the equivalent of Ben & Jerry’s when you aren’t having sugar, but I think it’s really truly that good.

But that’s not to say it was all roses and smooth BMs. Here are three of my favorite journal entries from the journey …

Day 13 (Clearly in the anger phase)
I want to scream. I am doing all of this planning and cooking and shit and I asked my husband to do one thing – set out chicken breasts to thaw – and I get home, get all the shit chopped up and guess what? Frozen freaking chicken boobs. One thing! One thing!

(Sorry Hank.)

Day 18
I vomited in the sink. My body put up a stop sign to sweet potato, egg and avocado. There can be no more.

Day 19
We went to Matt’s to watch the playoff games. I thought I was prepared. I made Nom Nom Paleo wings and banana-coconut “cookies” and whipped coconut cream with strawberries. But it was no match for the smell of queso and enchiladas. Damn him! Damn him. We held strong though. This is a bitch.

So, then what?
Well, I’ll be the last person to tell you I have harnessed the true power of Whole30. I followed the blog Kale and Cigarettes throughout our journey, as the writer and his wife were going through their first round. He wrote a lot about the anger that comes with not necessarily knowing the end game. As in, what if I bought all these weird ingredients and cooked my ass off every day and turned down beautiful, glistening donuts for nothing? What if nothing changes? What if I don’t change? What if I just go back to my old ways and learn nothing? I brought this up to Hank the other night as we were driving back from a wedding.

“I feel so good,” I said.
“But, I feel like we need to figure out the long game here.”
“Like, I love the short-term benefits, but what changes am I really making based off the reset?”
“I need to find a way to carry some of the momentum over.”

I mean, the truth is I eat on autopilot. Like gross autopilot.

Mindful eating is a thing. A very real, very useful thing. And I can’t do it. I can’t. I recently sat in on a video shoot on the topic, and I tell ya, it made so much sense in theory. In between takes, I told the instructor, “I mean, I eat on autopilot. Or at least, I’m distracted. I’d assume that’s the same thing. I’m so concentrated on making dinner, and then the walls my girls are coloring on as I’m chopping, frying and roasting, and then on getting their plates made, and then on what they’re not eating and then on disciplining at the table and then on clearing it all and then starting the dishes, and then bath time. In the noise of that process, sometimes I can’t even remember if I ate, let alone gave much thought to how I was doing it.” He just nodded. Because I am not unique in this struggle and all I had to do was shut up, listen to everything he said, and observe a brief moment of gratitude before my meals.

It doesn’t help that things like chocolate-covered almonds with sea salt and long Johns just seem to jump from counters, cabinets and kids plates into my welcoming mouth hole. It’s that 30 seconds. The initial smell and sight. If I can get through that 30 seconds, I’m good. Think about how brief a taste of something is. Some things, not many, are worth it. There’s this new place in town everyone’s talking about that makes ice cream sandwiches with fresh-baked donuts for buns. I’m thinkin’ that’s worth it.

No matter how many times we do this and no matter how many times it’s happened before, it always amazes me how some people just have to salt your game. If you aren’t drinking, aren’t having dessert, aren’t giving yourself a pass, people just can’t stand not commenting on it. The pressure is so ridiculous. And then you feel like you have to justify what you’re buying, eating and using to make your own body go. If I’m shoving something down your pie hole against your will, please feel free to engage me. Otherwise …

So, here we are.

I haven’t really answered the second question because I guess the answer is I can’t really answer it. I guess what comes next is my best effort. Every time I adjust my diet and become more food aware, I learn something. I learn what my body feels like when I feed it shit, and what it feels like when I’m a clean machine.

We’re done for now and I lost a little bit of weight, got a lot of great sleep and found some great new recipes. But, of course, I’ll spend the next week analyzing how I could have done better. I could have exercised more, I could have relaxed on the dried fruit. But perfection is so boring.

If you ever try a Whole30, here are a few you don’t want to miss …

Slow Cooker Korean Grass Fed Short Ribs from Nom Nom Paleo

I had a friend who spoke of these ribs and I didn’t listen. Then, one day I did. And I hated myself for all the opportunities I’d missed with these succulent little suckers throughout the years. About 15 minutes of prep and 7-9 hours in a slowcooker stand between you and a full mouthgasm.

Gluten, Grain, and Garbage Free Chick-fil-A Nuggets from The Domestic Man

Saved me with the chicks.

Plantain Tortillas from Eat Your Beets

OK, SWYPO is a very real threat with Whole30. These were my regular appointment with my trousers. I love these tortillas as buns for a bison burger, as shells for carnitas and, when things get really hairy, with almond butter and sliced strawberries.

*Honorable mention to everything in the Whole30 Cookbook