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Exploring veganism

August 10, 2015


Vegan raspberry lime rickey cheesecake

Pizza crust

Zucchini & orange carpaccio with herbed almond cheese

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I’ve been dipping my toe in the vegan pond for a couple of months now.  It started out of pure curiosity.  My cousin was looking for someone to join her in trying out a 3-day vegan meal plan, and it sounded like an interesting challenge, so I jumped on board.  That was back in May, and although I enjoyed the challenge and the energy boost that came along with it, I wasn’t quite ready to commit.  For one thing, I got really sick shortly after completing the challenge, and I believe that part of that was my body going through a detox period.

In June, I bought a few vegan cookbooks and decided to give it a try again.  This time, though, I decided to follow Mark Bittman’s concept of being vegan before 6 (VB6).  Basically, you follow a strictly vegan diet (focusing on whole foods) until dinnertime, at which point you can consume lean meats and dairy.  This concept approaches veganism from a health perspective (with the added benefit of treading a little more lightly on the environment).  While I have no interest in trying to “recruit” new people to adopt a vegan lifestyle, Bittman’s concept and research into the health effects of a part-time vegan diet have been excellent tools to have in my back pocket when encouraging my family members to approach vegan cuisine with an open mind.  (Fair warning: if you come to my house, I’m probably going to feed you at least one vegan dish!)

And so far, I think people who have tried the vegan foods coming out of my kitchen (including me!) have been pleasantly surprised.  I do occasionally use substitutes, although when possible I prefer to make my own so I know exactly what’s going into them — and to save money, of course, because vegan substitutes can be incredibly expensive.

In addition to the cookbooks I’ve purchased over the past couple of months, I rely heavily on books from the library.  Some haven’t been so great, while others have become instant favorites that I know I’ll need to add to my cookbook collection.  The following books have been the most helpful and/or inspirational:

  • VB6, by Mark Bittman — outlines the concept and health/environmental benefits of a part-time vegan diet.  Favorite recipes from this book include homemade vegan mayonnaise, portabello mushroom bacon, and chicken with fennel salad (this book does contain a chapter of dinner recipes which include meat).
  • Healthy Happy Vegan Kitchen, by Kathy Patalsky — health-focused, colorful, West Coast-style recipes; includes a chapter of kid-friendly dishes.  Favorite recipes include easy tofu scramble, eggless salad sandwich, smoky tempeh wrap, and veggie-cashew cream cheese (this has become a staple in my house!).
  • The Homemade Vegan Pantry, by Miyoko Schinner — instructions for creating pantry staples and homemade substitutes, with everything from flax seed meringues to “unribs” to vegan oyster sauce.  Favorite recipes include oil-free melty cheddar, almond feta, well-crafted macaroni & cheese mix, and classic pancake & biscuit mix (works best for pancakes, in my experience).  There are so many great projects in this book that I’m eager to try, but it’s just been too hot for me to want to spend much time in the kitchen experimenting, so I’ve mostly just played around with the cheeses so far.  They take days to make, but the results are out-of-this-world delicious!
  • The Vegan Cookbook, by Adele McConnell — beautiful, creative vegan recipes, many with a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern influence; includes a few gluten-free, soy-free, and raw options.  Favorite recipes include zucchini & orange carpaccio with herbed almond cheese (pictured above), rice paper & nori rolls, and pan-fried sage & basil gnocchi.
  • Thug Kitchen, by the Thug Kitchen crew — creative, intensely flavorful, inexpensive recipes; if you can get over their profanity schtick, this is jam-packed full of amazing recipes (but really, the profanity wears thin pretty quickly).  Favorite recipes include fire-roasted salsa (another staple in my kitchen), spiced chickpea wraps with tahini dressing, roasted potato salad with fresh herbs (literally the best potato salad I’ve ever had), BBQ bean burritos with baked Spanish rice and grilled peach salsa, and roasted beer & lime cauliflower tacos.

I also draw a lot of inspiration from blogs like Boards & Knives and Minimalist Baker, as well as the magazine Vegetarian Times (which often features vegan recipes, but also has non-vegan recipes that are easy to adapt using soy milk or one of my homemade nut cheeses).  Although I haven’t given up meat completely (I still eat it about 3-4 times a week), I have cut out dairy almost completely, with the exception of pizza — making homemade cashew mozzarella or finding a good store-bought substitute is my next project!

Also, a shout-out to the few pre-packaged vegan foods that I’ve fallen in love with over the last couple of months:

  • Hilary’s Eat Well World’s Best Veggie Burger — I’ve also tried the root veggie burger and the black rice burger, but the original is the best.  Also, yay for a product that’s made right here in my town using locally-sourced ingredients!!
  • Mean Vegan Saucy Jack Tamales — Filled with pulled jackfruit and a vegan queso, these are probably the most amazing things I’ve ever eaten in my life.  No lie.  They’re kind of expensive, and unfortunately only available in the Kansas City area, but seriously so, so good.  The company also makes BBQ pulled jackfruit (looks kind of like pulled pork), but I haven’t gotten around to trying that yet.
  • Endangered Species Chocolate — Not all of their products are vegan, but all of the ones that are have a nice fat label on the front of the packaging — no scanning of ingredients list necessary! I love their almond spread with cocoa (a nice alternative to Nutella, which is made with milk), and the lavender mint creme filled dark chocolate bar is the key to my heart.  Good price (in fact, discovered the almond spread after almost having a coronary over the price of Justin’s nut butters), supports sustainable farming practices, and the company donates 10% of profits to animal & environmental preservation causes.  Also, cute animal photos on packaging!  Win-win-win.
  • So Delicious Soy Milk Neapolitan Frozen Dessert — True story: as a small child, I was forbidden by my doctor to consume dairy because it gave me such extreme ear infections.  Dr. No-Cheese, as I called him.  Do you know how devastating it is to tell a 3-year old she can’t have ice cream or cheese anymore?  To appease me, my parents would occasionally buy me a pint of Tofutti tofu ice cream (in either chocolate or vanilla raspberry swirl).  It was delicious, but good luck finding it nowadays!  Most non-dairy ice cream on the market is made from an almond, cashew, or coconut base.  I’m sure there are some people who like those, but I’m not one of them.  They all have a weird nutty sweetness to them that I find off-putting.  Also, they’re insanely expensive ($6 for a pint? no).  Then one day I discovered this soy-based ice cream (an entire quart for under 5 bucks!!), and it’s so creamy and delicious — especially the chocolate part, which instantly transported me back to my Tofutti-loving childhood.
  • GoodBelly Probiotic Juice Drink — So I mentioned at the top of this post the detox my body went through when I first started this journey.  This juice has really helped me to restore balance to my gut.  Fair warning: it gets a little grainy toward the end of the carton no matter how well you shake it, and the flavor of the probiotics takes a little getting used to.  My favorite flavor is the Cranberry Watermelon, but the Pomegranate Blackberry is really good too.
  • Tres Latin Foods Black Bean & Sweet Corn Pupusas — Another expensive little treat that I love but don’t buy often.  They also make a kale & pinto bean pupusa that I haven’t tried yet (as well as several non-vegan flavors).  Gluten-free, non-GMO, and made in nearby Colorado.  All good things!
  • Gardein Chipotle Lime Crispy Chick’n Fingers — I started buying these because Target had a 25% off discount offer on the Cartwheel app.  They’re pretty good to add a little extra protein and substance to a wrap filled with vegetables.  I’ve also tried the Mandarin orange crispy chick’n, but I wasn’t a big fan of that.  Gardein products seem to come very highly recommended by other vegans/vegetarians, but so far I haven’t really seen the need to incorporate them into my meals (since I do still eat meat at dinner sometimes).

I’m enjoying this journey and the opportunities to discover new foods and get creative with them in the kitchen.  Hopefully as I play around, I’ll be able to share a few tips and recipes here.  If anybody has any questions, I’m happy to try to answer them!  🙂

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Christine permalink
    August 10, 2015 7:23 pm

    I have always loved your food pictures on IG (as well as your other pictures too) so I have been so curious what you were up to with the vegan dishes. I never heard of VB6 and it sounds very interesting. Is it hard to stick to or try to follow? I’d love to eat more healthy but so far not enough to ever stick to anything. Your food pictures of your vegan dishes are really beautiful too.

    • whitney marie permalink*
      August 10, 2015 7:59 pm

      Thanks so much!! 🙂 It’s hard for me to say how difficult/easy it is to follow vb6. Obviously it’s going to be easier for some people. It definitely takes commitment, and it’s easier if you take a day to plan/prep for the week ahead. I like to make a vegan side dish with our dinner that will give me leftovers I can eat for lunch the next day, or to make a big salad (like the eggless salad) that will keep in the fridge for a few days. I also like to keep a few convenience things in the freezer for lazy days (veggie burgers, pupusas, etc). When the weather cools off, I’m going to stock my freezer with some homemade vegan soups. Breakfast has been pretty easy because I usually just have cereal with sliced banana and soy milk, and then experiment with more interesting breakfasts on the weekend. Overall I would say that my interest/curiosity in trying new vegan recipes has helped me to stay committed — but there have definitely been a few times I’ve broken the rules! 🙂

      • Christine permalink
        August 11, 2015 12:04 pm

        Thanks! I knew that was a tricky question to answer but didn’t know how else to ask. I don’t know if it is for me but it sounds like if I ever did want to try it that I’d need to be very plan-full. I think I’d be more likely to give up meat and I do tend to eat a lot of meatless dinner if my husband is not home or I am out to eat. I hope I am not being too nosy but is there one food that is really hard to try to pass on?

      • whitney marie permalink*
        August 11, 2015 12:17 pm

        Haha you’re not being nosy at all! It’s really hard to pass on pizza. And sometimes, especially when I’m not feeling well, I just give into whatever craving I have (lately that’s been the chicken parm sandwich from a local deli). But for the most part, if I’m really craving something non-vegan, I just wait until dinner and eat it then. 🙂

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