Summer Fun With Vegetarian Fast Food

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Summer is about barbecues and occasional food fests, so what is a vegan or vegetarian to do? Well, with so many new meat alternatives on the market, now we can join right in. I usually don’t buy processed meat alternatives so on my last shopping trip I was surprised to discover just how many new kinds there are out there. So many in fact, that I couldn’t decide.

I also discovered that stores now sell various new syles of buns. They tend to be the same whitebread junkfood that I so fondly remember from childhood, but sold in new formats (thinner ones, ones with pseudo “smart” grains hidden away, etc). I was irresistibly drawn to the tiny little ones- so-called slider buns, and mini hot dog buns.

The result- I bought the little elf buns, 2 kinds of veggie burgers, 2 kinds of veggie dogs, and added in my own homemade beet burgers and we had two days of “taste offs”. To taste my burgers, I cut them in quarters and ate them open-faced on the buns, while a half length of a hot dog fit nicely into the mini dog buns.

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With a side salad, fresh chili-lime sriracha corn, and garnishes, it was two days of summertime junkfood indulgence. The results were inconclusive (I’ll share the details below for what my family decided), but I did learn that there is no earthly excuse left for me to eat “real” processed meats. There are so many delicious options now that I can fill any wayward junkmeat craving that could ever arise.

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Burgers tested:
Yves “Veggie Burger Burgers”
Isadora’s “Go-Nuts Burger”, made with walnuts from nearby Saturna Island, BC.
My homemade veggie and beet pulp burger, made with pulp from my juicer.

Hot Dogs tested:
Yves Veggie Dogs
Field Roast Frankfurters

Results:
My daughter and I both liked the Yves burgers the best. They are also the cheapest for me to buy since a local store carries them and frequently puts them on sale. They are the most like real meat burgers in taste. My son and I also really liked the Go-Nuts burger, which was not much like a meat burger, but we thought it tasted pretty delicious. We liked the texture of the crunchewy nuts, but my daughter was put off by it. Bonus that it was local, but (likely because they are a small, newer company) it was the most expensive, even on sale. My son’s favourite was my homemade burger (yay me!). I also love its taste, but I cannot get past its deep red color. With white in it also from the chopped onions and oatmeal it just looks eerily like raw hamburger meat to me. No matter how much I tried to cook that color out, I still needed a blindfold to eat it.

My son was lukewarm about both of the hot dogs, but he has never been a hot dog lover, even when we ate meat. My daughter liked the Yves dog best. I am able to cook it so that it has a good texture and juiciness like real hot dogs (see my older post here for tips on cooking veggie burgers- I do hot dogs in a similar way), but to me it still didn’t quite have that real hot dog taste I remember. The Field Roast, however, was phenomenally close to a real frankfurter in taste. It was my favourite, although it was also phenomenally expensive, and extremely salty.

The final verdict: All of these had good and bad points to weigh out, and nutritionally nothing beats homemade, but it was a lot of fun and I could occasionally see doing something like this again. We laughed and chatted and learned new things about each other as we compared and tasted our way through all the different combos.

Just Wonderin’

The most shared headline, #1 on today’s NYDaily News online: Packaged Salad Mix Named as Source of Severe Stomach Virus. It seems that 21 people have been hospitalized over 11 states due to eating prepackaged salad contaminated with cyclospora virus. Cyclospora causes “traveller’s diarrhea” that can last up to 6 weeks and relapse later if untreated. As with any illness like this, it can be dangerous for the immunocompromised population (source), but generally it does not lead to serious complications.

Way down at #5 on the same list is the headline that 50,000 pounds of ground beef has been recalled due to E.coli bacteria. E.coli is known to kill 3-5 percent of people affected by it. Possible lifelong complications include blindness, kidney failure, or paralysis. Within the beef article it also notes that last month, 23,000 pounds of E.coli tainted beef was recalled, and within the salad article is a link to information that “Consumer Reports tested 257 samples of ground turkey from 21 states and found 90 percent were contaminated with germs such as E.coli and staph, as well as fecal bacteria” (link).

Which one do you think is the bigger story?

Random Thoughts About Going Vegan(ish)

My cousin is visiting from England and yesterday we went on a hike and took her to a nice restaurant in Genoa Bay. Naturally, their menu is seafood-based. Knowing this ahead of time, I was prepared to break my usual vegan diet. I will occasionally do that and eat seafood, eggs, or dairy, but I am less and less comfortable with those exceptions. It made me think about how my change in diet has forced other lifestyle changes. Most of them I see as a bonus, but they can definitely remind me how convenience-oriented our society has become.

So, if you decide to move to a vegan or plant-based lifestyle, be prepared to:

-Immediately recycle all the fast food sale flyers that come in your mailbox or newspaper. DO NOT look at them first! They will tell you where you can buy pounds and pounds of already cooked meats and side dishes for a few pennies. You will start to believe you can feed your family with no effort all week for the price it takes to create one plant-based meal. On a Wednesday when you have worked overtime all week and still face two more long days, you will feel even worse.

-Forget about going to fast-food chains. All you can get there are the fries, if they are not cooked in beef tallow. Salads are always vastly overpriced, and you usually you have to ask them to leave off the meat and cheese that gives them a hint of taste. You will be left with a tiny $6.00 plastic bowl of limp iceberg lettuce and a sad oil and vinegar dressing. As a bonus you get to watch and smell everyone around you nomming down on fatty animal carcasses among mounds of greasy paper wrappers. In the 60’s, my Dad used to drive us to the dump to watch coyotes and bears pick through the trash (yeah, fun times, hey?). I was reminded of it the last time I went to a fast food place.

-In regular family-style restaurants, find a dish you can always ask them to make specially for you. But get used to paying full price for meals without meat. I have found virtually every place will make you a BLT sandwich without the bacon or mayo. However, I have never had them offer to take any money off. Similarly, you will find that all of the salad selections come with sliced chicken or salmon. They will happily leave these off if you ask, but they will not reduce the price for doing so.

-You will be surprised at how few meatless (never mind vegan) meals are offered in regular restaurants. You will learn to find the vegan-friendly restaurants in any town you go to. There is usually at least one, and it can be so nice to look at a menu and see some good creative dishes.

-If you watch reality TV, realize that you could never participate on any of the shows yourself. None of the cooks on the shows can cook a meatless meal. (Which brings up the question for me- if they are supposed to be so good, why cant they cook decent meals without meat as a flavour crutch?) And, if you were on any of the amazing race or dare-type shows, you would have to eat some extra nasty kind of offal meat as a challenge.

You will discover some good things, though:

-If you read grocery flyers, you really only have to look at the front and back pages, since the rest of the flyer is filled with meat, dairy, and processed foods. It certainly speeds up the weekly grocery shop planning.

-At the checkout counter, it is always fun to go behind someone who clearly buys from every page of the flyer, and compare their grocery bill with yours.

What unexpected things have you discovered about changing your lifestyle?

Updates

Well, stuff happens and I’m sorry that I’ve had a bit of a break in my posts, but I’m back now. I had a few health struggles at the same time as some large changes at my daytime workplace and it was really all I could cope with. I was very fortunate because in the end it was just a good scare and a warning to keep working on my health. Someday I may write a post about it, but for now I am just happy to get back to some regular blogging.

I’m working on a few small changes to the blog, including getting a proper recipe finder installed to make it easier to plan for meals. Also, because I lost track of where I am with my mileage counter for the “2013 in 2013” challenge, I will be suspending that challenge for now. However, I will still be fundraising for West Coast Assistance Teams throughout this year, so please check them out. More to come soon!

More Fun Charity Sites

by Dominic’s pics

I have been enjoying seeing how people are raising money creatively, so I thought I would round up a few more of my favourites to inspire us all to keep thinking outside the box when we look to give back. After all, why shouldn’t we have fun while we do good?

First is a yearly event in Canada that is happening two days from now. It is done with humour and originality (although it does rely a bit on old stereotypes- still, I believe the intent softens that). This Thursday is National Sweater Day, when we are all encouraged to turn the heat down and put on our favourite sweaters to help the World Wildlife Federation take action against climate change. And to help us remember, they have a group of very funny grannies that you can book to call and remind you (or for more fun, you can book one to call one of your unsuspecting friends). Watch some of the grannies in action HERE and book your call.

Second is an inspiring site called Tim’s Running Reviews. Tim is working to raise money for The Foundation for Angelman Syndrome Therapeutics. To do this, he is hosting a virtual 5K race. Read all about it on his blog HERE. You might not be able to resist joining in and doing his virtual 5K!

And the third one that has come across my page lately is Moolta. This is a site that challenges people to do very silly things to raise money for charity. The types of challenges would (generally) likely appeal more to younger people- some are a bit baffling to me- but I loved the most recent post HERE, all about Rag Week. Rag week seems to be a British tradition for university students, who spend the week doing quite funny things to raise money for charity. I think rag week is a tradition that should move across the pond, don’t you?

So much fun to do so much good! It makes me smile and giggle. What can be better?

Starting a Healthy Diet, Part 2. Pick One of These…

By their nature weight-loss diets are restrictive, and that makes them nearly impossible to sustain over any extended time. But once we move our focus away from merely losing weight, and aim at eating good healthy nutritious food, a whole new world of possibilities opens up for us. In order to have a truly healthy diet that supports our heart and immune system, we should be doing all of the things I will list below (and get lots of good strength and aerobic exercise, too).

However, the neat thing about this list is that you can choose to implement these ideas one at a time, and still enjoy improved health and healthy weight loss right from the start. Some people will decide to only ever do one or two things from the list, and that might work well for them. However, it has been my experience that some steps are important for me to keep my own food addictions in check. If you eat irrationally by indulging cravings (or if the thought of changing your eating habits makes you feel panicky and you want to run out and buy a particular food), you may want to start by following the starred (*) items religiously. The panic and cravings are a clue that you may have some food addictions too, so you have to break them. After toughing it out for a few short days, you will no longer feel the panic, and eating this way will begin to feel good- honest.

1*. Eat REAL food, not processed. If you are used to eating mainly processed foods and takeouts and this seems daunting, start by finding one homemade recipe based on your favourite meal. Treat it like a game, experimenting with recipes until you find one that tastes good and is easy for you to make. You will likely discover that the homemade one is cheaper (bonus), and likely does not take much more time to make. After you get good at one recipe, choose another. The aim is to replace ALL processed food with real food. Start reading labels and you will see why this is a good idea. If you eat processed foods, you have no idea what strange things you might be ingesting. (See this and this for example).

2*. Eat alternatives to refined sugar (and cut down the sugar consumption overall). Once you start eating real food your tastes will change and your sugar cravings will be reduced anyway, but it is still good to be mindful of what you put in your recipes. For sweetness, you will be surprised how quickly you find a new taste for fresh fruit, and in recipes you can replace refined sugars with smaller amounts of unrefined sweeteners like agave nectar, maple syrup, brown rice syrup or coconut sugar. For more information, see this article.

3*. Switch from simple to complex carbohydrates. Simple carbs include the sugar mentioned above, but also things like white flour and most store-bought baking (see this article about breads for an eye-opener). Complex carbs are found in vegetables, beans, lentils, and many other leguminous plants.

by Gary Wilmore

4. Trade meat and dairy for other dense proteins, like tofu, beans, seitan, and tempe. There is overwhelming evidence that meat and dairy are extremely bad for you. If you want to check this out yourself, read The China Study or go to the website for Physicians for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), or google it- there are numerous good evidence-based studies about this. Nevertheless, I know that many people may not be comfortable with this change. Again, you need to make choices that you are comfortable with, in the way that you can live with. You could always approach this one step at a time. Like with the processed foods, you could start with the “meatless Mondays” idea and replace one meat meal a week. Or, you could choose one meat/dairy dish and go on a hunt for a healthier replacement recipe that you will be happy with, and then repeat until you have subbed out all your old meat/dairy dishes.

And that is it! Do those 4 things and you will be well on your way to a healthy body, without counting calories or spending exhorbitant amounts of money on “diet” (fake) food and supplements.

CHALLENGE! (for you)
What is your best/easiest/tastiest recipe that replaces an older favourite food? (ie- were you addicted to a certain fast food burger and now you have a rival vegan recipe?) Share with us- I’ll bet there are others who feel the same.

CHALLENGE! (for me or others)
Is there still a recipe that is just outside your grasp, and you’d like me or other readers to find or develop a healthy alternative recipe that makes you drool as much as the old one? Send it out and we can all work on it together. I can start the ball rolling. I am still trying to crack the code for making a vegan version of Pizza Hut’s breaded hot chicken wings. (I think they are only sold in Canada, and even the individual restaurants don’t have the recipe- I’ve asked. lol. They come to them frozen and pre-breaded). Has anyone out there found that perfect crunch and want to share it with us? Or do you have any tips or ideas for me to use as I continue the quest?

Starting a Healthy Diet- Part One. The Problem With Our Weight Obsession

Yes, being overweight is generally part of being unhealthy, and especially in the more affluent countries more people are overweight than ever. Also, overweight people are more likely to be obese than ever before. But in spite of society’s ridiculous obsession with appearance (really- grow up shallow people of the world! Fat shaming is OK? How about we start non-critical thinking shaming?), focussing on weight loss is not how we will make society healthier.

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$2013 in 2013 Update- First 8K Run of the Year

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Pre-race bib pick-up.

Sunday (13th) we drove to Saanichton on the peninsula of Vancouver Island for the first run of the year in the Island Race series. It was frosty and clear but the sun was out and the sponsors gave out free gloves to anybody who needed them. And talk about an amazing bunch of runners! The fastest runner came in at 23:49 and the first place women’s finisher did the 8K in a top 25 in the world time of 25:28!

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Ready to run. (I’m not there- I took the pic)

In my world, that means she had finished and was already getting her sandwiches and fruit before I was even at the halfway mark. I struggled quite a bit and found I was near the very back of the pack overall. I am used to going in the bigger races with lots more recreational walker/runners like me and I was quite outclassed as the majority of people in this race were serious runners. Still, a group of us had entered as an extended family and others in my group did very well in their age categories. My nephew came in 9th in his category, my sister came in 7th, and my daughter came in 3rd, winning a medal for her efforts! I am a very proud Mom. Considering that most of the people in our family group only started running in the last year or two, I think we all did ace, and I added another 8K onto my $2013 in 2013 tally.

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Both Winners in my Book!

And later, when my daughter asked me if I would have been embarassed if I came in last, I told her that yes, part of me would have been embarassed, but I will always keep three things in mind. First, no matter how much I struggle in these races, I know how far I have come since just last year. So, others may see a last place finisher, but I’m ahead of where I was for the last 25 years and I will continue to improve. Second and third, I remember two cool t-shirts I have seen in other races. One said “No matter where I finish, I am still ahead of the people who stayed on the couch”. The second was this photo from weknowmemes:

This reminds me that we all have a story and the last person’s story may in fact represent a greater triumph than the winner’s, we just don’t know. So yes, we tend to compare ourselves to others when we race, but we should not let the fact that others are ahead of us be discouraging, because there are always people ahead of us and behind us. The real competition is against ourselves and we should celebrate every step we take to improve. So if I came in last or even if I didn’t finish, I would still be proud that I had the courage to enter and try. (And after that deep speech, I secretly vowed to up my training before the next race…. Because I don’t want to finish last).

Bittersweet Morning

I went on my first walk/jog of 2013 this morning, which turned out to be a perfect transition between 2012 and 2013. I set off in the brooding morning mist, and I felt keenly the start of a year without my constant canine companions keeping me company on my walk. I took a different route to break the feeling of something “missing”.

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As I went along the river path I must have met all the dogs in Duncan, out for walks with their owners. It was sad, and I have to admit that a few teardrops snuck out as one extremely happy Sheltie spotted me as a likely playmate and brought me his ball to throw. As I got to the end of the riverside park, I said a final goodbye to the gangs of dogs, and to my own little dog, Patch, feeling that I was leaving her in 2012 and moving on to 2013.

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I continued through town to the official dog park (empty of course- all the dogs were busy at the river), and to the outside gym and walking track/sportsplex. Here I began meeting the regular exercisers and the sun started peeking out.

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A nice little side trail opened my eyes to the beauty of the day and my melancholy mood was lifting. As I turned and headed for home, I decided to take a detour to drop in on my son and wish him a Happy New Year, and by the time I got back to the Cowichan River near my home, I was thinking of all the adventures ahead in 2013.

I have my first vegan cooking club meeting for 2013 next Sunday and our plan is to each try a recipe with an ingredient we have never tried before (and yes, I do count food as an adventure- I love my food!). The week after that is the start of the Island Race series with an 8K in Saanichton, BC. My daughter and I are planning to enter. I am looking forward to updating my $2013 in 2013 Challenge, as well as cheering on the challenges of a couple of other bloggers I have begun to follow across the seas (sometimes I love technology!). Marc Hemmingway, from Great Britain is the original 2013 in 2013’er, and Baz- The Landy over in Australia lets me join him vicariously on his mountain climbing and outdoors adventures. They both help to keep me inspired.

So, that was my morning walk/trot, and that is also my first update for “$2013 in 2013”. I traipsed a grand total of 7.6 Km (according to Google pedometer), which gives me a nice easy start for the year. As I said at the beginning of the post, it was also a nice transition from the pull of the past and looking forward to the pull of possible future adventure. It made me think of a poem by Robert Francis:

Poised between going on and back, pulled
Both ways taut like a tight-rope walker,
Fingertips pointing the opposites,
Now bouncing tiptoe like a dropped ball,
Or a kid skipping rope, come on, come on!
Running a scattering of steps sidewise,
How he teeters, skitters, tingles, teases,
Taunts them, hovers like an ecstatic bird,
He’s only flirting, crowd him, crowd him,
Delicate, delicate, delicate, delicate – Now!

The poem is called The Base Stealer, but the first time I read it I was not given the title, and I will therefore always visualize a drop of water running down a slightly drooping vine and hanging there in the moment before it falls to the ground- the tiny suspended moment between past and future, when time stands still for an instant, allowing a quick final gift of reflection before moving on to the exciting unknown.

photo by emrank

Long Noodles, Power Plates, and Templates

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December 31st- wow! Today is long noodle day, which means an easy lunch that my daughter loves- long noodle soup to symbolize living a long life. I add lots of veggies to the noodles (symbolizing a healthy life haha). After all, the pleasure of a long life comes from good health.

Recipe (if you can even call it that):
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