Sunday, September 4, 2011

Super Easy Group Hummus & My First Potluck

I've been meaning to go to a vegan potluck for a while now. Yesterday I noticed that there was a potluck not too far from where I live happening today from the Montclair Vegans meetup group. I had no idea what to bring on such short notice... I've been eating so many prepackaged and frozen foods lately that I had little on hand. I did have a whole bunch of chickpeas, though. I decided to buy some chips and try my hand at homemade hummus.

I'm so glad I did! Everyone loved the dish, and they are some awesome people who make some good food themselves. I will definitely be trying to attend more of their meetups, and help them raise money by buying a whole bunch of sugary foods at their upcoming bake sale. (I have a sugar addiction, which I have recently decided I am no longer going to try to subdue.)

Anyway, if you ever happen to be in the same situation as me, where you have to contribute a dish for a whole bunch of people on short notice, try this easy and crowd-pleasing recipe. All the ingredients are available at mainstream stores, and this recipe easily serves about 16 people.

• 4 cans of chickpeas
• 8 cloves of garlic (less if you don't like garlic, more if you want garlic hummus)
• 2 teaspoons of salt
• 4 tablespoons of sesame oil (any oil will do, but you won't get the traditional tahini/sesame flavor)
• 4 teaspoons yellow mustard (or to taste)
• 4 teaspoons of lime or lemon juice (or to taste)
• 1 + 1/2 teaspoons of chili powder (or to taste)
• 1 teaspoon black pepper (or to taste)
• paprika for garnish (optional)

Reserve the liquid from the chickpeas. Mix all ingredients in a food processor. (You may want to put in the ingredients in small batches to make sure everything is mixed well.) The hummus will probably be dry and sticky, so add a little bit of cooking liquid at a time until it reaches your desired consistency... probably not more than a few tablespoons for the texture you would commonly find. Serve chilled or at room temperature, with chips or bread.

If anyone reading this has other potluck recipes, I would love to hear them. I don't want to get into a routine of bringing hummus to every gathering I attend!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Feel-Good Vegan Foods for When You're Sick

A few days ago, I actually really wanted to start blogging every day. But I started getting flu symptoms on Monday. I still don't know where they came from, but I'm feeling better today. I guess I did have a good rest, watching some documentaries and sleeping for hours at a time during the day. I didn't get sick when I ate, but I didn't have much of an appetite either (much less any energy to prepare food).

I've decided, what better time to write an entry giving my opinion about what foods make a sick person feel best?

DRINKS: Plain, black tea (preferably decaffeinated); juices high in Vitamin C for the immune system; carbonated water for stomach problems; and just plain water if you can't stomach anything else. (No matter what you have, hydration is always important. Dehydration is always a risk and drinking lots of fluids can really speed up your recovery.)

FOOD: Carbs are the best thing for an over-stressed body, because they are used for immediate energy. That's why you crave carbs when you feel overwhelmed. At the same time, sneaking in some vegetables and fruits for nutrients is also helpful.

Toast: The mainstay of sick people. Adding margarine is probably not the best thing. Peanut butter would be better, or possibly a natural fruit spread.

Vegetable soup: Some vegans will suggest mock chicken soup for when you're sick; why? I have always found both real and fake meats to be too heavy for me when I'm not feeling good. Vegetables, on the other hand, are light and packed with nutrients. A nice tomato broth and any vegetables on hand (preferably made by someone else you have to take care of you) will do the trick. If you're alone, canned soup is easier than anything.

Light snacks: I enjoy eating rice cakes and other light snacks (basically whatever low-calorie foods I have on hand).

Okay, so I guess my illness diet is very simple and I don't have TOO much experience. If anyone has any better ideas, let me know!

If you get hungry, you should definitely eat one of the above foods or something equally healthy and light. But if you're not hungry at all, you should just make sure you're drinking plenty of fluids. (And if it continues for a couple days, see a doctor!)

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Recent Food Endeavors: Veggie Mac & Chreese, Creamy Raspberry-Banana Smoothie

I have been making a serious effort to eat healthier lately... to achieve all of my goals, really. Maybe it was turning 21, or the freedom of summer coming to a close, or working a temporary job--I don't know. But I've been trying new, cheap and easy ways to enjoy fruits and vegetables.

The very first night, I decided to slip some frozen vegetables into one of my favorite meals, Macaroni and Chreese! It's a very easy recipe!

Vegetable Mac & Chreese
(serves 2 as a full meal)

1 box macaroni and chreese
1/2 cup soy milk for chreese recipe
1 bag steam-in-a-bag vegetables
Extra nutritional yeast and soy milk to taste

1.) Cook macaroni and chreese as directed.
2.) Steam vegetables in the bag as directed.
3.) Add in more nooch' and soy milk as needed to create extra sauce.

Then the other day, I cut up and froze two bananas since I've been hearing such good things about that--smoothies and banana ice "cream." I'm still hoping to try the latter. Anyway, I finally dug out my little engine-that-could food processor after several months. (There will be a lot more [food processing] where this came from.) I was planning on doing a blueberry-banana smoothie until we went to a local farm for fruit. The only dessert fruit they had was raspberries. I decided that would do just as well--it would just be a pink smoothie rather than blue. It turned out veryyy tasty, creamy and refreshing. Another simpleton recipe...

Creamy Raspberry-Banana Smoothie
(serves 2 comfortably)

2 bananas, chopped and frozen
1 cup whole, farm-fresh raspberries
couple splashes of soy milk

1.) Blend together the raspberries and bananas.
2.) Add soy milk gradually, tasting to achieve desired creaminess.

Sorry I don't have photos! I really need to get more into the habit of food photography. I'm not great at it, but it can be fun and rewarding when people say, "Your cooking looks so good!"

Friday, August 19, 2011

Follow Your Values, But Don't Be a Martyr: How to Move Toward Fresh and Healthy in Baby Steps

Six months ago when I started this blog (and quickly lost steam), I wanted to transform all of my cooking and eating habits at once. My diet had already been established as vegan, but I was eating tons of junk food and I was almost always too lazy to cook. I would only occasionally buy fresh produce, but it would sit in the fridge or on the counter and stare at me for weeks until it was just too rotten to use.

In hindsight, I realize that one of the reasons I made so little improvement is that I wanted to do everything. I had my mind made up that I wouldn't be satisfied until my diet was 100% pure vegan, whole foods, organic, carbon-neutral, low-calorie, and delicious. What was I thinking?! I have since made very slow, minor improvements and am very pleased with myself--but not complacent. I know that I have a lot to learn and improve, but now it has become an adventure.

Before I say anything else, I just want to say that I was also going through a depression. Just in case this resonates with anyone else, I want to mention it. For a while, I didn't care at all about what I ate or how healthy I was. This can be dangerous for anyone, but especially for a vegan. I won't go into the details, but luckily I got snapped out of it one day when I saw how terrible I looked on top of how hopeless I felt. I went to the doctor and it turned out I had a big Vitamin D deficiency. I've been taking a supplement and trying to get more sunlight (I'm quite the indoor person). I have been feeling much better. I don't doubt that the deficiency was at least a partial contributor to my low spirits.

By the way, I just want to give a shout-out to Marisa of Vegan at Heart, who not only took the time to read a gigantic rant about how much I hated my life at the time, but also gave me sage advice and was kind enough to follow up too.

Anyway, enough with this talk of my troubles. I want to talk about how I got over my perfectionism and have been slowly incorporating vegetables into my diet. I've had to compromise on some preferences, but I've been healthier. More importantly, now that I've given myself permission not to do everything, I've actually been doing a lot more. Here are the main things I've learned about staying healthy and eating fresher:

1.) Eat fortified foods, especially soy milk (or other nondairy milk) and nutritional yeast. If you don't, you will almost certainly need to take supplements. It would be very foolish to avoid both, because many deficiencies (even minor ones) have no symptoms but can lead to irreversible, long-term damage. Many nutrients are absorbed better through food, and I personally find fortified foods simpler than supplements.

2.) Don't buy fresh if you're not ready for it. If you have ever bought a week's worth of fresh produce and had it rot away like I have, you shouldn't be buying fresh produce. If that's the only produce you buy, you're setting yourself up for failure. Buy frozen. Frozen vegetables tend to hold their flavor and nutrients (unlike canned), and they last a very long time. That gives you leeway to work out the courage and motivation to use them. When you learn to cook with produce regularly, you can gradually buy less frozen and more fresh (if you like).

3.) Make simple recipes the bulk of your to-make list. I don't know about everyone else, but my expectations of myself are far too high. Even though I have no experience in complicated cooking and very little experience in simple cooking, I expect to be able to do anything. I imagine myself waking up tomorrow and baking a four-course breakfast that is so good it will turn my entire family vegan. But I know homemade pancakes are a more appropriate challenge for my skill level. Recently, when I look through food blogs and websites, I have only been bookmarking the ones I think I can make. Of course, sometimes I save a really good-looking but insanely difficult recipe. But I know that it's going to remain a dream for a while. Expecting too much of yourself can really sap your motivation to do even small things, when those expectations are not met and you disappoint yourself.

4.) PLAN AHEAD. This should probably be higher up on the list. It is of the utmost importance that you plan your meals before you make them. Ideally, you should have everything planned out before you go shopping. But you can also make plans based on what you already have in your house. Design (or look up) some healthy, tasty recipes, and make your list. Then follow it. This way, you won't waste money (and sabotage yourself) by snacking all day or eating only frozen dinners because you can never figure out what to make. Planning can be annoying, but find five minutes of emptiness in your day and use it to plan. That's really all you need!

5.) Don't avoid processed or packaged foods if you are trying to achieve other food goals at the same time. I tried to give up processed and packaged foods when I wasn't even used to eating vegetables regularly. I failed miserably. Allow yourself to eat packaged hot and cold cereals, boxed foods, and jars of sauces and condiments. Don't rely on these items completely, but give yourself a break if you can't cook everything all the time. It's better to eat healthy foods that may not be 100% fresh, than to give up on your whole plan because the giant leap is too difficult to take. You can always wean yourself off processed foods later, when you're ready.

6.) Incorporate vegetables into your favorite foods, then gradually make the vegetables central. Even when I was doing almost no cooking, I loved making pizza from premade dough and quesadillas from packaged tortillas. I started out with Daiya cheese as the topping and a little bit of greens for garnish. Now I eat everything with kale, mushrooms, peppers, and whatever vegetables I find. I still like the Daiya, but only in small amounts now. It's also easy to do this with pasta dishes, and one day maybe you can replace the pasta with spaghetti squash or shredded zucchini if you're ready! Finally, this works well with mock meat sandwiches and burgers. You can top them with more and more vegetables, and eventually make it your goal to replace the fake meat with even more vegetables (or a fresh vegetable patty). Using mushrooms instead of fake meat works in most cases, and remember that tofu and tempeh are the least processed and healthiest foods commonly used as meat analogues.

Well, that's just my own experience so far and I'm still learning. I'm not sure how common my struggles are, but I thought I'd put it out there just in case. Even if most vegans don't have these issues, maybe it would help someone who has been struggling to make the transition to being vegan. Not everyone leaps head first into a new diet with no regard for their health like I did!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Lightly Seasoned Spinach, Mushroom & Tofu Scramble

Most tofu scramble recipes require a handful of spices, both to give the tofu flavor and to make it yellow. Some people, myself included, may prefer a more natural-tasting tofu scramble. I was inspired by the "Vegan Popeye" tofu scramble from the Rutherford Pancake House in Rutherford, NJ, whose vegan menu items are worth checking out if you're in the area.

• 1 (14 oz.) package of firm tofu, crumbled
• 1 cup of cooked, chopped spinach
• 3-5 button mushrooms, roughly chopped
• 2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
• 1 tablespoon of canola oil
• Pinch nutritional yeast, onion powder, salt, and pepper, if desired

HINT: Make sure everything is chopped and ready before you begin cooking! I have made the mistake of chopping as I go, which will cause mayhem unless you are some kind of pan-frying superhero.

1.) Heat up the oil in a pan, then add the garlic. Cook 1-2 minutes or until brown. Do not overcook; it will make your dish bitter.

2.) Add the chopped mushrooms and cook a minute or two longer or until browned, giving it a few good stirs to make sure each piece cooks equally.

3.) Add the crumbled tofu and stir well. Cook 2-3 minutes. If the spinach is stuck together, use a fork to separate it before adding it to the pan.

4.) Add the spinach, and make sure it is divided evenly throughout the tofu. Sprinkle in the nutritional yeast, onion powder, salt, and pepper to taste. If you want your dish to look yellow and you like nutritional yeast, add more gradually, stirring each time until it reaches your desired color.

5.) Cook until the tofu is lightly browned or reaches your desired consistency. Make sure to keep stirring and scraping from the sides so that it cooks evenly.

I find this very tasty, and it is also healthy and fully customizable. If you do make it, send me the photos. I love drooling over good vegan food photos!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Amanda's Easy, Delicious Soup & Salad Pasta!

This is an easy pasta dish I discovered yesterday, perfect for a pantry sweep. I made up the clever title "Soup & Salad Pasta" because the sauce is made up of greens and soup. This is more of a guide than a recipe, so use your own judgment and experiment with different kinds!

• 1/2 package (or 1/2 lb.) pasta [I used white Rigatoni]
• 1/2 cup greens, or as desired, torn into small pieces [I used kale]
• 1/2 cup cream soup or flavorful broth, or as desired [I used Imagine brand Creamy Butternut Squash Soup]
• Toppings or seasonings, as desired

1.) Cook the pasta al-dente, as instructed on the box. Rinse with cold water when finished, then return it to the pot.

2.) Pour the soup on first, then the greens, then any other seasonings you wish to use. Mix very well.

3.) Turn the stove back on medium, stirring frequently. The soup should thicken into more of a sauce. If it doesn't thicken within 5 minutes, add a SMALL amount of thickener such as flour or cornstarch. Cook until heated up, and serve.

I am hoping to start eating and living healthier this summer. (My break is going to start in a week, after I complete my final exams.) Stay tuned for more adventures!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Project Food Budget: Week 7, Getting Healthy

I haven't been eating too much this week because I wasn't feeling good. But really, that's all the more reason to eat balanced meals every day. This week, I'm going to make a shopping list for nutrients and weight loss. I haven't run out of any staples, so I decided that I'm going to buy $15 worth of vegetables and a box of $4 flax seed cereal. Then I'm going to go through some awesome vegan blogs, cookbooks, and recipe sites, and make the healthiest, easiest meals I can find.

I've got Veganomicon and a couple of whole foods cookbooks, as well as tons of pretty good recipe blogs favorited.

There's not much I can say for this past week, but I'll try to post another update before next Thursday.

Other participating blogs:
Reluctant Vegetarian
Maria Marz
Veggie Converter
Ashley's Dairy Free Cooking Blog
Motor City Girl In the Steel City
Veggie Burgher
Baked Beans and Broccoli...Vegetarian Budgeting
Sweet Rehab
The Happy Cactus
The Vegetarian Salmon
Test Kitchen Tuesday
Newly Vegan
Always Sick and Tired
Veggie on the Cheap
MeloMeals: Vegan For $3.33 A Day

Friday, February 18, 2011

Project Food Budget: Week 6, Free Week!

Okay, late again. Next week I'll write my entry when I go to school. I'm kind of in the process of overhauling my life, so I've gotta get back into the swing of things.

This week, I didn't have to buy anything! Everyone should try to do this one week. I bet everyone can plan a week's worth of meals one Sunday (or Thursday) using things you already have on hand.

I didn't make anything fancy this week, but I just mixed together what I had on hand: frozen vegetables; some fruit; rice; pasta; bread; and plenty of condiments, sauces and spreads, including my leftover peanut sauce and garlic sauce.

It made for some pretty good meals. Some meals I just ate a PB&J bagel or a bowl of garlic rice. Other days I made a whole pasta dish with veggies and sauce. There are also a lot of good sandwich options in there. It all depended on my mood. But it was really a decent menu and I didn't have to spend anything. So clean out your pantry!

I'm sure these people are doing better than I am!
Reluctant Vegetarian
Maria Marz
Veggie Converter
Ashley's Dairy Free Cooking Blog
Motor City Girl In the Steel City
Veggie Burgher
Baked Beans and Broccoli...Vegetarian Budgeting
Sweet Rehab
The Happy Cactus
The Vegetarian Salmon
Test Kitchen Tuesday
Newly Vegan
Always Sick and Tired
Veggie on the Cheap
MeloMeals: Vegan For $3.33 A Day

Friday, February 11, 2011

Project Food Budget: Week 5, Better Late Than Never?

Well, I'm about a day late for this blog post, and it's not going to be a very good one. I'm so busy lately.

Anyway, my goal is $20 and I spent $26 today! Pretty good. I've been eating: bagels with Earth Balance or peanut butter and jelly; Subway sandwiches (okay, that added $10); Smart dogs; and some odd snacks and frozen meals I had on hand.

Today, Dave and I picked out some new recipes and bought ingredients. He made some (Daiya) cheesy garlic bread, and I made broccoli and garlic sauce from VegWeb. It was pretty good, but a little too spicy, and that's with half as much garlic as the recipe suggested. Then we made homemade peanut butter cups with semisweet chocolate chips and natural peanut butter. Yuuummm. I know those things don't go together, but it's what we were craving.

Some other things we wanted to try are Mexican rice, cheesy potato bake, spring rolls, cinnamon rolls, and tofu scramble. I want to replicate the Vegan Popeye (spinach and mushroom) from the Rutherford Pancake House... and we really wanted some kind of creamy potato soup recipe, but I couldn't find one.

Tomorrow, after my Saturday morning class (UGH), we're off to Asbury Park for the weekend to see the Bouncing Souls tomorrow night. I'm thinking Subway sandwiches for the train ride, and then I have to get a vegan sandwich from the Twisted Tree Cafe and a triple decker, deep-fried PB&J from the pub. It just comes with the territory. So that might set back my budget a bit.

My goal for next week is to write a real entry, on time!

Other budgeteers:
Reluctant Vegetarian
Maria Marz
Veggie Converter
Ashley's Dairy Free Cooking Blog
Beauty, Fitness, and Health...Oh My!
Motor City Girl In the Steel City
Veggie Burgher
Baked Beans and Broccoli...Vegetarian Budgeting
Sweet Rehab
The Happy Cactus
The Vegetarian Salmon
Test Kitchen Tuesday
Newly Vegan
Always Sick and Tired
Veggie on the Cheap

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Project Food Budget: Week 4, Major Slacking

Well, my eating healthier and cooking more goals were not achieved. I would probably have tried harder if it were not for school starting up again. I happened to get a terrible schedule that couldn't be avoided: 3 night classes (3 hours each!), one day time class twice a week, and a 3-hour Saturday morning class! So between doing homework, staying up late, and spending so much time on campus... I haven't had much time to think about eating right, much less actually do it.

The good news is that I'll be under budget this week. When I "cooked," I only ate my famous lazy pasta dishes... all I needed was my leftover peanut sauce, and the pasta, marinara sauce, and nutritional yeast that I already had. Today, I was desperate enough to buy a footlong Veggie Delite from Subway ($5). If I go shopping tomorrow or this weekend, which I hopefully will, it will only be for some fresh produce for recipes, not totaling more than another $5. That's $10 less than, or half of, my $20 budget. Awesome!

Now, I know the lack of time is just an excuse. There are lots of blogs, websites and books out there devoted to telling someone how to live who has a low budget and little time. And I already know that I have plenty of supplies on hand to make sandwiches or wraps... besides that, I can make anything that tastes good cold, pack it in my old insulated lunchbox, and be set for the day.

* Read and utilize information on fast, low budget meals.
* Buy nothing but fresh produce, whatever I have to do.
* Do one yoga video from YouTube every day. (Unrelated, but I'm getting out of shape.)

We'll see what happens. Here are the other participants this week:
Reluctant Vegetarian
Maria Marz
Veggie Converter
Ashley's Dairy Free Cooking Blog
Beauty, Fitness, and Health...Oh My!
Motor City Girl In the Steel City
Veggie Burgher
Baked Beans and Broccoli...Vegetarian Budgeting
Sweet Rehab
The Happy Cactus
The Vegetarian Salmon
Test Kitchen Tuesday
Newly Vegan
Always Sick and Tired

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Vegetarians Who Hate Vegetables, Help Is Here!

I have a guilty pleasure for watching The Rachael Ray Show, but sometimes it pans out. Last week, I learned about classifications based on taste buds. One group of people, called supertasters, naturally hates bitter tasting foods like vegetables. We simply have more taste buds, so we are more sensitive to all kinds of tastes. One young audience member had a diet just like my old, omnivorous one: white pasta with butter and cheese, and chicken nuggets. About a quarter of the population has this issue. That's a lot, and there is no reason to think such people are less likely to be vegan. After all, not hating vegetables is not usually a primary reason for veganism.

This brings us to a unique challenge: While everyone should consume vegetables for a long, healthy life, vegans need them more. Without bitter vegetables and other whole foods, we can fall short of nutritional needs. Besides, what is left, besides whole grains and fruits, are unhealthy processed foods and meat/dairy substitutes. This can also be a disaster socially, since well-meaning omnivores inevitably think of salad and roasted vegetables when they hear "vegan." For a supertaster, you can be faced with the painful dilemma of either turning down a sincere attempt at catering to you, or suffering through a disgustingly bitter plate of food. You want to learn to work around that.

I have not tested myself scientifically, but supposedly all you have to do is dye your tongue with blue food coloring. The more blue you see on your tongue, the fewer taste buds you have. If barely any of your tongue is stained, that means you are a supertaster. But you really don't need any test. If foods that others enjoy have seemed too bitter, sweet, salty, or sour to you for your whole life, then you probably are a supertaster.*

Fortunately, there are ways to ease yourself into healthy eating. They are not painful and they will not break your budget! Ultimately eating more vegetables will make you healthier, save you money, and make your life easier, so it's worth the effort. The key is not to force it, and to make sure that eating is pleasurable.

  • Start with what you already like, and build onto it. Adding kale or spinach to a favorite vegetable soup will hardly be noticeable. But after a few helpings, you might be able to tolerate it on pizza. And someday you might be able to eat it steamed with nothing but garlic and oil to flavor it! The idea is that 10-15 exposures will get you accustomed to a food. Looking up yummy photos of the food can't hurt either.

  • Use a little spice. If you have favorite spices, use them to their full power. Otherwise, look up recipes to get used to common flavor combinations and see which you like most. You can also try healthy condiments like nutritional yeast or natural ketchup and mustard. Apparently, salt is a good way to leech out bitterness. It is also easily available and often iodized, which is great news for low budget vegans. But use salt sparingly because it is far from a health food.

  • Eat with someone who loves vegetables in all forms. I learned in a developmental psychology class that children will typically be begging to try a food if they watch you enjoying it on several occasions without pressuring them. I say, let's apply that to ourselves and watch people enjoy vegetables. In nature, we avoid bitter foods because they might be toxic. But if your friend eats broccoli five times and is still thriving, you're probably okay to try it, right?

  • Set some goals. It might help you if you choose one particularly beneficial vegetable at a time to incorporate into your diet. That way, you can experiment with it in various foods, and you will not feel overwhelmed. If you fail, try, try again. Seeing as these foods prevent cancer, in some ways it really is a life or death situation.

  • If all else fails, deceive yourself. Kale in your soup shouldn't bother you, but if it does, you might have to trick yourself. It's very important to get your vegetables in somehow, even if you hate them. So experiment with deceivingly nutritious desserts, toss a small part vegetable into a fruit smoothie, or throw a vegetable for good measure into pretty much anything you're blending up.

I myself am only in the first steps of this journey. I have been eating progressively more vegetables since becoming vegetarian 6 years ago, but I still gag when I eat most of them not covered in sauce. Now that I know it comes from my taste buds though, I am not beating myself up (or my mother) over it so much anymore. Hopefully I can try some of these experiments myself and report back.

*Notes on tastebuds: The four aforementioned tastes, and supposedly "umami" or MSG, are the only ones affected by taste buds. Any others, more rightfully dubbed "flavors," are purely based on the textures and/or smells of the food. Sensation of smell (and thus flavor) does decline with age, but taste usually does not.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Project Food Budget: Week 3, Needs Improvement

I am being very lazy. I ate more convenient, not-so-nutritious foods this week. At least I did eat mostly what was in the house, but I bought unnecessary foods when I went shopping.

My meals included: Amy's Asian Noodle Stir-Fry; more Shells and Chreese with Imagine Creamy Tomato soup; whole grain pasta with marinara sauce and nutritional yeast; pasta with leftover peanut sauce; a premade avacado "chicken" (tofu) wrap; and these brownies.

Budget Goal: $20
Actual: $17
Shopping: Amy's Asian Noodle Stir-Fry; Amy's Soy Baked Ziti Bowl; Shells and Chreese; avacado "chicken" wrap

Again I have stayed under my budget but I'm getting very little for my money. It's just so hard being back in school and worrying about things, to avoid the temptation of convenience. But I have no excuse. I may not need many things now that my pantry is full, but as these foods run out I will be upset with myself that I have no money.

I'm not making specific goals for next week because that hasn't been helping me. I'm just going to say that I want to eat healthier, cook more, and try to spend money only on whole foods.

How is it going with my fellow Project: Food Budget participants?
Reluctant Vegetarian
Maria Marz
Veggie Converter
Ashley's Dairy Free Cooking Blog
Beauty, Fitness, and Health...Oh My!
Motor City Girl In the Steel City
Veggie Burgher
Baked Beans and Broccoli...Vegetarian Budgeting
Sweet Rehab
The Happy Cactus
The Vegetarian Salmon
Test Kitchen Tuesday

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Classic Lunch: Macaroni and "Chreese" with Tomato Soup!

Well, I don't know how many other people used to love putting tomato soup in their macaroni and cheese. I was addicted ever since my mom introduced it to me when I was very young! I've been wanting to try a vegan version.

I had one box of Shells and Chreese left, and I also had a carton of Imagine Tomato Soup. I'm sure you can make your own tomato soup if you want, and although I haven't tried it, someone claims to have developed a homemade alternative to chreese.

I cooked the mac and chreese according to the directions. Then during the very last step, while it was thickening, I added just enough tomato soup to make everything appear red-orange. (I put in a little at a time and tasted a shell or two.)

It came out perfect! Maybe not exactly how I remembered Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and Campbell's Soup... but pretty great. And knowing that it's so much healthier and doesn't harm animals helps a lot.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Project Food Budget: Week 2, Splurging on Specialty Vegan Foods

This week, I was bad and I didn’t eat a lot. My live-in boyfriend Dave is in the hospital, and he’s okay, but since I was only cooking for myself I ate poorly. I ate boxed macaroni and chreese, a frozen burrito, frozen waffles with ice cream, and several peanut butter and Ricemellow Crème sandwiches. Those foods are all so addicting and simple… it’s hard to resist the temptation.

At least I did make one healthy food yesterday, the whole wheat peanut spaghetti I posted about. I had a lot of time on my hands and I was craving peanut sauce, so that gave me the motivation. Hopefully next week I can cook two healthy meals! Or seven.

Shopping List: Soy milk; Ricemellow Crème; 2 boxes of macaroni and chreese; Daiya mozzarella-style shreds

Budget reminder: $20

Estimated Cost: $20… It’s good that it meets my budget goals, but bad because I am only buying 5 items. I could get several pounds of vegetables for the same price.

I consider soy milk to be a staple. But I will replace the other items for when I get a craving, not for eating regularly, since they won’t go bad for a while.

Goals for next week:
* Meal ideas: Roasted vegetable pizza; simple stir-fry; vegetable soup; butternut squash pasta.
* Plan and cook more nutritious meals.
* Get Dave to eat healthy, vegan meals and like it.
* Actually use the cheap ingredients I already have.

See how the other participants are faring:
Reluctant Vegetarian
Maria Marz
Veggie Converter
Ashley's Dairy Free Cooking Blog
Beauty, Fitness, and Health...Oh My!
Motor City Girl In the Steel City
Veggie Burgher
Baked Beans and Broccoli...Vegetarian Budgeting
Sweet Rehab
The Happy Cactus
The Vegetarian Salmon

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Easiest Pasta with Peanut Sauce!

I guess I'm going to start posting recipes now. I was really bored with what I was eating, so I decided to start trying out new things with what's in my kitchen. I really had a craving for peanut sauce, but I didn't have too many important ingredients. So I found this simple Thai Peanut Sauce recipe and adapted it based on what I had already and how it came out. The end result was delicious! But you can change it as you see fit.

1/3 cup peanut butter
3 tbsp. water
2 1/2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. apple sauce (I used tropical fruit sauce!)
1 tbsp. minced ginger (or 1/2 tbsp. ground ginger)
1/2 tsp. brown sugar
1 clove minced garlic (or 1/2 tsp. garlic powder)
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
Pasta of your choice (I used one serving size of spaghetti)

Boil water for your pasta, and cook according to directions. While it's cooking, mix all of the other ingredients well in a bowl. Drain the pasta, but reserve a small amount of water if the sauce seems too thick. Return the pasta to the pot and add the peanut sauce. Mix well and serve!

Let me know if you have any (easy!) changes to make to it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Project Food Budget: Week 1, The Food Inventory

Starting this week, I am going to be participating in “Project: Food Budget.” I’ve been wanting to make a budget and save money on food for a while, so I thought it would be a good idea to join some other blogs in a group effort.

I am only cooking for one other person, so I am making my weekly budget $20. It might be a bit ambitious, but I think it’s reasonable. I do most of my shopping at Pathmark and ShopRite, though I sometimes go to the health food store to splurge on specialty vegan ingredients like Daiya cheese.

This week, I decided to do a food inventory. I went through our refrigerator, freezer, and cupboards, and I found 82 ingredients! Here we have been complaining that there is nothing to eat, but we could probably live off this food for a month. I also put everything into categories (condiments, vegetables, etc.) so I can easily create meal ideas.

But the Can-Can Sale is going on at ShopRite! I decided to stock up. I had run out of some basic ingredients, and there are some snacks and ingredients we would like to make our favorite recipes. Other than that, I am going to start creating meals from what I already have.

Total food cost this week: $40

Planned foods this week: veggie quesadillas; veggie pizza; rice pilaf… other simple meals.

Some new goals for this challenge:
* Use the food I have before it expires.
* Eat different meals each week.
* Start looking for coupons, deals and sales.
* Buy a lot more fruits, veggies, and dried beans/grains; and a lot fewer processed foods.

Here are the other blogs involved:
Reluctant Vegetarian
Maria Marz
Veggie Converter
Low Budge Veg
Ashley's Dairy Free Cooking Blog
Beauty, Fitness, and Health...Oh My!
Motor City Girl In the Steel City
Veggie Burgher
Baked Beans and Broccoli...Vegetarian Budgeting
Sweet Rehab

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Getting Involved: Top 5 Types of Vegetarian Activism

No matter what reason you go vegetarian-to help animals, the environment, or your own health-you probably feel that the world would be a better place if more people went vegetarian. Think of just the health care costs our country could save if everyone stopped eating red meat!

Most people are afraid of advocating lifestyle changes because they don’t want to feel like they are “preaching” or infringing on someone’s rights to live how they want. One way to refute that is to remember that people don’t have the right to destruction, such as murder, rape, or even in some cases throwing away something that can be recycled. So we do have a case for converting meat-eaters. But these tips are meant to help you convert people without being controlling, so that you will not turn them off from the lifestyle:

* Pass out leaflets in a place with a lot of foot traffic, such as a mall, school cafeteria or courtyard, or busy street corner. According to Vegan Outreach, leafleting to young people is the single most effective way to promote a lifestyle change like going vegan. You can get free leaflets (and tips) from them or Farm Sanctuary, the sanctuary and advocacy organization for farm animals. PETA (and peta2, their youth division) will send various materials to you, but bear in mind that many people have an aversion to them. The Humane Society of the United States also have some good materials. You can also just create your own if you have the resources and skills!

* Host an information and/or food sampling table. This is good because, as people read the leaflets or try the food, they will come back and ask you questions, so know the issues! See the previous bullet for how to get informational materials. Many companies will donate free food for a worthy event, so ask anyone you would like. You can also ask for a small grant from VegFund to buy or cook your own food.

* Have discussions with friends, family members, or groups you’re involved with. If you need help starting the discussion, try taking them to a farm sanctuary (or merely sending them an article about one), making them an amazing vegan meal, or use leaflets as an introduction. The way to be most effective is to be as informative as possible, but admit when you’re not sure of something and do not personally criticize people for eating meat.

* Make a lot of food. Even if you don’t have a discussion with them, anyone who gets to enjoy many delicious vegan meals and treats will become more open to the lifestyle. If you don’t know how to cook, take the time to learn! It is good for your health and wallet as well as your advocacy. There are many great, free, vegan recipes online. As I have said, is my favorite as it is the most comprehensive. Try hosting dinner parties, bringing dishes to other people’s parties, and giving baked goods as gifts.

* Start something, but don’t reinvent the wheel! The world does not need more large scale vegetarian advocacy organizations competing for donations. If that is your interest, start hosting some fundraisers for the existing organizations aforementioned. But every community and school could use a vegetarian club. And maybe once you understand how the main organizations work, you will perceive a gap and get an idea for another kind of group. Just have the courage to take a leadership position. Just by being one of the early adopters of a vegan diet, you are already a leader!

Those are my favorite suggestions. I have had experience with all of them if you have any questions. But I would love to hear other people’s suggestions for the best kinds of vegetarian advocacy as well!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Cooking Can Be Fun: How to Increase Your Motivation

If there is one reason I don’t cook more often, it is lack of motivation. Even though I have the time to cook and I would love to sit down and eat a home cooked meal, sometimes I still end up eating snacks all day or making something out of the freezer. But I am learning to motivate myself more by planning my meals in advance and creating a better kitchen environment. Here are my best tips:

* Plan your meals ahead of time, and shop for the week. Make sure you still have a variety of ingredients on hand, just in case you need to satisfy a craving. That will definitely get you to cook!

* Look up recipes online or in cookbooks, especially ones with photos. This gives you ideas and helps you plan meals, and if something looks particularly good, you will be driven to cook it.

* When you do cook, make it fun by watching TV or listening to music. Even if you are not within view of the television, you can always watch YouTube on a laptop or play your favorite songs on an iPod. If you have none of those things, bring in a friend to tell you jokes!

* Get others to help you. You would be surprised how much better you feel if your child does some mixing or your husband does some chopping. And if you can get someone to help with the dishes, that can also make you feel much better about cooking.

* Try adding your favorite ingredients for eating and cooking. You can add your favorite vegetables or spices to nearly any dishes, from casseroles to soups. It can really make cooking more fun and make you more proud of the finished product. But make sure you taste it before you add too much!

* Don’t keep convenience foods in the house. If you have a lot of frozen dinners or precooked soups, you will reach for them all the time. Not buying them will save you money and get you eating your own healthy, home cooked meals.

Hopefully now you will enjoy cooking so much that you will do it every day. If you have any other advice for sustaining motivation, leave them in comments.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Dropping the V-Bomb: How and When to Explain Your Vegan Lifestyle Choice

Today I want to introduce the social issues many vegans and vegetarians face. Most of us go vegetarian without existing social support because none of our friends or family members are vegan. All of us meet omnivores now and then, wondering whether to tell them about our diets, and answering ridiculous questions. After explaining myself to everyone from high school and college classmates to closed-minded older family members, I want to offer a few rules of thumb.

First, let me present a few facts to understand omnivores, the people who have always surrounded you but you suddenly stopped understanding after you made a principled lifestyle choice that they did not:

* As a species, human beings like to believe that they are as good as, or better than, everyone around them.

* If you make someone feel morally inferior because of what they eat, they will probably get defensive and disregard your reasoning.

* People are generally opposed to changing their lifestyle for any reason.

* Most people know little to nothing about reality. They think of “Happy Cow” commercials or family farm cartoons. They prefer to keep it that way because, as previously stated, they are opposed to change and want to believe they are good.

Keeping these factors in mind, here are some general pointers for expressing yourself in a healthy way and being an example to others without alienating them:

* Make it about you. You should always imply that this is your lifestyle choice, not a moral imperative, even though that is how many of us really view it.

* Answer only what you are asked. When asked why you are vegan, go with something like, “I am against animal cruelty.” You should only go into detail after someone asks, and in an appropriate situation (i.e. perhaps not in front of young children or while people are eating).

* Represent the lifestyle as fun and easy, but be realistic. When people see you enjoying a custom-made meal from the chef at your local steakhouse, or hosting the greatest dinner parties in town, they might be willing to try going vegan even when you explain to them the importance of planning for nutrients.

* Do your research and have sources on hand. You will be much more effective if you can give specific facts and they are accurate. Request some leaflets from Vegan Outreach, who cite other reliable sources in their literature.

* Be constructive. Meat-eaters may view veganism as a form of criticism, so make it constructive. Remind friends and family of the good things they do. Try comparing your diet to your sister’s volunteer work, or reminding your father how compassionate he is towards the family pet.

* Get support from other vegans. Join an online community or local group, or simply post comments to a blogger like me. This helps you stay motivated in the face of social troubles and also gives you a way to share questions and experiences with others in your situation.

For a different discussion of talking about being vegan, I recommend The Animal Activist’s Handbook by Bruce Friedrich and Matt Ball. I thought their analysis of the issues was very good, and it was also enjoyable and easy to read. They mostly speak to people involved with leafleting, but their advice can be applied to any situation where you are discussing veganism. Some of their ideas have probably been incorporated into my point of view, along with my own personal experience.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year, Great New Vegan Blog!

Well, happy New Year and welcome to my new blog! I drew up a quick list of new goals last night, one of which was writing one entry to this blog every day. There are lots of exciting topics I want to cover in my own way, in addition to summarizing what other people have said. These topics include how to eat healthy, tasty vegan meals without spending too much money; how to save money and get free goods; how to keep a good social life as a broke vegetarian; and much more! I want to cover all aspects of a Low Budge Veg life.

Just to sum up my views, I am more of a Vegan Outreach-style vegan. I only have one reason for my dietary choices, in addition to my other lifestyle choices, and that is to reduce suffering in the world. I prefer not to waste time splitting hairs in ways that are unlikely to make any difference whatsoever, and I believe that advocacy should be a primary goal of any true vegan. Therefore, I will be discussing various lifestyle and advocacy topics, but do not expect me to help you get into the “vegan club” because I am not interested in that. I am interested in helping people make realistic choices to help animals and make the world a better place.

Now to take advantage of the New Year, I think we can all add some concrete, vegan-related goals to our New Year’s resolutions. I have vowed to myself to plan for three healthy, fresh meals a day, primarily omnivore-friendly ones to ease my live-in boyfriend into eating with me. I have also vowed that every time I go to a party, particularly a non-vegan one, I will make my own vegan dish for each course to share, and all of my gifts will be homemade cookbooks or foods.

If you don’t like those ideas or they don’t apply to you, here are some other ideas:

* Try one new unfamiliar recipe each week from a cookbook or the internet. fits most of my needs!

* Make at least one vegan meal or treat each month for omnivore friends and family.

* Read the top news stories relating to veganism each week or month from or VegE-News.

*Request some free leaflets from Vegan Outreach or PETA, and distribute them on a busy street for half an hour once a week.

* Host or volunteer for at least one event this year from FARM (Farm Animal Rights Movement), spreading vegan food and information.

* If you are not already vegan, go vegan for this year. If you need to ease into it, choose one meal a day or one day a week that will always be vegan.

Even if you are reading this on another day, try to adopt at least one of these goals. It’s always the right time to do something good for animals (and yourself).