Definitions

Before you get too far down the rabbit hole, I’d like to propose a few definitions to set a baseline for context.

Vegan – a lifestyle based on the commitment not to use any animal products or by-products in anything used in daily life (i.e. food, clothing, cleaning products, personal care products, etc.). It is the single most impactful choice one can make to reduce their carbon footprint.

On this site, I do use vegan to refer to processed foods that are plant-based. It’s an easy way to identify a plant-based food, given that all manufacturers don’t use “plant-based” in their labeling and stuck with vegan or vegan certified.

Plant-Based – this refers solely to the ingredients with which something is made (i.e. the product contains no animal products or by-products). Also, if one observes a plant-based diet, they only consume plant-based products and actual produce. It does not imply they also avoid animal products or by-products in other areas of life. This is not the environmental statement made by choosing to be vegan.

For the purposes of this information,I will tend towards using “plant-based” more than “vegan”, especially when referring to cleaning eating, health, and food in general.

Being vegan is phenomenal and I support it 100%, and for those who are not ready for that plunge, I also support you 100% in exploring a plant-based diet and see where that takes you.

Bioavailability – the proportion of a drug or other substance that enters the circulation when introduced into the body and so is able to have an active effect. That means when you eat something, all the nutrients contained in that food can immediately be absorbed and used by your body to do good stuff. They get to pass go and collect $200, no holdups or side trips.

Diet – what a species eats naturally on a regular basis. I do not believe in diets like South Beach, Atkins, Paleo, etc. When I say “diet” I mean what you should be eating all the time as a lifestyle, not what you should be eating temporarily for a short term outcome.

Ramen Noodle Bowls

This is the product of a family dinner where the theme was ramen. Competing next to my meat-eating family, I knew the trick would be in the broth.

I think this is an easy recipe that doesn’t require a ton of prep.

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • vegetable broth (2 boxes)
  • 8 cups water
  • 1/4 cup chopped garlic
  • 2 stalks lemongrass (cut in half)
  • 2 tablespoons crushed/chopped ginger
  • 1 jalapeno (sliced, remove seeds if you want to limit heat level)
  • 2 lime leaves (if you can’t find that, squeeze in lime juice to taste)
  • healthy dash of soy sauce, or salt to taste
  • sesame oil
  • 4 baby bok choy (sliced)
  • 2 boxes shiitake mushrooms (sliced)
  • 1 bag bean sprouts
  • 2 generous handfuls snow peas (trimmed of the stringy spine)
  • 1/2 cup finely sliced white onion OR chopped scallions/green onion
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrot
  • 1 cup cubed tofu (you can leave plain or marinate and saute)

Hardware

  • Large stainless steel or enamel cast iron soup pot
  • Slotted spoon
  • Wooden spoon
  • Pasta spoon/fork
  • Large bowl
  • Chef’s knife
  • Cutting board
  • Small bowls for soup toppers

Method

  1. In your pot drizzle the sesame oil to coat the bottom. Put over medium-high heat and saute the bok choy and mushrooms.
  2. Once bok choy and mushrooms are cooked through, turn off heat and remove the veggies with your slotted spoon and set aside in the large bowl.
  3. Drizzle a touch more oil in your pot and return to medium-high heat.
  4. Bash the lemongrass pieces with the back of your knife to break it up a bit. This will help all the yummy smells and flavors some out.
  5. Saute the garlic, ginger, lemongrass and lime leaves until your kitchen smells like heaven.
  6. Crank up the heat to high and add all the liquid (broth plus water) and a few slices of jalapeno. The more you add the spicier your broth will be so feel free to go crazy or be wimpy like me. You can dash in a bit of soy sauce or salt at this point. Don’t go crazy since the flavors will intensify as the broth reduces while simmering.
  7. Bring this puppy to a boil (feel free to cover to expedite this process). Once you hit a boil, turn the heat down to medium low and let it simmer for at least 10 minutes. If you can go longer, please do, it’ll help bring out flavors and make your brother super tasty.
  8. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, get your toppings prepped in little serving bowls to create a toppings buffet. If you didn’t use much, or any, jalapeno, this is a good time to have it available for those who want to “kick it up a notch”. Shout-out Emeril. If you want to fry or saute your tofu, now’s the time.
  9. After the simmer is done, toss back in the bok choy and mushrooms and add your ramen noodles.
  10. Once noodles are done, serve up in bowls and go down your toppings line and add all the yummy crunchy things you want.

Pro Tips

  • Use bottled or tubed garlic and ginger – huge time saver
  • Use the noodles from store-bought ramen packets in the soup aisle. You know, that stuff you lived on in college. Toss the flavor packet in the trash (that sh*t is full of nastiness). Bonus – they are stupid cheap.
  • Use pre-shredded carrots. Seriously, who has time to shred carrots?

30 Day Start Guide

If you’re ready to dive into the new world of a plant-based diet. Here are some tips to make that experience less overwhelming and hopefully avoid common pitfalls.

Plan Ahead

  • Menu planning (saves money and time)
  • Shopping list (don’t wonder around the store aimlessly, especially when you’re hungry)
  • Clean out your pantry, fridge and freezer of your animal bits and parts
  • Staples: brown rice, coconut milk, frozen vegetables, onions, garlic, spices (have these on hand at all times)
  • Snacks (make your own trail mix, pre-cut veggies, Cuties, quality crackers and dip)
  • Vault of “junk food”. Break only in the case of emergency
  • Learn how to read food labels. What are the other words for “dairy” (whey, milk powder, etc.). BTW, should you really be eating foods that come with a label anyway?
  • Shop the perimeter of the store as much as possible (that’s where the fresh food is)

 

What to Expect in the First Two Weeks

  • First two weeks are the hardest
  • Icky tummy and gross poops
  • Skin breakouts
  • Feeling tired
  • Headaches
  • Feeling limited (see Plan Ahead)
  • People to ask you stupid questions (what do you eat?)
  • Cravings for dairy (lactose is crack)
  • Creating a routine will help keep you on track

Week One Steps

  • Replace red meat and pork with organic chicken/turkey and properly caught fish (check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Guide)
  • Replace coffee creamer with soy or coconut milk alternatives
  • Replace cow butter with Earth Balance (it’s way better than other margarines)
  • Replace mayo with Just Mayo or Veganaise
  • Good time to start having a shake for breakfast (I prefer Arbonne shake supplies)
  • Add in a quality probiotic every day. This will help your transition imensely. I’m partial to the Arbonne product Digestion Plus. This one actually survives your stomach and makes its way to your digestive track where the magic happens.
  • Pack your snacks
  • Brown bag your lunch (if you have a  lunch date, check out the vegetarian options at your dining establishment or ask them to hold the meat on one of their salad offerings if you’re somewhere distressing)

Week Two Steps

  • Replace animal cheese with Chao (for sandos)
  • Replace deli meats with Tofurky or Field Roast brand
  • Replace white pasta and bread with whole grain or gluten-free options (this isn’t a plant-based thing, just what’s better for your gut)
  • Try out convenience foods (Earth Balance/Daiya mac and cheese)

Week Three

  • Replace pasta with spaghetti squash (link to spaghetti squash puttanesca)
  • Increase green leafy matter with dinner
  • Get creative with lunch (replace sandwiches with salads, soups & dinner leftovers. If you need variety from day to day, it’s super important to meal plan so you don’t have to rely on dinner leftovers for lunch.)
  • Try out the vegetarian and vegan restaurants on your area. Think you don’t have any in your town? Think again! My friends went vegan while living in North Dakota y’all. You’d be surprised at how vegan-friendly Denny’s can be.

Week Four

  • Phase out cheese and meat altogether. Vegan powers baby!

 

Pro Tips

  • Kosher symbols are easy reference for dairy ingredients. Anything with a “circle U”:  circle u is A-OK. If there is a little “D” next to it, stay away, there’s dairy in that product.
  • Keep “cheater foods” on hand for the first couple weeks. This way you get a treat without blowing your progress/commitment. Did you know you can eat raw vegan cookie dough without the risk of salmonilla? No eggs yo!
  • Drink lots of water
  • Meal plan!!
  • NOTE ON CAFFEINE: I’m on team No Caffeine. I think this does wonders to boost natural energy and aide in your body’s repair. If you’re on team Caffeine, I urge you to at least cut down to one cup a day (not a Super Gulp size cup) and taper down from there.

 

For Those Who Would Like to Dabble

  • Replace cow milk with cashew, soy, almond or coconut milk
  • Replace coffee creamer (even non-dairy creamer) with a soy or coconut milk alternative
  • Have meat in one meal a day, as opposed to three or more if you snack on meat and cheese products too. Over time you’ll be able to whittle that down to having meat 1-3 times per week.
  • Honor Meatless Monday, all day, every week
  • Try out new vegan desserts (ice cream, cookies, donuts, etc.). Explore all the tasty stuff you will still have access to.
  • If you keep eggs in your diet, get them from a local vendor who has truly happy chickens chilling in their backyard. Or better yet, get your own happy chickens!

 

Skeptical of the Physical/Health Benefits You’ll Get?

  • Keep a poop journal, seriously. The week before you make a change like cutting down or out dairy, write down how often you poop, what the consistency is and if it floats or not. Keep up the journal for 30 days of your new eating habits and see what happens.
  • Keep a sleep journal. Are you a restless sleeper? Do you snore? Is it hard to wake up every morning? Keep track of how those things change over time.
  • Do your feet and farts really stink? That’s a really fun one to track. Remember though that the first two weeks into a big dietary change (i.e. making a total change across the board, not just one item here or there) are the grossest for your body. It’s when you’re getting rid of all the crapola you’ve been storing for years. Gross.
  • Weigh yourself the morning you start your new habits and once a week (in the morning, or at a consistent time) thereafter for 30 days. Keep the variables reasonable. If you’re also starting some crazy new fitness regime, that’ll affect things too.
  • Measure your waistline. Dairy is an inflammatory food that creates a lot of bloat. Measure your waistline the morning you start your new habits and once a week (in the morning, or at a consistent time) thereafter for 30 days.
  • Keep a skin journal. Do you get constant breakouts? Is your skin dull, overly oily, generally not as great looking as it could be despite all the skincare products you use? Bringing whole grains (i.e. brown rice, quinoa, etc.) really boost skin, nail and hair health.
  • Do you usually hit an energy wall in the late afternoons? Check in with yourself in weeks three and four to see if you still have that.
  • Notice compliments you get from friends and co-workers. That was an awesome bonus for me.

I’m convinced people generally are walking around feeling mediocre, thinking that’s what feeling good is. You truly don’t know how good you could be feeling until you make a significant shift in your diet for at least 30 days.

This is lifestyle stuff baby. Diets are for suckers.

Special Brownies, not that kind of special

This surprisingly decadent recipes is courtesy of So Vegan

Makes 12 delicious gluten-free brownies.

Ingredients

1 can black beans (240g drained weight)
1/2 avocado
1 cup brown sugar (suitable for vegans)
3 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 cup walnuts
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp coconut oil (plus more for greasing)
Large pinch of salt
150g dark chocolate (suitable for vegans) – that’s about half a bag of chocolate chips

Method

1. Preheat oven to 180°C (350 degrees Fahrenheit) and grease a 12-slot muffin tray with coconut oil.

2. Drain and rinse beans, then add beans, avocado, sugar, cocoa powder, half the walnuts (1/4 cup), baking powder, vanilla extract, coconut oil and the salt to a food processor.

3. Melt 120g of the dark chocolate in a double boiler, then transfer to the food processor.

4. Combine ingredients in the food processor for 1-2 minutes.

5. Evenly distribute the mixture into the muffin tray (roughly one heaped tablespoon per slot).

6. Cut remaining chocolate into 12 pieces and put one piece on top of each brownie, pushing down gently on each piece of chocolate so they become partly submerged in the mixture.

7. Finely chop the remaining walnuts and sprinkle over brownies. I think walnuts are the devil, so I skipped this garnish steps but kept them in the mix.

8. Place muffin tray in oven for 20-25 minutes (we take them out after 22 minutes). Yo, baking time greatly varies depending on altitude. I’m at about 5,000 feet and these took a solid 50 minutes to bake in my gas oven.

9. Leave to cool completely before gently removing each brownie. The longer you leave them to cool, the easier they will be to remove them from the tin. Gently loosen the brownies out of the tin with the thin end of a fork.

This is where a food processor (or food professor as my BFF calls it) comes in WAY handy. You could surely try this in a blender but you better have something beefy, like a Vitamix or Blendtec to get the job done.

Bahn Mi Sandos

This phenomenal recipe is courtesy of Love & Lemons

Recipe type: main dish
Serves: 3-4 sandwiches
Ingredients
  • 1 14oz. pkg. extra firm tofu (see notes)
  • olive oil, for the pan
  • fresh baguette, sliced into sandwich sized portions
  • good quality mayo, or vegan mayo
  • a few sprigs of cilantro per sandwich
  • sriracha, to taste
Pickled Veggies:
  • 1 small daikon sliced into matchsticks
  • 2 small carrots, sliced into matchsticks
  • ½ a small cucumber, de-seeded & sliced into matchsticks
  • ½ jalapeño, thinly sliced
  • ¼ (or more) cup white wine vinegar
  • ¼ (or more) cup rice vinegar
  • a few pinches of sugar
  • a few pinches of salt
Tofu Marinade:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons tamari (or soy sauce)
  • juice of ½ lime + a little zest
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon minced ginger
  • generous amounts of freshly cracked pepper
Instructions
  1. Make ahead (for reals, try to marinate the tofu and pickles a day ahead): Place thinly sliced daikon, carrots, cucumbers, and jalapeños in a medium jar with white wine vinegar, rice vinegar, sugar and salt. If the liquids don’t cover the veggies, add about 2 tablespoons of water and more vinegar if necessary (the amount you need will depend on the size of your jar). Let chill for at least an hour, or store in the fridge for at least a week.
  2. Drain tofu, slice it into approx. ½ inch slices. Place on a towel and gently pat dry to remove excess water.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, tamari, lime, zest, garlic, ginger, and freshly cracked pepper.
  4. Place tofu in a shallow pan and pour the marinade on top. Flip the tofu so that it coats (if it doesn’t coat fully in your pan, add a bit more tamari until all tofu is coated). Let the tofu marinate for at least 15 minutes.
  5. Heat a nonstick skillet to medium-high heat. Add a little oil to the pan and place tofu pieces with enough space between each so that they’re not too crowded (you can cook them in batches). Let the tofu cook (without moving it around too much) for a few minutes per side until they’re deeply golden brown and caramelized (almost blackened) around the edges. Remove from heat. Taste a little piece and add more salt & pepper if necessary.
  6. Assemble sandwiches with mayo, tofu slices, pickled veggies, cilantro and serve with sriracha.
Notes

For seared tofu, use extra firm. Everything else is generally too watery.

For the pickled veggies: if you can’t find daikon, just skip it. And if you’re sensitive to spice, go light on the jalapeños.

Other ideas: add sautéed shiitake mushrooms or slices of avocado. – Yo, this is a MUST, not a suggestion. I also vote for toasting your rolls before schmearing with mayo.