Cold Tofurky

Thirty days ago, I walked into my doctor’s office desperate for answers as to why I couldn’t seem to shake the massive fatigue and dizzy spells I had unexpectedly fallen victim to. At this point, three weeks into my turbulent journey, I had confirmed that I was not pregnant, I’d had a urinalysis done at the urgent care that was normal, and I wasn’t suffering any allergic reactions that I knew of. I was eating food, but it was mostly the meals I could stagger in to pick up or food my family had prepared for me out of the goodness of their hearts. My doctor ordered lab work for me, and also made some suggestions for lifestyle changes that might improve my energy levels. While her recommendations had to do with increasing water intake and cardio exercise, I saw this as a turning point in my adulthood to make a change I had been contemplating for approximately two years. “I think I’m going to become a vegetarian,” I told her. She replied that she was a vegetarian, and that if I was truly interested in making the change I should take an additional B12 vitamin to supplement. I went straight from her office to the health food store to make some purchases, and when I got home, I purged our refrigerator of meat products, save for the frozen food items, which I told my husband to make disappear in the next few days.

When I announced my decision to change, most people around me were very supportive and encouraging. Of course, there was also the plethora of questions and doubtful comments, and I’d like to try to address those concerns and curiosity now:

1. This is completely and utterly about me, and nobody else.

Most people’s response whenever anyone shares any dietary choices or restrictions they’re following is usually along the lines of whether or not they’d be able to commit to the same regimen. I’ve done it too. “You’re a vegan? I’m not sure I could ever give up cheese.” I see the ignorance in a response like that now, because nobody asked me if I was or could be a vegan. Similarly, I didn’t change my diet so that the rest of the world could, and my criteria for who I keep company with hasn’t been affected by what I eat. I did this because it was something I wanted to do. No doctor, dietician, animal rights activist, vegan, or vegetarian coerced me into this decision – as I stated, I’ve wanted to do this for at least two years, but in 2013 to late 2014 I was pregnant then breastfeeding, and I didn’t think making a change during that time was the best move for me.

2. I’ve made other changes, too.

In addition to dropping chicken, beef, turkey, and pork from my diet, I’ve also cut my sugar consumption and substituted agave nectar as a sweetener for things like tea and oatmeal, and I’ve eliminated most processed snack foods in favor of high protein and high fiber snacks like legumes, fruits, and vegetables. I still eat tortilla chips in soups and while dipping guacamole.

3. This lifestyle is cheaper.

My grocery bills averaged around $250-$350 total a month depending on the time of year, if I was hosting any dinners, etc. The average cost for a trip to Sam’s Club or Costco was easily $100-$150 due to buying meats like chicken, steak, and turkey burgers. Grocery store trips were usually around $120-$200 picking up all things I don’t buy from wholesale stores like those and alcohol. I didn’t save my Sam’s Club receipts from last month after making the change, but as evidenced from screenshots of my bank statements, I only spent $47.74 on my first trip, and $61.22 on my second one. I did manage to save one of my Publix receipts…

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Screen grab from my statement at Sun State Credit Union. This shows evidence of purchases from both Publix and Sam’s Club. Those trips will last us about 2 weeks for groceries.

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One of my Publix receipts. You can see some of the items I bought, which includes whole milk for my daughter and other groceries like cream cheese and bagels for my husband. The total is less than $100.

I buy specialty foods like Neat Meat substitute, and Woodstock brand extra firm tofu from a place called Earth Origins. Both items are priced at $3.97 and $4.29 per package respectively, and one package of each yields at least three meals. This is cheaper than buying packs of cut chicken or pork from the grocery store, which average around $9-$12 per pack, and only yield one to two meals.

The idea that eating healthy is too expensive seems baseless to me. I think it’s the convenience of opening a bag of potato chips vs. having to steam broccoli crowns that turns people off.

4. My digestive system is on FLEEK!

Let’s not beat around the bush. Shitting on a regular basis is an important part of everyone’s health. Ask anyone who hasn’t been able to go for a few days and they will tell you that all they want is to be able to drop a deuce. The increased fiber I take in from this plant-based diet has regulated my system, making me a happy camper.

All in all, I’m very proud of myself for sticking with this change through the 30-day mark. It takes 30 days of repeated action for something to become a habit, and this habit is one that I’m happy to embrace. I hesitate to label myself as a vegetarian, as I do still eat certain fish like salmon and ahi. The term “pescatarian” doesn’t roll off my tongue as easily, and implies that I eat fish on a regular basis, which I don’t. I prefer to just say that my diet is plant-based – it’s largely vegetarian but I will eat fish. With that being said, I leave you with a glimpse of what meals without chicken, pork, turkey, beef, and processed foods look like:

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Eggs scrambled with bell pepper, black beans, and onion. Served with homemade hash browns and topped in salsa verde, all wrapped up in a flour tortilla.

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Quinoa and steel cut oats simmered in milk with strawberries and agave nectar. This is easily my new favorite breakfast food.

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Mixed greens with tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, and farro.

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Of course, I still blend up green smoothies.

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Peanut and tofu str fry in a mixed soy and oyster sauce.

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Ahi tuna steak, asparagus, and farro.

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Mixed vegetable stir fry.

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Cobb salad with carrots, beets, tomato, onion, corn, avocado, and hard boiled egg.

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Pan-seared salmon and sautéed kale greens over barley.

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Plain greek yogurt with strawberries, raspberries, and agave nectar.

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Neat tacos with organic tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and avocado made with Neat meat substitute.

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Spaghetti in “neat” sauce, made with quinoa noodles and Neat meat substitute.

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A few of the new staples I use in my kitchen these days.

Quinoa and Black Beans

I’ve been going hard on the weights lately, which means amping up protein is essential. One food I turn to for high protein is quinoa. I offered a recipe on how to make a toasted citrus quinoa salad a few months ago, but this recipe of quinoa and black beans is my favorite way to prepare the superfood.

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Not pictured: cilantro and garlic.

 

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3/4 cup quinoa
  • 1 can vegetable broth (14.5oz)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 ears of corn
  • 2 (15 ounce) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste

 

Directions

1. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat; cook and stir onion and garlic until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

2. While waiting for oil to heat and onions and garlic to brown, start boiling the ears of corn. Set ears aside after cooking to cool. After corn cools, cut the kernels from the ears with a large butcher knife.

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3. Mix quinoa into onion mixture and cover with vegetable broth; season with cumin, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until quinoa is tender and broth is absorbed, about 20 minutes.

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4. Stir corn, beans, and cilantro into the saucepan, and continue to simmer until heated through, about 5 minutes.

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5. Serve warm; avocado optional as garnish.

 

Garlic Roasted Brussels Sprouts

I used to think I didn’t like Brussels sprouts, but it was simply that I didn’t know how to cook them! This recipe has become popular at my house and doesn’t require much work.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and yellow leaves removed

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • Butter or butter substitute for drizzle

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C).

Place trimmed Brussels sprouts, olive oil, kosher salt, garlic powder, and pepper in a large resealable plastic bag. Seal tightly, and shake to coat. Pour onto a baking sheet, and place on center oven rack.

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Roast in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, shaking pan every 5 to 7 minutes to rotate the sprouts for even browning. Brussels sprouts will be dark brown on the sides when done. Drizzle with light coat of butter or butter substitute after removing from oven. Serve immediately.

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Toasted Quinoa Salad

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I’ve gotten a lot of compliments on the (looks) of my toasted quinoa salad via Instagram. It’s a huge hit at my house, and if you like quinoa, you will likely appreciate this recipe. I first discovered the recipe for this salad on another blog called Alosha’s Kitchen, which you can visit at aloshaskitchen.blogspot.com. I made some tweaks to her recipe, so what you see posted here isn’t an exact replica.

Ingredients

For the salad:
1 1/2 cups quinoa
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup fresh corn kernels (from 2 ears) [Here’s one difference. The quinoa salad you see pictured on my blog doesn’t include corn.]
1 cup diced (1/2 inch) cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup thin-sliced (1/4 inch) scallions (white and green parts)
1/2 cup feta cheese [Omit to keep the dish vegetarian/vegan] 


For the dressing:
2 teaspoons ground cumin
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup fresh lime juice, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon finely chopped seeded jalapeno pepper, plus more to taste [My quinoa salad doesn’t include jalapeño, either.]
1 garlic clove, grated
1 teaspoon coarse salt

For the garnish:
1 ripe avocado, halved, pitted, peeled and diced (1/2 inch)
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

Method

Rinse the quinoa in a fine-mesh strainer under cold water for at least 45 seconds. Shake the strainer to remove as much water as possible.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the rinsed quinoa and cook, stirring, over medium heat until it is light golden brown, which takes about 10 minutes. Add 2 cups water to the quinoa, and bring to a boil. Cook, covered, over medium-low heat until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is translucent, which takes about 18 to 20 minutes.

Let stand, uncovered, until cool, about 10 minutes.

As the quinoa cools, you can start to make the dressing.  Sprinkle the cumin in a small skillet and toast over medium heat, stirring, for about 3 minutes. *Tip: When roasting seasonings, one key to knowing that it is ready is when you can smell it.
Remove from heat. When the skillet is cool to the touch, add the oil, lime juice, garlic and salt. Transfer to a large bowl, and whisk to blend.

Add the cooled quinoa, cheese, tomatoes and scallions to the dressing, and toss to blend.

Spoon the salad onto a large platter, and garnish with the avocado and cilantro.