The Impossible Burger

We tried The Impossible Burger!

We were able to order one at Daily Eats and, wow, it tastes just like a real, bona-fide, meat-based burger. It was such a weird taste and feeling considering I haven’t had a meat burger in more than 2 decades! Here’s the bottom-line review:
The taste is close enough to be confidently called, “perfect”. This IS a burger. I ordered mine medium-well and you can see the pink in the middle–looks like blood, but isn’t… It was hard to wrap my mind around it.
The texture is so close, only a discerning burger lover could tell the difference. To me, it tasted just slightly mushy (just a little), like the center was maybe closer to a pate than a normal fatty burger. It had a slightly more salty taste than I remember burgers having, too, but it’s so close you could only tell if you were looking for it.
The only bummer is that it can only be found in Tampa at the Ciccio’s chain of restaurants (Ciccio’s, Ciccio Water, Ciccio Cali, Green Lemon, The Lodge, Daily Eats… all of them except Fresh Kitchen). Unfortunately and bizarrely, the Ciccio chain is super NOT vegan-friendly (although the owner made an open request on the news for vegans and vegetarians to come and try it–so…maybe let them know you heard him).
I had to order the burger without the mustard aioli and, of course, no cheese… and take your chances if the bun is vegan, but almost certainly not (just FYI). Too bad all their chains suck for vegans, but at least we gave it a shot. And, hey, thanks just the same, Daily Eats. How about a slice of Daiya or Chao cheese to top that burger for your patrons who are sometimes stuck hanging out with their vegan hipster friends?
To think what real vegan-friendly restaurants could do with this amazing plant-based meat is mind-blowing. A Love Food Central Impossible Burger? Oh yes. Or Cider Press, or even Square 1 or Evos, anyone but Ciccio’s basically… could make a vegan killing (no pun intended there, really).
Nonetheless, The Impossible Burger is a game changer! Grade: solid A if you miss the taste and texture of a real burger, or if you are a meat-eater who wants the same food but at a lower cost to lives and the environment. Try the Impossible!
Want to know more about The Impossible Burger? Here is a video and article featuring Jeff Gigante, co-founder of Ciccio’s restaurant group explaining what it is, what makes it tastes like an actual burger, and why it is better, even for meat-eaters!

REVIEW: Kite Hill Vegan Cheesecake

RATING: B-

WHAT: Kite Hill Vegan Cheesecake

WHERE: Available only at Whole Foods (Ours was purchased at the Walter’s Crossing location on Dale Mabry).

PRICE: $6 for a small 4 oz. pie

HOW VEGAN IS IT? 100%!

THE GOOD:

Having been spoiled by amazing vegan cheesecake at places like Native Foods, the Chicago Diner, and home-made, it is exciting to have another option in Tampa (the other is Daiya’s cheesecake–see that review here). It is nice just to have options. It’s tough to complain… but we’re still going to.

THE BAD:

For the money, we definitely vote for Daiya’s option, offering 14 ounces to Kite Hill’s 4 ounces of deliciousness for a paltry two dollars more. We were disappointed by the 1/4 inch or so of crust creating nearly half the dessert.

The taste was good. Graham Cracker crust. Kite Hill is one of the premier vegan cheese makers that actually make vegan cheese–not a vegan cheese replacement (like Daiya and others). Not surprisingly, then, the filling was decadent in texture–rich and creamy.

Kite Hill’s cheesecake has the light lemony zest of “normal” cheesecake but it was a bit denser. We would say it was more like super firm pudding than cheesecake.

Kite Hill, Back

THE SUMMARY:

Both the Daiya and Kite Hill desserts would be reasonably priced at half their list price, but if you want premium vegan pre-packaged junk food, then you are going to have to pony up. A lot.

In this case, Kite Hill’s Whole Foods exclusive was not bad, but we wouldn’t pay the same price to go back for seconds.

Un-Processing Your Food

As part of our move to a healthier (and simpler) lifestyle, we are working on removing processed foods from our diet.

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Being vegan means we consume and wear nothing that is or comes from any other animal, but being vegan does not necessarily mean we are healthy. There is plenty of vegan junk food and highly processed vegan food. Our goal is to eat and enjoy real food, minimally processed, with minimal ingredients. We like quick, delicious, healthy meals. However, we also eat a lot of highly processed foods such as vegan “fake” meats, Daiya “cheese”, vegan ice cream, and various vegan milk replacements (soy, rice, almond, coconut, etc.).

Processed food is delicious but it is filled with mysterious ingredients and that bothers us. We cringe at unpronounceable ingredients and vague terms like, “natural flavors”, “artificial sweeteners”, or “may contain one or more of the following…”). Mystery ingredients are sometimes a way of masking undesirable ingredients, such as chemically enhanced colors or genetically modified foodstuffs or other things a company would basically not want to admit to putting in your food. Rather than taking an approach of transparency, it appears food labeling takes an approach of, “If it does not specifically say something is not there, then you should probably assume it is”.

For example, if a label says anything other than 100% Organic” (such as “Certified Organic” or “USDA Organic), then either the product itself or the constituent ingredients in the product are probably GMO-laden.

We generally avoid GMO food because we like that organic food has required special treatment and attention. As foodies, we want the best, most delicious, and most ethically chosen food available, GMO or otherwise.

Here is where we split, though. Michael is not opposed to GMO foods. Despite the paranoia driven by foodies with good intentions… the science, Michael says, has not shown any health risk, side effect, or reduction in quality compared to “natural” non-GMO foods. We use “natural” in quotes there because, truthfully, nearly all food is genetically modified. Since the dawn of agriculture, farmers have sought to modify the genes of crops by cross-pollinating, splicing, or otherwise creating hybrids or heirloom varieties to weed out the undesirable traits of the food they grow. If we ate the same corn as our great grandfathers’ great grandfathers’, we would find the taste nearly intolerable compared to the sweet, soft varieties carefully pushed forward until today.

Nicole believes there is a drastic difference between farmer’s genetically modifying food as grown on the farm compared to what happens in a lab. This is a point of contention between us so you should do your own homework or talk to us about your side (but don’t talk to Michael unless you have peer-reviewed literature from a credible source to back your claims).

The way we have approached our move to natural, whole foods is to stop replacing processed foods in the kitchen as we use them. As much as practical, we buy groceries from local farmer markets. This is surprisingly inexpensive and more fun than spending an hour zombie-walking through big-box stores. We enjoy seeing healthy, consciously driven people at the markets working their way from booth to booth of fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables and artisan gifts. We often make a lunch date of it, too. There are always a few food vendors with vegan options!

We do not have strict rules for what constitutes “processed” food. After all, even raw, shelled walnuts are technically processed (they were de-shelled). We do the best we can while being practical in a fast-paced city, and we do make some intentional exceptions (for example, Michael enjoys locally crafted root beer, which is obviously highly processed and we eat peanut butter, also processed–even the natural kind).

For now, we are mainly focusing on staying away from canned food and boxed food (except cereal… cereal is manna from heaven, it doesn’t count as processed).

For the last couple years, this plan has worked wonders for our health and peace of mind. We recommend creating your own process for un-processing your diet.

Better food for a better body; a better body for a better mind!

 

Or, put another way: If you care more about the quality of your car or clothes than the quality of what you put inside your body every day… then you are probably doing health wrong.

 

Why Should I Care About Eating Animals?

There are many ways people justify eating other animals and there is much misinformation around being vegan. It is sometimes difficult to wade through the morass of harmful perceptions, but today I will try, and try to do it concisely…

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I attempt to cut through the clutter of poor thinking and challenge conventional, broadly accepted ideas (the tagline of my blog used to be “Challenge convention; transform the world”) and reveal core truths using logic and rational consideration.

One of the big arguments for not going vegan comes down to some version of, “Why should I? Meat is delicious and change is hard.” Despite the myriad benefits to having healthier bodies, let’s appeal to our brains…

The best reason I can think of to be vegan is simple and profound:

Man is king of the Animal Kingdom.

Think about that. Whether we like it or accept it, we are the default rulers of this planet. We oversee the well-being of every living thing known in the universe. That is a profound responsibility, to say the least.

So ask yourself: what type of king (or queen) do you wish to be? Do you choose at every meal to be a cruel and merciless murderer of the very beings whose safe-keeping is (literally) in your hands? Or do you choose instead to be a benevolent ruler who demonstrates mercy, peace, and kinship with your entire kingdom?

The time may come when we are no longer the kings of the animal kingdom. What type of rulers would we want to be under the rule of?

Consider that the next time you move to swat a fly, put on a fur coat, or eat a burger.

I am not religious, but if I were, I would be frightened at the prospect that my Maker created me as one of the few animals on the planet who can choose not to kill for food. Why would He do that? My cat has no choice. She must eat meat or she will die; she is a carnivore. The mighty Brontosaurus had no choice, either; if the giant dinosaur ate only meat and dairy, it would die because it was a herbivore.

Humans are one of the select few omnivores to ever exist and we are unquestionably the only omnivores who can make a conscious, philosophical (or religious) decision about how we choose to live. No other creature in all of history or in the known universe has that distinction.

That is something to think about if you believe in a god or a judgment day. If you are Christian, even more scary because one of the cardinal ten rules God left for you was “Thou shalt not kill.” There is no asterisk after the commandment. It is unequivocal. It does not read, “Thou Shalt Not Kill*  (…*except on burger night or if bugs really bother you, or when driving mindlessly, etc.)”.

As one of the only creatures with the distinction of Choice, it is important to look at the choices we make and define our moral and ethical values. Food is such a crucial part of our lives. We are our own folly if we simply choose to do what feels comfortable and seems natural. Despite how it looks from our social training, do you think it is  natural to drink the milk of an entirely different species? Do you know of any other species that drinks milk past childhood, let alone milk designed for a completely different animal? Cow’s milk is made for a baby cow, not an adult human.

Whether we acknowledge our power and influence over the world as individuals or as a Human Race, there is no denying our place at the top of the food chain. Since the choice is ours to murder our fellow animals or allow them peaceful passage through our world to live as their inhuman nature dictates, what choice will we make to design a better future?

I choose Vegan. What’s your choice?

One Easy Way to Get Your Veggies!

Eat your veggies, however that works for you.

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Nicole is spearheading a new experiment for us. We have begun ordering vegetables online. Every week we pay about $57 to have fresh, organic fruits and vegetables show up on our doorstep. (We are going through Tampa Bay Organics but there are many services that do this near most populated areas.)

At first, it seemed like a risky waste of money. We have a tendency to let veggies go to waste because we are too busy to cook them. Plus, $57 per week?!?

We spend about $120 per week on groceries (our grocery bill definitely went up when we moved to Tampa, by quite a bit, which seems counter intuitive since much of the fruits and veggies in the U.S. comes from Florida). We were worried breaking out the veggies this way would end up driving the bill higher. We are only on week two but so far it hasn’t.

It turns out, since all of our fruits and veggies are covered for the week, we spend less time browsing at the grocery store and only grab the stuff that isn’t delivered.

Another unexpected benefit is by breaking the bill out, we focus more on ensuring we are eating what we paid for (isn’t that odd?). I took a nectarine for lunch, snacked on an avocado and kiwi fruit, and we have fresh kale for our orzo instead of boxed spinach.

So far, it has been a smart move, and I like the way it works. They send us a list of what they will be dropping off each week and we can plan around it or trade some items (like disgusting okra or eggplant–the antidote for taste buds) for other items (like delicious beets or extra bananas). We can save our preferences, too, so I never even have to worry about seeing gross, hairy, slimy Hulk-colored okra on our list.

I am not sure this approach is for everyone but if you have been on the fence about having fresh food dropped off at your door, I encourage you to give it a shot. If it doesn’t work out, the worst that happens is you have more food than you need, but at least it is healthy food.

 

5 Common (Hidden) Animal Ingredients

We are what we eat. Maybe we should care a little more about both.

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Here are 5 common animal-based ingredients I wish I knew about when I first went vegan. Unless you are a food scientist, you would not recognize the names without doing research. There are far too many “secret” animal ingredients to list (and other people have done a great job of it–just search for “vegan ingredients”). I will try to save you time with this short list of common animal ingredients, the names of which are really just another way of saying, “the gross parts of animals we could not sell you directly as food”:

1. Gelatin. Crushed up animal bones and throwaway animal material that can not be consumed otherwise (like hooves, bones, skin, cartilage, etc.). Gelatin is in Jell-O. It creates the gummy texture in marshmallows and “Gummi Bears” but also shows up in many cosmetics and cereals like Lucky Charms (the marshmallow bits). There are great vegan substitutes such as Agar-Agar or Arrowroot powder but it is much cheaper to feed your kids yummy horse hooves.

2. Whey. Basically, milk powder. This is the same stuff you hear weightlifters talk about for bulking up (rice protein would do the same thing without torturing animals) and it turns up in many places you would not suspect, such as “Non-Dairy” Creamers. Ironically, “non-dairy” creamer absolutely contains dairy. Look at the fine print below the ingredient list and see for yourself. Watch for whey in sauces, powders, and breads.

3. Glycerin. Also known as “glycerol”, this can be made from vegetable oil but it is usually more economical to produce it from animal fat. Because it is a sweet, colorless liquid it shows up in a lot of desserts and dairy-based foods like yogurt. It also helps add moisture to skin so you will find it in most soaps (who doesn’t like to rub a little animal fat all over their body?) and many pharmaceuticals (including the “casing” around vitamins). If the label does not specifically say, “vegetable glycerin”, it almost certainly is animal-derived.

4. Casein. This is another milk protein, like whey. It shows up mostly in cheese, butter, ice cream, and other dairy-based products. Just for kicks, it is also used in many adhesives and paints. Casein is also a tricky one for new vegans because it shows up in a lot of “vegetarian” products you might assume are vegan, such as soy-based cheese.

5. “Natural” Flavors. This is the worst of the worst, in my opinion. It is like listing “stuff” as an ingredient. Listing “natural flavors” is a way to help protect a company’s recipe from being reverse-engineered, but it does not help the consumer. The problem is, the phrase is so loosely defined by the FDA that it essentially means, “anything”. From the Code of Federal Regulations (Title 21, Section 101, part 22, revised April 1st, 2014):

(3) The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.

Blecch! What the hell is natural about that?!? 

If we are what we eat, I suggest we care a little more about both.

New vegans or pro vegans can still be caught by vague, misleading, or downright deceptive ingredient names. Remember, the food manufacturers interest is to sell us food, not ensure we are healthy or taking care of our fellow creatures and the environment. That is not a stab at food manufacturers. I am only saying it is our responsibility as individuals to take care of our bodies and world (though it would be nice if the manufacturers employed more ethically conscious people to help with that).

In an increasingly complex food system, another piece of old, traditional advice from grandma still holds true: “watch what you eat.” (Because no one else is going to.)

5 Super Easy Vegan Meals

http://foodiesfeed.com/
http://foodiesfeed.com/

Priorities are different for each of us. If cooking is not your thing, but health is, create ways to have both! 

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I think I am one of the laziest vegans in the world. I am always busy with work or other projects (like this blog and a new, upcoming one!) and I need meals that are easier than ordering from Chipotle or eating canned food–like, literally, right out of the can.

I imagine you might have the same struggles or you are just beginning (or are curious about) your vegan journey and need easy meals to start. Here are a few super-easy vegan recipes I use for every day meals, and I mean SUPER-easy. These work for me and maybe they will help you, too. They all take less than half an hour to make from start to finish, including chopping time. You might notice I do not really measure anything, so take the measurements as suggestions. I just use however much I need, depending how hungry I am.

 

1. ORZO WITH GREENS. 

Orzo is a rice-shaped pasta available at almost any grocery store (sometimes hidden in the “international” food aisle). An environmental advocacy expert who owned an all-vegan grocery store shared this with me and it has been a staple ever since.

Ingredients:

1 cup Orzo

2 handfuls of pecans, walnuts, or Almonds (sliced or chopped almonds)–raw nuts are best, but salted is fine, if you prefer.

2 big handfuls of greens (Arugula, Kale, or Spinach); 2 handfuls is about 2 ounces or half a normal sized blister pack from the grocery store

1 cup sliced or chopped tomatoes (I like to halve about a big handful of cherry tomatoes)

1 Tablespoon Olive oil

Salt, Pepper, Nutritional Yeast, to taste.

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–Boil one cup of orzo for 10 minutes (add a few drops of olive oil to the water to keep the pasta from sticking to itself). The water will foam if it is too high, so keep an eye on it and reduce heat if necessary but keep a rapid boil going.

–While the orzo is heating up, I take the pecans or walnuts and crush them in my palm over a medium-heat skillet (if sliced or chopped almonds, no need for further crushing–just toss them in the pan). Add a little olive oil and heat them for about 5 minutes.

–When there is 5 minutes left for the orzo, put the greens in with the nuts and stir. Put in a third of the greens at a time, mix with the nuts until the greens wilt, then add another third of greens.

–When the Orzo is done, turn the heat off both pans. Drain the orzo. Pour the orzo over the greens. Place the tomatoes on top and mix it all together.

–Add salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast until it is perfectly delicious!

 

The great thing about this recipe is it is completely versatile. If Orzo and Arugula are crazy sounding ingredients to you, just trade them for any pasta and Spinach, and follow the same recipe. Or instead of Arugula, try baby kale one night. You can add mushrooms, or tofu, or onions and garlic, or broccoli. Change up the spices. Add soy sauce and you have a stir-fry. It is always quick, easy, and delicious!

 

2. SPAGHETTI ARRABBIATA.

“Arrabbiata” is a spicy red sauce. You can use Marinara instead if you don’t like the kick. You can make excellent sauce from scratch with a can of tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes, tomato paste, chopped basil, crushed garlic, sliced onion, and red chiles, but screw that. We are going for quick and easy here. Just buy your favorite sauce and pay a little more for the one that has a bunch of veggies and no dairy ingredients (watch for “whey”, which is milk, and cheeses like Romano or Parmesan being mixed in). Try to find one without sugar, too, because grandma never made it that way.

Ingredients:

Jar of your favorite vegan spaghetti sauce (if you have a Trader Joe’s nearby, they have excellent options).

Frozen, canned, or fresh mushrooms (however much you want)

Black or green olives (however much you want)

4 cloves fresh crushed garlic or garlic powder to taste

Chopped small onion or onion powder to taste

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Cook the spaghetti according to instructions on the box. Put the veggies in the sauce and heat it. Pour the sauce over the spaghetti. Spice to taste.

For easy garlic bread, drizzle olive oil over a few slices of bread. Sprinkle Paprika powder, garlic powder, basil, and oregano on top. Place in the oven on aluminum foil with the spices facing up and cook at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

Change the recipe to make it seem new again by adding different sliced veggies to the sauce such as zucchini, broccoli, green peppers, or carrots.

 

3.  STIR FRY

Maybe the easiest and most versatile of all dishes!

Ingredients:

Ginger powder (or fresh, shaved ginger root) to taste

Soy sauce to taste

Brown Rice

Assorted vegetables. Choose any 5, but I like: Bok Choy (bagged and chopped), Broccoli (frozen or fresh), Red Pepper (sliced long), mushrooms (any kind you like), fresh basil leaves (whole, plucked off the stem)

1 heaping Tablespoon of Peanut Butter (creamy or crunchy, your preference)

Optional: Corn Starch (if eating with chopsticks, to thicken the sauce)

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If you have a wok, great. If not, just use the biggest saucepan you have.

–Heat the brown rice according to bag or box instructions. Keep it warm.

–On medium high-heat, add the veggies and soy sauce. If you are using fresh veggies, start with the heaviest, densest first (broccoli), then when they are about 3/4 done, add the next heaviest (mushrooms), and so on.

–When you are close to the end (the veggies are soft but firm and the colors are bright), add the peanut butter. It is the perfect peanut sauce! Crunchy is great if you like to have peanuts in the sauce. If you plan to eat with chopsticks, add a little corn starch to thicken the sauce and help the veggies stick to the rice.

–Add ginger to taste.

–Either stir the rice in with the veggies or serve them separately and spoon the veggies over the rice.

 

To change it up, trade the soy sauce for half a can of canned coconut milk (in the “international food” aisle of almost any grocery store, be sure to shake the can really good) and trade the peanut butter for curry powder. Now, it’s a tasty Thai dish! 

 

4. SOUP

One of my favorites because it requires the least amount of supervision!

Ingredients:

Pick any 5 vegetables. If you want a hearty red soup, make sure stewed or chopped tomatoes (canned) are in there. For example, I might use a can of stewed tomatoes (not drained), potatoes (chopped), mushrooms (fresh or canned), spinach (frozen or fresh), and celery (sliced).

Pick one or two legumes. Any bean you like (black, navy, pinto, garbanzo, etc.). I usually just toss a whole can of chick peas in, not even drained. Can’t get easier than that.

Veggie stock (liquid, cubed, or powdered). Or, make your own stock by steaming some veggies, such as broccoli, carrots, and asparagus (as a side dish for another meal) and use the water as stock, supplemented with spices of your choice.

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–Slice all the veggies, if needed. Put them into a big pan. (If you used frozen veggies, ignore the instructions on the bag. Just put them in the pan, ice and all.)

–Throw in a couple veggie bullion cubes or your own veggie stock with spices (or both).

–Toss in the beans.

–Fill the pan with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a low simmer. Cook on low heat for at least an hour but the longer the better.

 

To change it up, try different spices with different vegetables. Add a half can of coconut milk, curry powder, and paprika powder for an Indian-inspired soup. Add basil, oregano, and thyme to make it Italian. Use red chili paste, lime, and a little soy sauce and now it’s an Asian-inspired soup. Make it yours.  

 

5. MIX-INS.

Best tip ever, from No Meat Athlete! Take leftover soup and pour it over rice the next day. Add canned chickpeas (if not already in the soup) and it’s a completely new dish! Use your soup as the base for the rice dish.

Instead of red sauce with your pasta, try tossing pasta with olive oil, garlic, basil, salt, pepper, and a couple fresh veggies (like chopped red pepper and mushrooms). Light and delicious!

For a super-powered breakfast, pour some raw oats in a bowl (not the 1-minute oatmeal, use raw oats). Chop a banana. Add some dried cranberries and pecans. Stir in a big tablespoon of peanut butter. Pour some Coconut milk over it (not canned, the refrigerated kind) and enjoy. It will fuel you all the way to lunch!

 

I am a super-easy type of vegan. I like to keep it simple. I love food but I love spending time on other stuff, too. Hopefully, this helped you super-busy vegans or vegan beginners with some quick lunch or dinner ideas to get you started or keep you going!

 

5 Super-Easy Ways to Be Vegan

Eat the Rainbow, by Markus Spiske / raumrot.com / CC-BY

Changing your life is scary, but your life is truly a matter of life or death. Making your life better does not have to be all or nothing and it does not have to happen all at once. Just take one step. Then another. Stumble. Try again. Remember, that worked for learning how to walk…

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Friends and family often come to me for advice on how to be more vegan or adopt a more vegan-friendly diet. The question has come up lately–“How do you do it?”, which means, “How can I do it?”

Usually someone is asking for advice on eating a plant-based diet to enjoy some of the many health benefits I have experienced being vegan (needing less sleep, thinking faster, losing weight, having more energy, lowering risk of diseases, etc.).

I think better health is a fine reason to go vegan. I hope that also leads to more people thinking about a better system of care-taking for the world’s other inhabitants. It would be pretty cool, I think, to have as many cow friends as people friends, or deer friends that have become dear friends. I remember the thrill of learning our cows and pigs had names when I was a kid, and then the horror of learning we were going to eat them. That was long before I would become vegan but it stuck with me.

The mistake most people make when considering being vegan (or vegan-ish)  is thinking it is an “all or nothing” game, that it is going to be a drastic and miserable life change. It can be, but it does not have to be. I see all change in life (positive or negative) as simply a system of habits. Eating one bad meal won’t kill you. Eating one good meal won’t heal you. It is the habitual practice of one or the other that will lead you to your results (good or bad).

I have five tips to offer that will help you on your way to taking the first step (which you will practice, and stumble, and practice again–remember, it worked for walking–it works for eating). I want to note, however, these are not necessarily healthy tips. These are to help you take the first step. I am not going with full-on tofu love and crazy-sounding ingredients (except one) to make you vegan like a pro just yet. This is for those of you who do not live in vegan meccas or even really have an idea where to start. These tips are training wheels to get you moving the right direction. That being said (and apologies for the long intro), here are 5 Super-Easy Ways to be Vegan (or more vegan-ish):

1. A vegan meal is just a regular meal with one or two things traded out. It’s not all tofu, tempeh, and seitan with Nori salad. Check this out.

Non-vegan plate: steak, mashed potatoes, and a side of corn.

Vegan plate: baked potato with broccoli and McCormick Bac’n Bits (the original–they have always been vegan!), corn, and a side of asparagus (or just an extra helping of corn).

Non-vegan plate: burger with beef patty, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, mustard. Crinkle-cut french fries. Pepsi (because Coke sucks).

Vegan plate:  burger with Portobello mushroom cap patty, lettuce, tomato, onion, ketchup, mustard. Crinkle-cut french fries. Pepsi (because Coke still sucks). To note, the buns probably are not vegan, but just worry about the basics for now.

2. Replace meat with potatoes. Potatoes are hearty and filling like meat. If you feel like Spaghetti Marinara is not real spaghetti because you need meat sauce and meat balls, then chop up some potatoes, pan-fry or roast them, and then toss them into the sauce. Add a few other veggies too, like, zucchini, mushrooms, and green pepper. Or make gnocchi instead of spaghetti. (If you have never had gnocchi, they are like ravioli but made with potatoes and super-easy to make from scratch–just search online). With all the other flavors and hearty starches, you will never notice the meat missing.

3. Replace butter with olive oil. Many top chefs already do this and the idea has been advocated on America’s Test Kitchen. Olive Oil is heart-healthy and delicious. In fact, it is not actually oil like other refined oils (including vegetable and corn oil). To make olive oil, you crush olives. That’s it. Olive “oil” is really just olive “juice”. It can replace butter on anything. Try a little olive oil instead of butter on toast (it’s awesome!). Use it on popcorn, mashed potatoes, literally anywhere you would use butter.

If a recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of butter, just use 3 tablespoons of olive oil. There are many kinds and flavors of olive oil. Find the one you like best. Most grocery stores charge outrageously high prices for olive oil and I have no idea why. You can find absurdly cheap prices if you have a Mediterranean grocery store or deli nearby (Italian deli or Arabic grocery store, for example).  If nothing else, even Amazon.com has better prices than most grocery stores, including shipping.

4. Replace cheese with Nutritional Yeast. This is the one weird-sounding ingredient that is an absolute must in our house. Nutritional Yeast is a flaky, yellow powder that adds a tart, cheesy flavor to anything. You can sprinkle it on macaroni and stir it in with olive oil for a light, zesty mac and cheese flavor. Use it on soups, salads, pretty much anything. If you can not find nutritional yeast at your local grocery store, order it online for a pretty good bulk price. In my experience, no specific brand is better than any other so just go with the cheapest (although you might prefer flakes over powder, but they taste the same).

5. Replace dairy milk with any other milk. In most local grocery stores, you can now have an abundance of non-dairy milks, either in the health food aisle or in the refrigerator section. This was tough for me, at first, because I used to drink cow’s milk with every meal. Now, this is one of my favorite parts of being vegan. There is a type of milk for every meal!

The choices are amazing. The biggest part of this tip is to try them all until you find a few that you love. You have lots of milk choices here and they are all healthier than normal cow’s milk (which was made for baby cows, not baby humans): Soy, Oat, Almond, Coconut, Almond-Coconut Blend, Hemp, Flax, Rice, etc. They are all great. My personal preference is unsweetened Almond-Coconut for cereal, Soy for coffee/lattes, Oat for drinking with dinner or just as a treat. Think of them as flavorings for whatever you are eating.

Also, you might find you like a particular brand of milk over another. They are not all created the same, so take your time trying different types of each milk. There is definitely something for everyone.

If you live where there are no store-bought options or if the alternative milks are still outrageously priced, consider buying a milk powder from Amazon or other online retailer (there is soy, almond, rice, etc…). The powders can be mixed with water and you get a lot more for your money, but in my opinion, they are not as tasty (you have to get the water to powder ratio just right!). Nonetheless, they are often a better value than what you will find in the store.

Bonus Tip: The more colors, the more nutrients. Since this applies across the board, I am not considering it one of the 5 tips. Both non-vegans and vegans have heard this advice: “Eat the rainbow,” which basically means the more colors your meal has, the healthier it is likely to be. The reason is the colors of fruits and vegetables is determined by the amount of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients within them (their only ingredients).

A dark, leafy lettuce, for example, will likely have more vitamins than a lightly colored leafy lettuce (it will also have a stronger taste). Have fun with colorful meals. Try to have at least 5 colors in each meal: white potatoes, red tomatoes, green broccoli, yellow corn, and orange pepper, for example, could make an interesting veggie soup! Purple shredded cabbage, brown mushrooms, tan chickpeas, dark green spinach, and blueberries might make a great salad!

 

There you have it. Some super easy starter-tricks to start adopting a healthier, closer-to-vegan lifestyle. You can worry about getting good and reading ingredient labels later. You don’t have to fall in love with tofu to start (or ever). Just focus on the big three for now: meat, dairy, and cheese (I know “cheese” is dairy but a lot of people do not–it really is practically its own food group).

In the future, I will share a few super-easy vegan recipes I use for every day meals, and I mean SUPER-easy. I am the laziest cook in the world because I am busy and I need meals that are even easier than ordering from Chipotle! I’ll share a few that work for me and maybe they will help you, too.

Feel free to toss questions my way via your social media of choice (I’m “Michael Salamey” everywhere) and share with your friends–having a supporter can help you go a long way. Plus, questions help me create new blog posts without having to come up with ideas myself!

Good luck on your journey to better living.

Snap, Crackle, Pop!

Why are my Rice Krispies Treats so damn good?!?

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I make awesome Rice Krispies Treats. I liked their marshmallow-y goodness and crunchy cereal taste as a kid but as an adult I have an even deeper affinity for them. Being vegan, I have to improvise ingredients, obviously, and perhaps surprisingly, my treats are even better than the traditional kind (at least if you ask me or anyone who tries them without knowing they are vegan).

Marshmallows are gross if you think about it. They are made of the ground up animal parts no person would otherwise eat, or even could eat if they wanted to. Vegan marshmallows are pretty interesting, by comparison. They are usually lightly flavored with vanilla which adds a really nice undertone to the flavor of the treats. I will usually add a little vanilla extract (like less than a quarter teaspoonful) but otherwise just follow the standard recipe, with one other notable exception, and this is the exception that changes everything.

Instead of butter (because it is not vegan), I use high quality olive oil. Think about the difference that makes to any recipe calling for butter. Dairy butter is made from the curdled secretions of whatever comes out of a cow’s boobs. It is made almost entirely of the same gross blobby fat so many of us try to rid from our own bodies. Blecch!

Olive oil is the juice squeezed from an olive. That’s it. Technically, it is no more an “oil” than the juice from an orange is “orange oil”. Olive oil is delicious, unprocessed (except for crushing the olives to squeeze the juice out), and healthy in a myriad of ways, depending on the type of olives used. As far as my gooey treats go, olive oil also tapers the sugary overdose of the marshmallow flavor and makes them (in my opinion) taste lighter than their bone-and-fat laden counterparts.

Try it. I promise my (slightly) healthier version won’t kill you and you might even like the vegan version better than the Kellogg’s version.

 

Being vegan as long as I have (more than a decade) means you really have to know, and LOVE, food, including how to make it taste great! The anti-vegan fear and marketing is everywhere but if you have a vegan friend–have them give you a double-blind taste test and my guess is you will not believe the results…

 

Banana Whipped

Listen to your body, even when something sounds delicious.

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One of my favorite desserts is a blended concoction of frozen bananas, vanilla, and peanut butter covered in a light drizzle of vegan chocolate. When run through our Vitamix (a high-powered blender), it comes out having the consistency of ice cream. The problem is it is so good I sometimes have a hard time turning it away, even when I know I should. I love food and I tend to overeat, especially when there is a delicious (even if somewhat healthy) dessert in front of me.

Of course, when I overeat, I usually regret it shortly after when it is obviously too late to make a better decision. I will feel bloated, lethargic, and emotionally depressed.

What I have learned is my body usually warns me when I am about to eat too much but I do not listen very well. When I am full, I feel full. I am socially trained, however, to continue eating until I am no longer enjoying each bite. A meal becomes a competitive sport against myself and when I win, I really lose. I have begun making it a habit to leave food on my plate, stop eating when I am not feeling hungry (but before I feel stuffed), not eating before I feel hungry, and taking leftovers from restaurants instead of trying to finish every meal.


Your body is designed to navigate the world for your brain and continue running efficiently over a lifetime. It communicates to your brain. It advises you. But, as with any advice you are given, it only works if you listen to it.