Thursday, April 12, 2012

Attack of the Food Allergies!

I've known I was allergic to peanuts and subsequently avoided them for more than a decade. For most of that time I had no accidental exposure and therefore no reactions. That all changed last year.

In May 2011 I had a mild reaction when a spoon that had been used for peanut butter was only rinsed instead of washed before it was used for my food. I went to the ER because I was itchy all over and because someone who saw it informed me of the contamination. They gave me an epi pen "just in case it happens again," but I was sure it wouldn't. I was so wrong. 2 weeks later, I unknowingly ate an entire meal cooked mostly in peanut oil. This time, the epi pen got me to the hospital safely and saved me from intubation, but I was still admitted overnight and pumped full of more steroids, Benadryl, and breathing treatments than I thought possible. After surviving that, I began always asking about peanut ingredients before eating anything.

However, I made one very stupid mistake. I had eaten several things that said "processed on the same equipment used for peanuts" in the past and never had a reaction so I continued doing that. I suppose it was only a matter of time before some peanut fragment jumped in my bag of walnuts. A matter of 10 months, in fact.

A few weekends ago I was itchy for 48 hours straight. I think the guy working at subway got out a peanut butter cookie for another customer and did not change his gloves before touching the veggies and making my sandwich. I didn't see it but it's the only place I could have been exposed that day and the only logical explanation.

Last night I ate some walnuts before bed. The bag said they were processed in a plant that also processes peanuts. Go figure. This morning I woke up with a rash that covered my body from my scalp to my feet, literally head to toe. Luckily it was a fairly mild reaction so I haven't had any throat-closing symptoms. I went to the doctor and got the medicine I need, plus some Aveno oatmeal bath.

I recently discovered I love tree nuts (I'm not allergic to those because peanuts aren't technically in the nut family) and almond butter is probably the best thing that ever happened to my taste buds. Unfortunately, it looks like my peanut-free diet will end up being a tree-nut-free diet as well since they're usually processed on the same equipment.

I don't understand this at all. Peanut allergies are known for being common and deadly so why in the world are they used with other foods so often?! Companies and restaurants who allow this are cutting out a significant amount of potential customers and that's just bad business.

I hope to find some safe tree nuts locally at the farmer's market or maybe at Whole Foods. If it comes down to making my own almond butter, I will (as long as I can find safe almonds). I just don't think it should be so difficult for someone with one of the most common and deadly allergies in existence to eat without worrying about death. Is that so much to ask?!

Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now. Back to vegan talk. I already appear to be a picky eater because of my vegan needs. Add in the questions about peanut ingredients every time I go out to eat, and I come across as a huge problem child. Oh well. I suppose a living problem child is better than a dead customer, right?

Time to go figure out a way to start a movement to convince companies to process peanuts and tree nuts separately and to convince restaurants to use a safer type of oil for cooking!

Walking in Memphis

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a fantastic blog post.'ll just have to take my word for it because when I was almost done with it, I accidentally deleted it. I was so devastated I didn't try it again until now. Here's my best attempt at recreating it or at least the idea of it:

Moving to a new city is a big change. Leaving all of your family hours away is hard and scary. Starting a new job is stressful. Going from vegan woman with a cat in a one bedroom to vegan woman, meat-and-dairy-loving fiancé, cat, and dog in an only slightly bigger one bedroom is....a hard, scary, stressful big change with an extra dose of overwhelming. Doing all of this in less than 24 hours? Only a crazy person would do that! Well, you can call me Ms. Crazy (soon to be Mrs. Crazy). On Sunday, March 18th, we left Nashville with a full U-Haul and replanted my life in Memphis (technically Cordova). The next morning, less than 24 hours after locking up my first "big girl apartment" and leaving it behind, I started my new job on the busiest day they'd ever had at the office.

Let me be clear -- all of these changes are things I wanted and I'm *extremely* happy about what's happening in my life. Unfortunately, being happy about life changes doesn't make you exempt from the stress and occasionally paralyzing fear about how everything is going to work now that your life has become a big ball of chaos. Luckily I've had a couple of weeks since the failed blog post attempt to get into a better routine and finally be able to enjoy these amazing changes that are happening. Still, there are those moments when I really wish my parents were still only 30-40 minutes away as they have been my entire adult life until now.

One of the biggest sources of concern for me as the move got closer was living with a MADL (meat-and-dairy-lover). This would mean my kitchen would no longer be a vegan one. I was also worried about how I would cook meals we could eat and enjoy together. It was overwhelming at first.

Turns out there was no reason to worry! My fiancé is open to trying the vegan things I make and usually enjoys them thoroughly! Sometimes he adds his own non-vegan touch to his plate only (such as cooking some chicken to add to veggie fried rice or adding Parmesan cheese to his pasta). He also enjoys cooking so he has no problem cooking/preparing his extra things himself. I don't think I could stomach it. Another great compromise has been finding non-vegan and vegan versions of the same dish. For instance, one night he made regular chili and I made vegan chili. Another night we made grilled cheese with tomato soup. He made his with butter and cheese; I made mine with earth balance and daiya. It's a great way to still feel like we're enjoying a meal together without compromising our personal food needs.

Overall, I'm finally adjusting.

I like the apartment we got (although I can't wait till we move into the 2 bedroom house in midtown right after the wedding in December) and it's finally all unpacked and set up. It feels like our home now.

I talk to my mom a lot on the phone and will be going to visit in a few weeks.

My new job has its challenges, as every job does, but I like it.

And somehow, Boomer, Tweak, Dan, and I have figured out how to live together in harmony. :)

Now I just need to find more time to create awesome vegan food and blog about it!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sweet Potato Heaven (For lack of a better name)

I've never cooked with sweet potatoes until last night. In fact, I never even liked sweet potatoes (or at least I didn't know I did) until recently. My tastes in the past year have changed drastically, so I guess it's a new like. One day the thought of sweet potato crinkle fries sounded like the best thing on earth so I tried some (I didn't make them myself though) and I was right. Best thing on earth, for sure.

So a few days ago I bought one single sweet potato at the store, vowing to make something homemade with it, though I had no clue what to make. Last night I realized it was going to go bad soon so it was time to do something with it. I looked at a few recipes but none of them seemed like something I wanted. Finally, I just decided to go with my instincts. I peeled and cubed the sweet potato and then threw the cubes in some boiling water. While they were getting soft, I looked through my pantry to try to figure out what I was going to do to the sweet potato. I decided to sauté the cubes in some vegan butter, brown sugar, and a little water, and I sprinkled in some cinnamon. What resulted was nothing short of a sweet party in my mouth.

I didn't get a picture this time. Normally that would be because I ate it as soon as it was done. This time it was because I put it into two containers to take it to work today and tomorrow. I just ate the first serving and I already can't wait to eat the rest tomorrow!!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Imagine Vegan Cafe [Take 1]

My first experience with the only fully vegan restaurant in Memphis was disappointing but inconclusive. It was Sunday. I had just gotten off of a bus where I spent nearly 4 hours surrounded by other people and I needed desperately to pee the entire time. This was the day after the worst work week of my existence, which concluded with a 35 hour shift that did not end until the wee hours of Sunday morning. During this shift, I was injured, as was my coworker, and some heartbreaking [confidential] things happened. I was in an extra special kind of bad mood.

My fiancé decided we should try Imagine, probably in an attempt to cheer me up since he knew about my heinous week. We parked on a side road nearby and walked. As we got close we realized that despite the neon sign proclaiming that they were open, they were, in fact, closed. I looked at the hours. Sunday: 12pm-3pm, Monday and Tuesday: closed. I didn't read beyond that because my return trip was today (Tuesday). Or maybe it was because I was annoyed that a restaurant would be open only 3 hours total between Sunday and Tuesday. That's just stupid to me. Apparently vegans don't need to eat those days. I'm sure the other hours were stupid too.

Regardless, I will go back and try it one day soon. That's why the review is inconclusive. I suppose I'd rather have a vegan restaurant with stupid hours than no vegan restaurant at all. And this just proves the need for my dream restaurant that I hope to open one day. :)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Couscous Chickpea Confetti Salad!

You know when you go in the kitchen to sneak a bite of what you made earlier and suddenly your taste buds scream, "It needs dijon mustard!!" No? That doesn't happen to you? Hmm. Well it happened to me, and I must say it was the perfect addition to this dish. I didn't have much so I added what I had which was a little under 1/8 cup. Yum!
***Update over***

As promised, Couscous Chickpea Confetti salad recipe and picture!

- 1 cup couscous (I actually wanted to make this with quinoa but I didn't have any and the couscous needed to be used. Next time I'll try it with quinoa.)
- 1 can chickpeas, drained (minus the delicious ones I ate as soon as I opened the can...oops!)
- 2 on the vine tomatoes
- 1/2 cup edamame
- chopped red onion (whatever amount you want...I think I did one big slice chopped up)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 6 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin
- salt and pepper to taste

To Prepare:
- Prepare the couscous and edamame separately according to the package directions. Add everything together and stir.

Really, it's that easy. Also, play with the amounts and ingredients. It doesn't have to be limited to these ingredients and the amounts are only estimates for the most part. Happy creating!

I [finally] know what I want to be when I grow up!

Immediately after posting about my potato salad creation, I felt inspired to go into my kitchen and create. I had limited ingredients but I came up with a Couscous Chickpea salad I'm pretty happy about. That will be in another post though. While making the salad, I had an epiphany. At 24 years old, I just figured out what I want to be when I grow up!

When I was 16, I decided I wanted to get a degree in Psychology and work in a psychiatric hospital with kids and adolescents. I came pretty close to that. I got the degree and exactly 4 months after graduation, I got a job as a Behavioral Youth Counselor in a group home for teenage boys with behavior problems. I recently moved over to the girls house instead, but still, same thing. And you know what I found out? It's not for me. Sad, but true. When I move to Memphis, I'll be doing office work (and I'll probably be much happier). Oh well. It was a learning experience. A very expensive learning experience since my degree doesn't do me much good now. But I digress.

So what is it that I want to do and how did I come to this realization? I'm getting there, don't worry.

As I was making the salad today, completely using creativity and inspiration as my guide instead of a recipe, I realized how incredibly happy I am when I create dishes. The time flies by so fast because I get lost in what I'm doing. I smile, laugh, sing, and dance in my kitchen (no lie, and today the windows were open so neighbors might think I'm crazy if they didn't already know). Even cooking partially pre-made or packaged things makes me happy because I'm in the kitchen, but using fresh ingredients and creating something new (especially without a recipe) is like heaven to me!

So I'm going to go to cooking school to become a chef. Then I'm going to buy/build a restaurant and become the chef of it. It will be all vegan and use only fresh ingredients and freshly prepared dishes. Oh wait. Reality check. Reason #1 this won't work: I can't afford to start my own restaurant and since I would not want to prepare non-vegan dishes, I wouldn't have a job unless I could start my own place. Reason #2: a restaurant like this would most likely fail in Memphis, TN. If I lived in a trendy city in California, sure! But Memphis? I'd never make money and I'd have to close in a month. If I had unlimited funds, I'd still open it and just let it not make money because Memphis needs this restaurant. They just don't know it.

It's not a total wash though. I've always had trouble naming my hobbies or interests. Very few things make me feel ridiculously happy and at peace. Now I have cooking. Cooking has not always been such a relaxing experience for me, but that's because I wasn't creating back then. This is my artistic outlet. Even if I can never afford that restaurant, I'll always have this for me and my happiness. And who knows? Maybe one day I'll cook for the right person at a dinner party and they'll decide to invest in a vegan restaurant. Until then, I'll just keep smiling, laughing, singing, and dancing in my kitchen.

Not My Momma's Potato Salad

Growing up, it was a family tradition to have dad's famous burgers every Saturday night. Now that all the kids are grown and have lived away from home for nearly 6 years, he makes them whenever we come to visit. Friends loved coming over when I was a kid because of burger night. It's amazing stuff. Seriously, you missed out as a kid if you didn't get to come over to my house for burgers.

The real star of the show for me, however, was my momma's amazing potato salad. If you were one of the lucky few who did come to my house for burgers, you undoubtedly heard the story about why we eat warm potato salad. In college my mom's roommate said they didn't have time for potato salad since it needed time to chill and my mom said, "Oh yes we do." She continued making it and serving it warm (room temperature, really) so we grew up thinking potato salad was supposed to be warm. My 29 year old sister and 33 year old brother still won't eat it any other way, but I branched out to the cold kind years ago so that I could eat leftovers she sent home with me in college.

Her potato salad consisted of potatoes, mayo, boiled egg, and pickles. So simple, and yet so amazing. And obviously very not vegan. I was sad about not participating in this family tradition anymore at first, but being vegan is really important to me for so many reasons. So I found a compromise.

A friend told me how she makes vegan potato salad and I used what she recommended plus one special ingredient to make it taste a little bit more like home -- pickles! So here it is:

Not My Momma's Potato Salad
- Red potatoes, cubed but not peeled
- Red onion
- Celery
- Pickles
- Vegenaise
- Nutritional yeast
- Dill weed, salt, and pepper

I took this to a friend's house last night and she could not stop talking about how amazing it was. This is a friend I've had my entire life who has been to countless burger nights at my house and even requested I bring her leftover potato salad when she couldn't come over. And she loved it. This was really exciting for me! I loved it too but i didn't know how a meat-and-dairy-lover would feel about it. We agreed that it is way different than my mom's version and really can't be compared but it's still really really good.

My fiancé loves my mom's potato salad so much that when I asked what he wanted me to make when we stayed in a cabin on vacation once, his only answer was potato salad. I'm so glad that I've found something that I'm sure he will love (although when we visit my parents I'm sure he'll still get huge helpings of the original). Maybe we'll start our own family tradition with my new potato salad. :)

Now I just need to figure out how to make homemade veggie/bean burgers so I can make them thick and juicy like dad's famous burgers!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Vegan Chocolate Chip Birthday Cookies

My birthday was Friday the 17th, but I had to work so my family celebrated on the 19th. I picked out a restaurant where I could create a vegan meal with sides: Cheddar's. Not crazy about the place and the service is always terrible Last night our very elderly waitress bumped into me every time she came to the table -- usually with her boobs, bulging stomach, or crotch region. She even hit me in the head with a plate once. At least it was all very laughable. Now that my review of Cheddar's is done, here's what I really came here for:

My aunt is famous for her baking abilities. She always makes birthday cakes for us. However, the cakes are far from vegan. So this year I decided I would give her a break and I would try making cookies for my birthday (I don't really care for cake anyway).

I didn't have the proper supplies so I made the cookies at my mom's house with her help. I'm also not a baker. I love to cook, but baking? I'd rather have second helpings of veggies or fruit than any sweets. So it was interesting. I was also running on very little sleep and going from there to an overnight shift at work. All that being said, I like the cookies! They don't taste exactly like Aunt ML's cookies, but I didn't expect them to. They're just different. The general consensus from family was, "They're different, but I like them." My dad even ate 2 (which may have only been for my benefit, but I love him for it).

I think I'd like to keep trying different recipes and maybe true egg replacement stuff instead of flax eggs, but I'm happy with the experience overall. It was a yummy learning experience. And for my birthday present, my mom and dad got me a mixer and a cookie sheet so I can make things at home. Maybe I'll even start baking more now!

Oh and the best part of the day was going wedding dress shopping with my matron-of-honor, "just to look" and finding (and buying) my wedding dress! :)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Vegan Fiancé

Last night we went to a weekly get together that my boyfriend's friends in Memphis always have. I got to meet them and it was great fun! Once I move here I can't wait to start bringing vegan dishes to the get together (they're very vegan friendly but they didn't know any vegans would be there so they didn't have much for me, but I ate right before anyway).

So after this get together we got in the car. A few minutes later I realized he was driving towards downtown instead of toward my hotel. He said we were going to get some more wine at a downtown bar. We ended up at the amazingly gorgeous Peabody Hotel, where my one glass of wine cost more than the bottle we bought to take to the get together. We sat and talked and sipped on wine.

We've been discussing getting married for a while, so he said we should go look at the ballroom upstairs at the hotel for the venue. I just laughed and said, "There's no way we can afford that." I didn't realize he didn't plan to get married there, just engaged. Since I unknowingly ruined his plan, he looked for another opportunity. At that point he thought he would just wait until we were leaving and say, "Wait, I forgot one thing," and then, bam, proposal time.

However, he got a better opportunity. The hotel bar had live piano music and I noticed they were playing a song from The Little Mermaid. I'm pretty much obsessed with The Little Mermaid (even though I don't really like cartoons) and he is well aware of this. He didn't recognize the song so I said, "You know, the one that says 'I want to be part of your world'?" and I was so distracted by the song I didn't notice he pulled out a little box. Then I heard him say, "Yeah? How about you be part of my world?" And there it was. My dream ring, being handed to me by my dream man. I'm so far beyond excited I can't even sleep! I only got a few hours of sleep but I feel completely energized! I get to be this amazing man's wife. How lucky am I?!

And now begins the search for vegan and non vegan options that can co-exist for our wedding while I start my life with my meat-and-dairy-loving man! :)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Vegan Valentine

Last night, my boyfriend and I had our special v-day dinner one night early to avoid the crazy crowds and because it worked better with our schedules. We went to J. Alexander's, where neither of us had ever been. After apartment hunting all day (and finding our new place!), I was extremely hungry and a little worried about what the restaurant had to offer since they didn't have info on their website. Luckily, our waitress had previously worked in a vegan restaurant in Cali so she was familiar with what options I had and more than willing to ask around in the kitchen about stuff she didn't know.

I ended up going with the veggie burger (sans cheese) and fresh steamed broccoli. It was, by far, the biggest and best veggie burger I've ever had! It was loaded with flavor. My meat-and-dairy-loving boyfriend even tried it and said, "If you can figure out how to make that at home, we can eat veggie burgers every night!" The spices used in it seemed to have a bit of southwestern flair, though I'm still clueless as to what was in it. The only negative was that it didn't hold together very well, but it was still just as delicious on a fork as it was on a bun, so that's not even a real negative!

This picture does not even do it justice, by the way (probably because I was in such a hurry to eat it I wasn't too concerned about how the picture turned out!). Yummy!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Traveling Vegan on a Budget

Today I leave for a 5 day, 4 night trip to Memphis, partly to make moving arrangements, and partly to spend time with my boyfriend, who lives there. I will be staying in a hotel (long story). I also happen to be even more broke than usual right now. This should be interesting...

Eating vegan while traveling can be difficult. Eating vegan without a way to cook can be difficult. Eating vegan on a budget (of as close to $0 as is humanly possible) can be difficult. Eating vegan on a budget while traveling with no way to cook? Overwhelming to think about! At first.

I started by upgrading to a room with a mini fridge and microwave. The fridge, especially, will be a huge help. I figured out in advance when I will be going out to eat, picked restaurants, and found vegan options at each. Most, if not all of my dinners will be taken care of. My boyfriend's parents (of course, I'm visiting them too) have some vegan meals in the freezer and have been kind enough to offer them to me. Sweet! As a back up, I'm bringing protein/meal bars and several snack options just in case. That way, if I can't get enough to eat at their house, I don't have to worry about offending anyone (although I doubt they would be offended since they are understanding about me being vegan) or going to bed hungry. Plus, I eat small amounts all day anyway. I tend to have several snacks rather than 3 meals. For lunches, I'll be making hummus sandwiches with fresh veggies. I could eat that every day even without a good reason! For breakfast, I know I will be able to eat a few of the options provided by the hotel (fruit, plain bagel, etc), but I'm also bringing my own cereal, soy milk, and bananas. One thing to remember if you're traveling and plan to drink the hotel's coffee, it's highly unlikely that they will have a dairy free creamer available. I'm packing my own vanilla caramel flavored dairy free creamer because without my coffee, I'd be a zombie!

So after sitting down, thinking about it, and doing a little bit of planning, I discovered that traveling vegan on a budget can be done with ease!

Picture, or it didn't happen

Pictures of some of the food I've made so far!:

Vegetable Fried Rice:

Pasta Salad:

Tofu Tacos:

Hummus and Veggie Wrap:

Fettuccine Alfredo with Broccoli:

Smashed Dill and Garlic Potatoes:

Learning Vegan

In the past, when I tried being vegan, I was setting myself up for failure. I was in college, with very, VERY limited funds (and now that I have a degree and work for a non-profit, that has changed soooo much.... *sarcasm*). My knowledge about vegan options essentially consisted of what the tiny "health food" section at Kroger contained -- veggie burgers, one tofu option (which I wasn't entirely sure how to use), soy cheese (which I didn't realize wasn't even vegan thanks to casein), and tofurkey. Beyond that, all I ate was fruit and vegetables, and since I couldn't afford a lot of fresh produce, that was limited and/or frozen.

I wasn't vegan; I was deprived. As the years have passed and Kroger's health section has expanded, so has my knowledge of vegan options -- there are SO many!! One thing that helped was my palate changing as I got older. Hating beans and rice doesn't make for a happy vegan. So glad that phase is over!

This time around, I educated myself as I made the transition. Originally, I just wanted to incorporate more vegan dishes into my regular diet, for health reasons, mostly. Then I decided I would be a flexitarian (eat mostly vegan and vegetarian but be willing to bend and break the rules with little or no provocation). That lasted about 17 minutes. When I do something, it's all or nothing, which is often a bad thing. In this case, I think it was beneficial. On January 23rd, 2012 I bought groceries and came home to try some new vegan recipes. That night, I decided I would finish up the few non-vegan food items in my apartment as soon as possible (I cannot throw good food out. I did, however, give a lot of it to my meat-and-dairy-loving family). On February 1, 2012 I was officially, completely vegan.

I'm still learning daily. I often find myself saying, "Holy crap, they make a vegan version of that?!" Learning about the options is almost as fun as eating them. I'm moving to Memphis in less than 6 weeks, and I'm so excited to try some of the vegan options I've read about there (including a completely vegan restaurant). I'm also excited to have a place to talk about the new experiences I have as a vegan. I expect there will be lots of interesting experiences ahead!

What Vegan Living and Loving means to me...

I love finding innovative, healthy (and yummy!) vegan recipes and general "green" ideas for the home and testing them out. I also like to talk about it and post pictures, which is where this blog comes in (apparently, people on Facebook don't want to constantly hear about my newest vegan dish or homemade tub cleaner -- crazy, I know!).

A big challenge I deal with living as a vegan is not knowing many people who are vegan (or even many who understand what vegan actually means -- thank you, dirty south) and having lots of loved ones who are not very vegan-savvy. I hope to lead by example, showing those around me that a vegan diet (and lifestyle) is fun, easy, beneficial, and downright yummy! :)