The Vegan Experiment

In December, my boyfriend randomly said, “You know, next year I’ll eat only vegan food for 30 days.”

I must have just stared at him blankly. “Why?”

“I dunno. ‘Cause I can. I just think it’d be interesting.”

“Well… uh… have fun with that?”

I just couldn’t see it. I couldn’t see how one could possibly be vegan and happy at the same time. And yet he did it for 30 days, and that impressed me so much that I decided to follow suit. I’m on day 5 and I’m fine. Well, I mean, my friends just ordered pizza and of course there’s no vegan pizza at the takeout, so I’ll be sitting here with my hummus and crackers and stare longingly at their cheesy pepperoni pizza slices… but apart from that, I’m totally fine.

So why am I doing it?

Curiosity. Sheer curiosity. My boyfriend loves a good steak or pizza as much as the next man. And yet, on day 31, when he had his first slice of cheese, he pulled a face and said it wasn’t as great as he remembered – and proceeded to steal bites of my tofu scramble. The next day, he drank one sip of coke zero and said he was certain it must have gone bad. It tasted like it always did, but cooking and eating vegan means he barely ate any artificial flavours or flavour enhancers for a month – somehow that seems to have shifted his taste. He hasn’t tried steak yet because he’s worried he won’t like it anymore. And he still experiments with tofu, almond butter and amaranth. I want to know how that could happen. I want to see what happens if I do it for 30 days.

But what about meat?

Well, I’ve never really been much of a meat eater. I went vegetarian once and stayed that way for two years. Well, pescetarian – I was convinced I couldn’t live without fish. Apart from bacon and, occasionally, meatballs, I didn’t miss anything. I don’t even really know why I started eating meat again – I guess I became bored. It was also a period where I worked out a lot and that made me start craving red meat. Maybe a protein thing? But really – I’m the pickiest meat eater ever. I can’t handle bones in my meat, or fatty bits, or anything that is not the tenderest of tender filets. Even before this, I often went for the tofu option in asian restaurants. So meat’s not the issue.

Okay, what about eggs?

Eggs, okay. I love me some breakfast scrambled eggs. And no, we haven’t managed to make tofu taste exactly like scrambled egg, and I don’t think it’ll happen either. But the thing is that breakfast eggs are easy, which is why I eat them often. Now that they’re out of the equation, I usually go for oats or whole grain cereal with a milk substitute. Or tofu scrambles. Or both. It’s really not a big deal that I can’t have eggs – at least not for 30 days. It’s a bigger deal that I can’t have any cake because of that – but you know, cake’s not that great for you anyways.

So then – milk products?

Yeah, those. Cheese in all its variations is the main reason I was convinced I could never, ever, ever eat vegan. I LOVE cheese. Cream cheese is a staple in my diet, and really delicious smelly cheese is one of my favourite indulgences. But again, that’s what I ate and it was easy and convenient. Now I get creative with what to put on my bread. Hummus has basically replaced cream cheese as my go-to spread. I may not like that I can’t have cheese, but I love that I get to discover what else there is. I mean – I just had no idea about all the things vegans CAN eat. I’ve already expanded my horizons a lot – plus, I now read labels, and that means I just will not be eating some things again – not even after the 30 days. Do you have any idea what’s in our food sometimes? Wow.
Also, milk itself: I never need that back. I definitely prefer almond milk or oat milk in my cereal – I never really liked the taste of milk. In my coffee, I just really don’t care. Soy is fine, I don’t taste a difference, and in chai latte, I actually much prefer soy milk. So that’s not something I miss. At all.

Well, what DO you eat?

More vegetables than I did before. More fruit. More oils, I think, but of course no fat from red meat or butter. A lot of whole grains, creative dips and spreads that often contain almond butter and soy yogurt, and, of course, quite a bit of tofu. But not just tofu and not all the time. So far, eating vegan is definitely making me be healthier. Almost all takeout food, pastries, chips, pretzels and other snacks contain at least some egg, lactic acid, buttermilk, powdered milk… you get the idea. (By the way, did you know the water in olive jars often contains some lactic acid?) Chocolate contains milk, unless it’s the really dark kind. The bag of chips my brother bought the other day had 2% buttermilk in it (?!). Gummy bears contain gelatine, which is… well… not made from plants. So what being vegan means is that I usually just say no to junk food. Mostly because I know there’s something in it that I’m not allowed to eat. Sometimes because have no idea what’s in it at all.

No matter how I feel about vegan food after the 30 days are over, there’s something I do know: I want to keep this way of looking at food – checking labels, being conscious about what I eat and when I eat, rather than absent-mindedly nibbling on salty pretzels (there’s egg in those, by the way). And until I get to decide, there are still 25 days of meat and dairy abstinence. I’ll keep you posted!

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Grad School: Epic Odysee

So, I’m in SAN FRANCISCO!!! I gotta say, it was a really long arrival day with some bumps and a very tired Ari by the end of it. When I was waiting for the BART at the airport to get me to Daly City to get a cab from there to my home in the dark while being ubertired, I got really sad and homesick and just wanted to go back asap. But once I was in my rented room, I could not have been happier- the people are really nice and warm and welcoming and my room is bright, clean, big and has a spacious walk-in closet. It looks like a very typical American suburban neighborhood (which, in my case, means it looks like awesome).

And since it’s gonna be grad school from here onwards, it’s gonna be my new series in a wider theme. From how to get settled into your new city over student-friendly grocery shopping to finding the best public places to meet people, go partying or just having a good time 🙂

Groceries

So, first day. Fighting jetlag and starving stomach by exploring the neighborhood. Guess what’s right around the corner? A shoppingmall! And they have everything, and I mean EVERYTHING from Victoria’s Secret to Forever 21 to Sephora OPI nailpolish to Chipotle and Godiva Milkshakes and Starbucks and oh so much, I was overwhelmed and super happy. Then came a downer- the only grocery store within walking distance is a Trader Joe’s.

Trader Joe’s

Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s a really nice, conveniently located store and I can be lucky to have it so close by but when I pictured my future grocery shopping, I thought of New York’s Pathmark. You know…the broccoli au gratin and isles of ice-cream flavors and unhealthy stuff I know I shouldn’t eat but love anyways… Nada! Instead I was confronted with organic and healthy everywhere and and gluten-free fries, nuts and isles of fruits and vegetables. Should be my choice of consumption but it’s also a big question of money and since I wanna cut my budget short, I need to be picky at times. TJ has really friendly stuff and a healthier variety of microwaved and precooked foods (picture instant noodles with dried organic meet..yay). Their cosmetics section was also quite small but that might only be my branch.

So, today on my third day, I decided to take faith in my own hands and looked up nearby Safeway stores only to find out that there was one within walking distance…or so it seemed. “Hey, let’s walk 2 miles to that store” said noone in San Francisco ever. Cause the locals know about one phenomenon I blatantly ignored: The hills! What should have been a 20 minute walk, took me almost an hour through suburban neighborhoods wher

e every street looked the same and all the houses were equally nice and yes, oh, a palm tree but oh, shoot, also a steep hill, how far am I really willing to go for this stuff?! Turns out- pretty far. 2 miles, 60 minutes and 6 steep hills far, to be exact. I gotta say though- that Safeway was exactly what I was looking for and I could have spent hours in there, I was instantly happy and felt relegated to New York last year but only for a few minutes because I was completely aware of the fact that I would have to carry everything back again. I think crossing by the Ice-cream isle without getting any was the hardest part of the day.

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Wheeere is the safeway? I only see fog, hills and houses

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More Fog, hills and houses

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FOUND IT!!!

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Happiest version of myself I could possibly be 🙂

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So yeah, my legs are tired, my body is aching from the heavy bags but it was still very much worth it because I know I have a bunch of Rica A Roni’s downstairs (and cooked with meet and some fresh vegetables, it’s really not that bad).
Stay tuned for more stories because tomorrow I’m going downtown!

Cheers and go grocery shopping!

Ari

Countdown Series: 19 Days

Hey guys!

First of all- we are overwhelmed by the number of followers! When we started our blog in April last year, we didn’t really expect anyone to be too interested in our college jabbering and now we are already at 52!! Thank you, every time you hit Follow, Like or Comment, we are really happy 🙂

So, remember how I started my Countdown Series on Sunday and swore to post every day? Well, I missed yesterday but it wasn’t my fault, we had an internet meltdown. It’s all fixed now (hopefully), so lets pretend nothing happened and go over to…

19 Days- Broccoli Au Gratin

Yep, another one about food. Even worse: It’s box food but, to me, it’s the best box food in the world: Broccoli Au Gratin. I first bought the “Rice A Roni” version but tried several other brands since and liked them all equally much.
Ok, I know what you think- Artificial ingredients to enhance color and taste, looks like vomit, basically no real broccoli or natural cheese in there blablabla. I get it. It’s not the healthiest of foods but when I tried it last summer, I fell in love with it. And I’m serious- nobody ain’t messin with ma Broccoli Au Gratin. I had fights with boyfriends about that in the past, who wanted to talk me out of this “unhealthy shit that just ruins your body”. We didn’t break up over that but….it was close. The Au Gratin is to me what cats are to the crazy old cat lady.

All you need to prepare it are:  a pan, 2 cups of water, butter and a package of Broccoli Au Gratin. You put everything into the pan, bring it to boil….é voila. There goes your dish. BOOM. 15-20 minutes and you have a great dinner, free of nutrition or vitamins, I promise. The ideal menu to end a fat-loaded couch-potato day. It’s super cheap (duuh..it’s box food), easy to make, a decent side-dish (if you have enough money to buy meat to go with it) and an acceptable main dish if you eat the entire box yourself. We all have our guilty pleasures, here’s mine.

Best part of it all?Apparently, Rice A Roni is a San Francisco-based brand?! Mommy’s comin home, baby!

Kitchen Adventures: Throw Some Fruit in a Blender…

I haven’t forgotten that I promised you guys a strawberry recipe or three… yet somehow most of the strawberries I bought yesterday were gone by this morning, so this recipe only contains a handful (I say that still counts).

Either way, you can basically vary this smoothie however you want, and if the ingredients below look a bit randomly assembled to you, that’s because they were – I just took what leftovers I found in the kitchen.

The important thing for smoothies to remember is to mix ingredients in a way that will get the consistency right. You usually need a base of some kind. Here’s what I used:

  • ca. 100 ml low-fat milk
  • ca. 150 ml water – I’d have used milk instead of water for the whole thing, but, you guessed it, I ran out of milk. It turned out just fine so if you’re looking to save calories or something, water works. Juice is also an alternative, though not for calorie-savers 😉
  • ca. 90 g lemon sorbet (low-fat fruit-flavoured ice cream or frozen yogurt are good alternatives, just nothing too heavy/creamy)

Then, of course, you need some fruit to go with your base, because so far, your smoothie is going to have a bit of a lemony taste but not much else to it. I used the following:

  • 2 handfuls of melon, cubed, frozen (I used Galia, but I’m sure Honey Dew or Cantaloupe would also be delicious)
  • 1/2 large banana (leftover from my coffee-banana-smoothie)
  • ca. 10 small strawberries (I’d have used more if we’d had more!)

If you use these quantities, you’ll end up with about half a liter of smoothie, maybe even a bit more… You can vary the fruit as you wish, but to get the consistency right, it’s important that you add some frozen fruit – otherwise you’ll have to add in ice cubes instead of water or vary the amounts of sorbet and milk. Just experiment with it a bit, and enjoy!

smoothie

PS: If you’ve read my previous kitchen adventures post on poaching eggs… I’d like to reiterate the statement that it takes practice. I screwed mine up completely this morning – I was too hungry, so I didn’t wait for the water to be the right temperature. You’d think I’d remember how crucial that is after writing an entire blog entry about it… apparently not! Well, it’s a learning curve.

 

Kitchen Adventures: Summer Drinks

Okay, it is seriously HOT outside. Much too hot to be cooking, actually. I just made pasta – big mistake. The kitchen feels like a sauna now. What are you going to do in this heat except laze around all day and sip ice cold diet coke?

I’ll tell you. Put the coke down and try one of these summery drinks instead. All of them are healthier than diet coke, and way more delicious! Here are my top three summer favourites:

1. Water with Lemon, Mint & Cucumber

I’ve seldom had anything more refreshing. It’s super easy to make, too, you just have to plan ahead a bit, because it needs to refrigerate overnight for best taste. Here’s what you need:

  • half a lemon (or more, depends on your tastes), sliced
  • about 10-12 fresh mint leaves
  • ca. 1/2 small cucumber, sliced

Put all those ingredients in a tea pot and add 1 l of water. Use cold water! Boiling water makes the flavours absorb faster, true, but it supposedly also kills all the vitamin goodness in the lemon. Then put the pot in the fridge and leave overnight. In the morning, you will have a deliciously cold, absolutely refreshing drink that is apparently also a detox-wonder. Enjoy!
(P.S.: If you’re watching your waistline, you’ll be pleased to know that this drink basically has no calories. Like diet coke, but so much better for you!)

lemon mint cucumber water

2. Banana-Coffee-Smoothie

This one is perfect if you’re a coffee junkie like me, yet in this heat you’re not really up for your standard Americano or Latte in the afternoon. Here is my adaptation of a recipe I found on Pinterest some time ago:

  • 1/2 cup cold coffee (just make a bit more in the morning and then save some in the fridge until the afternoon!)
  • 1/2 cup milk (I use 1.5% fat because that’s what we usually have in the house, but full-fat or skim should work just as well)
  • 1 small-medium sized banana
  • 3-4 ice cubes
  • if you’d like the smoothie a bit sweeter and the coffee-taste less intense: 1-2 teaspoons of honey (sugar also works)

Just blend everything together, and if the consistency isn’t quite right, vary the number of ice cubes and the amount of milk a bit – it will depend on your banana, too 😉

3. Sparkling Water with Elderflower Syrup

This one might be a little tough to come by depending on your location. Where I’m from, elderberry juice and elderflower syrup are traditionally home-made, so this drink is actually something my grandmother would have traditionally prepared during summer time. If you can find elderflower syrup, this recipe is absolutely foolproof. You need two ingredients exactly:

  • elderflower syrup (if you’d like to try your hand at making it, Jamie Oliver has a recipe for it!)
  • sparkling water

Mix about 1 part syrup and 5-6 parts water – personally, I like my drinks a bit less sweet so I just use about two tablespoons in a big glass of water, but that’s really up to you. Enjoy!

What’s your favourite summer drink? I’m always on the hunt for new recipes to try!

Kitchen Adventures: Egg Poaching for Beginners (Like Myself)

I’m a really big fan of eggs for breakfast.

In the school cafeteria, for a while, they used to make fresh omelettes for breakfast, with whatever ingredients you picked. It was amazing, until they decided that it was too expensive for the catering company to do individualised omelettes and instead they baked large tubs full of egg-mix and made a sort of spongy egg pudding that was then called omelette.

I was sad, but then I was also about to graduate, and since I came home I’ve eaten eggs in every imaginable variation, except raw. I had boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, omelettes, eggs sunny side up… and poached. Yes, poached. And let me tell you, poaching an egg is intense, an adventure that gets your heart beating faster as anticipation rises before the crucial moment when you drop that egg into the water… will it work? Will the egg white form nicely around the yolk or just dissolve into a chaos of white stringy pieces?

All I knew about poached eggs was a vague memory of deliciousness from back when I was 16 and lived in California. There was a trip to some breakfast restaurant and I had something called “Eggs Benedict” – which, in case you didn’t know, is a deliciousness that consists of poached eggs on an English muffin, with bacon or ham and sauce hollandaise. I remembered not knowing what poached eggs were, and taking a chance on my order – needless to say I did not regret it. But trying to make my own poached eggs proved quite the challenge.

The secret, I realized, is not the vinegar. There are websites with recipes that swear you need vinegar in your poaching water, and those that say you can leave it out. After trying both versions, I’m inclined to say do what you like – it didn’t change the result much for me.

The secret is water temperature.

Basically, this is how you poach an egg:

  1. Crack the egg into a small dish (you can also crack it straight into the pot later but I find it easier this way).
  2. Fill a small pot with water (make it decently full, you want the water to be deep enough). Optional: Add a dash of vinegar to the water.
  3. Heat up the water. Here’s the crucial point: You don’t want it boiling, you want it simmering. Simmering means as close to boiling as possible without actually boiling. It’s that stage of the heating process when all the little bubbles that have been forming on the bottom of the pot start rising. The first time I tried, I was scared it would start to boil too quickly, so I ended up not heating it enough. If the water is too cold, your poached egg will be a mess – it won’t solidify fast enough and the egg whites will be all over the water and basically just look like little white strings, attached to the yolk if you’re lucky, but just as often floating freely.
  4. Stir the water to make like a mini-swirl in your pot. Drop the egg where the eye of the hurricane would be if your pot were the open ocean. If your water temperature is right, after an initial second of chaos, you will see something like this:Image
  5. If you’ve gotten this far, the hardest part is done. Turn down the heat and let the egg sit and boil for a few minutes. I’ve read 3-4 minutes as recommended, mine was done faster. It will depend on how fast your stove cools down, for example. You want your egg to be wobbly if you poke it carefully with a spoon, but not too soft. When it reaches your desired state of wobbliness, scoop it out with a big spoon. It took me about four attempts to create a poached egg that was pretty enough to be photographed, but I finally did it, so here you go… this is approximately what your result should look like (after seasoning and stabbing it with a fork to let the yolk come out a bit 😉 )
    Image
  6. Eat, enjoy, repeat… you’ll see, it’s much easier the second or third time around 🙂

PS: I feel very domestic posting recipes and kitchen stories on this blog. Don’t be fooled, I’m not nearly grown up yet… but I guess I’m on my way now!

Kitchen Adventures (an introduction)

This is (hopefully) going to be a series of posts, my first attempt to do something like this. My reasons are very straightforward – if you put a total cooking novice and slightly clumsy twenty-something in a kitchen, give her a bunch of recipes (or a Pinterest account) and let her loose, chances are the results will fill several posts. I’m hoping for some really nice dishes and proper food-porn photos, obviously including recipes – but let’s face it, it’s more likely, at least initially, that this will be a bit of a comedy. Either way, let the adventures begin!

The topic for this series is cooking, but it really started with nutrition. You don’t know this about me yet, but I’m a bit obsessed with healthy eating and nutritional pyramids.

The reason you don’t know this yet is that this obsession has developed in the last two or three weeks. It started out when I came across the so-called “college food pyramid” on Pinterest:

college food pyramid

I laughed at this. What a cliché, right? Ramen, chips, cookies, cafeteria food and delivery? Yet the “cafeteria food” section gave me pause. True, I ate a lot of that. And, also true, about 80 percent of that food probably did not have any nutritional value. Maybe they weren’t so far off. Just to compare, I checked out Harvard’s food pyramid…

harvard food pyramid

The moment when you realise what you’re eating is much closer to the first than the second pyramid in this post is… awkward. And it made me wonder. I have a lot of problems with food sensitivities, although I’ve never been able to pinpoint what foods cause these reactions. It’s not straightforward lactose or fructose intolerance, it’s more like my stomach randomly decides it hates me today and starts freaking out. Also, I’ve always struggled to keep my skin reasonably clear, I feel that I don’t have a lot of energy most days, and that holds true even when I sleep enough AND exercise. I started wondering if maybe one or all of these things could be improved through nutrition.

Of course, eating better meant I’d have to kick a lot of habits. Most of the things I know how to cook (meatballs, sandwiches, spaghetti) fall in the top corner of the pyramid. However, I felt somewhat helpless when considering how to combine a whole grain, a healthy fat source and several kinds of vegetables into an edible dish – other than whole grain bread dunked in some sort of vegetable soup, I couldn’t come up with anything. So obviously, the first step to better nutrition was learning how to cook healthy dishes. And since I’ve just moved out of college and away from cafeteria food, it seemed like a good time to start.

The next day, I decided to kick things off by learning how to poach an egg… for now, let me just say that’s really not as easy as you might think. Results will follow in the first “proper” kitchen adventures post very soon 🙂