Maggie Swan

Archive for 2014|Yearly archive page

Tallying the results of our 30-day vegan experiment

In Vegan on March 14, 2014 at 6:15 pm

It hasn’t quite been 30 days – St. Patrick’s Day will mark the end of our month-long experiment. But I couldn’t wait the extra few days to see how our bodies have changed.

Frankly, I couldn’t believe the results.

In less than a month, with no calorie-counting and limited exercise (mostly because I couldn’t get away from work long enough to go to the gym for spin and core training classes), I lost 7 pounds. More startling, I lost nearly an inch from my waistline and an inch from my hips. My resting heart rate dropped from 73 to 63. My blood pressure, which has always been pretty low, was now 99/66.

Brian has lost 10 pounds. His blood pressure dropped significantly, and his resting heartbeat dropped from 67 to 59. He has to wear a different belt now to hold up his loosening pants.

Our skin feels much more supple. Our muscles feel tighter. The crow’s feet lines around our eyes are starting to fade.

I don’t feel deprived. I don’t stress about calories. I don’t miss the processed food anymore, nor do I miss the sugar or dairy. I miss the convenience of foods like pizza, but we spend a lot of time prepping our vegetables and fruits so that we can quickly and easily throw together a nutritious shake whenever we get hungry.

And we’re so jazzed about how good we feel that we’ve decided to see how we feel in another 30 days!


The best vegan birthday gift ever

In Vegan on March 10, 2014 at 6:12 pm

In case you were wondering how the Stroganoff Supreme and Juicy Burger & Potato Stew turned out… well, I never made them. I had already purchased the beefy substitutes and was sharing my dinner preparation plans with Brian when he gave me that look.

“You know, this is not the point of this experiment,” he said. “We aren’t trying to adapt our new eating habits to fit our old ones. This is all processed crap. Look at the ingredients.”

I looked again, with new eyes. Realized I couldn’t pronounce half of them.

Damn. Back to unprocessed vegetables again.

It’s not that I don’t like vegetables. I do. They just always have been a side dish, an accompaniment – never the star attraction of any meal.

I had gravitated toward these meat alternatives to help Devin ease into veganism. After all, I had made mini “almost-meatball” subs with meat and cheese substitutes – and he didn’t even know it was vegan. Now what could I do to get him into acceptance mode and eat more veggies?

Ah ha! Incentivize!

For every vegan meal or vegetable he ate, he would earn time on the iPad. Suddenly the kid who shunned our experiment was extolling the virtues of arugula with Cholula hot sauce. Trying everything I made (although in true Chopped fashion, would critique each meal, usually starting with “I’m not a fan…”).

We watched Forks Over Knives, a documentary that espoused the benefits of a whole food, plant-based diet. I started changing my thinking about clean eating – wanting it instead of dreading it.

The biggest boost to our experiment came from Williams-Sonoma (my favorite store): a Vitamix. Brian has been talking about Vitamix for two years, so we decided to get one for his birthday. It cost more than my first car! But oh, it was candy apple red, the Porsche of blenders, with a beautiful hard cover recipe book, and I couldn’t wait to see if the hype was true.

Yep. The hype is true.

We made green smoothies. French onion soup (using vegetable broth and forgoing the Swiss cheese). Spinach and vegetable soup (we ate this two nights in a row!). Berry smoothies. More green smoothies. Once I got past the neon green color (or, the brown ones Brian makes) – I found I loved them and began to crave them.

Making spinach vegetable soup in the Vitamix

Look at ‘er blend!

Here is the recipe for the first smoothie I ever made in the Vitamix, courtesy of Vitamix – it remains my favorite smoothie so far.

Spring Green Smoothie

1/2 cup green grapes
1 orange; peeled, halved, seeded
1/2 lemon; peeled, seeded
1/2 cucumber; large chunks
1/2 green apple; seeded
1 cup kale; spine removed
1 cup romaine lettuce
1 cup parsley leaves
1 cup pineapple chunks; fresh or frozen
2 cups ice cubes

– Place the ingredients into the Vitamix container in the order listed and secure lid.
– Select Smoothie program.
– Switch machine to Start and allow machine to complete programmed cycle.

This is what happens when an 8-year-old does not want to eat vegan

In Vegan on March 7, 2014 at 2:48 pm

I was reviewing my son’s homework last night to make sure he did everything correctly. I was reading his vocabulary sentences and the second sentence made me smile:

2. My mom’s cool she’s the best mom ever.

Then I read sentences 3, 4, and 5 – and thought I was going to fall over from laughing so hard:

Bemoaning the switch to veganism...

Bemoaning the switch to veganism…

In case you can’t read his handwriting:

3. I’d bet everyone wants to eat meat at some point.

4. I just can’t stop eating meat, I just can’t.

5. The foods I don’t like are all vegetables.

I did not die from my vegan diet…

In Vegan on March 5, 2014 at 11:53 pm

My lack of updates on our 30-day vegan experiment is not because I have fallen off the wagon or died, although the flu did hit my son and I pretty hard. For one day. I have to say – Tamiflu is indeed like a miracle drug.

Here’s what you’ve missed.

1. The scale doesn’t reflect any significant weight loss, but I have lost several inches of bloat from my waistline. This is a great development, except that when I run my shorts slide down my butt. In fact, my whole body looks and feels tighter, without any apparent muscle loss.

2. We are not starving! In fact, I’ve gotten pretty creative now that I have had a chance to explore all of the meat- and dairy-free options out there. This Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers recipe was a winner, as was the wrap I made with veggie “beef” crumbles and chickpeas, and the Tortellini with Creamy Wild Mushroom Sauce recipe from Mouthwatering Vegan by Miriam Sorrell. Up next this week: Stroganoff Supreme, Juicy Burger & Potato Stew (also from Mouthwatering Vegan), and Meat-free meatball subs.

3. I recognize how very lucky we are to live near so many grocery stores that carry vegan-friendly products – we’ve got Whole Foods, Fresh Market, and new Greenwise Publix within a 5-mile radius.

4. Veggie hot dogs suck. I simply cannot find a brand that doesn’t make me gag. If you know of a good brand, please let me know!

5. I made a great dish – Pasta No-Fredo – which tasted a lot like real Fettucine Alfredo using pureed cauliflower instead of cream. However, the cauliflower put me in SEVERE gastrointestinal distress for two days. I thought I was going to explode.

6. We *almost* broke down and got a pizza the other night. It had been a long day for both of us and neither one of us felt like cooking. We ended up sticking to the plan and going to Pei Wei – I didn’t realize how vegan-friendly their food is!

7. My 8-year-old is not sticking with the plan. I am having a hard time packing nutritious lunches that he will actually eat, and that don’t include a lot of sugar. I did, however, find a brand of meatless buffalo chicken wings that he inhaled. He is eating vegan about 50% of the time – it’s a start, anyway.

8. I just discovered that there are vegan substitutes for feta and pepper jack cheese!

9. I have not really found a good substitute for vegan cream. Soy creamer is really too thin for the texture I am trying to achieve.

10. I don’t know that we will ever go back to eating the way we used to. I do miss my fish (salmon, particularly) but the cravings I had for meat are totally gone. I don’t feel deprived. I was concerned that I would be “weak” but that has not been the case, even after really intense spin classes.

The Lasagna That Made Me a Believer

In Vegan on February 25, 2014 at 11:52 pm

Birthdays at our house always include the birthday celebrant’s favorite food. Sometimes we go out to eat, but often I would get a request to make a particular meal such as sausage and eggplant ziti, meatloaf, steak, or crab legs. Note the common thread running through these requests: meat and seafood – definitely NOT vegan.

So what to make for hubby’s birthday dinner? Stir-fry veggies? Veggies over rice? Chick peas and veggies? Yeah, I agree – pretty lame. Then I stumbled across this recipe for Skinny Vegan Lasagna at (so clever! ha!) and for the first time since we started this vegan experiment, I got really excited. And nervous. How in the world do you make lasagna WITHOUT CHEESE? Would this be the grossest birthday dinner ever?

And what the heck is nutritional yeast, anyway? (Thank goodness I looked it up or I might have used active dry yeast instead – yuck.)

Nutritional yeast, aka Nooch

Nutritional yeast, aka Nooch

After an hour of prepping and cooking, I pulled the lasagna out of the oven. Portioned it out. Hesitated. Took a bite.

Luscious, cheesy, fabulously skinny vegan lasagna!

Luscious, cheesy, fabulously skinny vegan lasagna!

Oh. My. God.

It was a layered square of cheesy, gooey, garlicky goodness. I couldn’t shove it down my throat fast enough. Even my 8-year-old inhaled it in a matter of minutes. Hubby went back for a large second helping, and then thanked me profusely for not serving a plate of vegetables.

It was sooooo good he was understandably skeptical. “Are you sure there’s no cheese in this?”

This was truly the first time that I thought: I can really do this! I can be a vegan and not feel completely deprived! I don’t have to eat broccoli and beans every night! Woo hoo!

I really need some more good vegan recipes like this to try. Got any??





I cheated today…

In Vegan on February 24, 2014 at 8:48 pm

We knew that it was probably inevitable that we would cheat today. Some friends came to visit from Canada and Gainesville, and we met up with them at their beachfront hotel to spend the day. We stopped at Fresh Market to load up on salad before joining them since we didn’t want to be tempted by any food they might have that was not vegan. That held us over for most of the day. Then came dinner, and our lovely friends ordered pizza to share. On the one hand, they ordered several veggie pizzas. Yay! On the other, what is pizza without cheese? And cheese was definitely on our no-no list.

We caved, not wanting to be rude or nonconformist or difficult. (To be honest, we anticipated that this would happen. We had agreed in advance that if they prepared dinner, we would eat it.)

Cheese!! I had been fantasizing about cheese since day one. I was in agony. I wanted to eat the pizza, but I didn’t want to eat something that was not vegan. I held myself to two slices of veggie pizza and about 30 minutes after I was done eating, I regretted it.

Remember Violet Beauregarde? She was the obnoxious twerp in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who turned into a giant blueberry. While I didn’t turn blue, I felt myself swelling up like Violet. It looked like I was having a food baby. Then the cramping started and my head started to hurt.

"Perhaps I should have just said no to cheese?"

“Perhaps I should have just said no to cheese?”

“Do you regret that pizza as much as I do?” I asked Brian as we drove home, shifting to move the seatbelt so it wasn’t pressing on my bloated stomach.

“Every bit,” he said ruefully, rubbing his swollen belly.

“I think I’ve been cured of my cheese cravings,” I said sadly. “Bring on the vegetables!”

Irritable Vegan Syndrome

In Vegan on February 23, 2014 at 8:15 pm

Perhaps it was the long drive across the state (for my son’s karate tournament) followed by a night on a lumpy hotel bed and waking up gagging to cigarette smoke that somehow snaked in under the door into my non-smoking room. Perhaps it was the new vitamins that I’ve been taking. Perhaps it is just my body detoxing from sugar and carbs and meat. 

Whatever it is, I have been one cranky girl. I was annoyed with everything – and had a hard time containing that irritation. I stuffed my face full of hummus on the long drive home, which at least kept me from talking too much. When we got home, we immediately started working on our latest honey-do project – painting the porch railing. 

The top headline on the Weather Channel’s website: Winter Shows No Mercy: Cold is Back! Eh, not so much in Florida. It was a toasty 82 degrees and sweat was dripping in my eyes as I painted away. After a few hours of labor-intensive work, we were famished. Typically, we would clean up and go to Fresh Market and reward ourselves with a nice steak or grilled salmon dinner. The idea of cooking yet more vegetables made me want to scream. I came close – but decided to just whine (loudly). “Oh my GOD! I don’t want to look at another vegetable!! I want STEAK, dammit!” 

At least I wasn’t the only one suffering. Brian began lamenting too… for hot dogs. (Hot dogs, honey? A week of nothing but vegetables and beans and you want hot dogs, not rib eye?) 

We decided to go to Whole Foods and pick up dinner from their food bar.

Dinner at Whole Foods

Ah – a little more variety… eggplant tagine, mushroom barley soup, quinoa and lentils, wild rice and broccoli.

I had eggplant tagine, quinoa and lentils, wild rice, broccoli, and mushroom barley soup. It was not a juicy rib eye, but I didn’t have to cook or clean, so that improved my mood slightly. 

I am recognizing that my biggest issue with this vegan experiment is the lack of variety. Much of that is because I don’t know how to build a meal around vegan foods. My meals were always planned first around the protein we would eat – fish, chicken, beef – followed by the sides. The local library just let me know that the cookbooks I requested had arrived – so hopefully that will help with my Irritable Vegan Syndrome. 

Day 3: Hunger, Stir Fry, Vitamins and One Sad Little Boy

In Vegan on February 21, 2014 at 7:46 pm

It seems the key to eating vegan is preparation. I did not adequately prepare enough food to bring to work – I should have known that a small container of hummus and some nuts would not sustain me for 9 hours. The work day became too crazy to leave to pick up some food, so I began fantasizing about cheese – Manchego, parmesan, goat cheese, havarti, asiago, cheddar… by the end of the day, my stomach was growling like a two-headed pit bull and my head was starting to ache. All of which made me bitter that I was not instantly skinny from cutting out the sugar and fat and meat for three days. We did, however, make a kick ass stir fry for dinner, full of eggplant, broccoli, bean sprouts, snow peas, peppers, onions and squash. And tofu. 

It was the first time I had ever bought tofu or attempted to cook with it. I cut open the package and the perfect square of tofu slid out easily, shiny and soft and globby like albino cranberry sauce. On its own, it had a pretty neutral flavor, if somewhat off-putting texture. I found that the tofu absorbed a lot of the flavors of the teriyaki sauce and sesame oil, and while it didn’t stand out in the dish as a star ingredient, it blended in nicely. 

Brian decided that we should try adding supplements so he brought home two different vitamin packs. He handed me mine: the label read “Vitamins for Women Over 40” in large letters. “Seriously?” I pouted. “What are your vitamins called?” He laughed and laughed; his just said “Men’s Daily Vitamin.” Go figure. 

Devin had a little breakdown at bedtime. “When is this going to end?” he asked, wiping away tears with his fists. “I don’t like the new toothpaste. I like my watermelon toothpaste. And I don’t like the food. I want to eat the things you cook so well. I miss your good cooking.” 

Good health is hard to explain to a young child who has always been pretty healthy. Granted, he was never much of a vegetable eater – he would eat broccoli, green beans, salad and asparagus, but wouldn’t venture beyond those choices. But, I gently explained to him, this wasn’t a punishment. “You tend to think like a scientist. Think about this as a science experiment. We are testing out theories about our bodies and food that we have learned about. And we can’t give up the experiment just because it’s hard.” 

Perhaps the detox process (eliminating sugar, processed food and juice) was starting to get to him? We read some Harry Potter and he fell asleep, probably dreaming about chocolate frogs and butterbeer. 

The first few days as a vegan

In pasta, Vegan on February 20, 2014 at 10:38 pm

I gotta be honest. I am struggling with this vegan thing.

Day 1

Breakfast – not an issue. Lunch – tried tofu on salad for the first time. It actually wasn’t bad. Of course, it was slathered with salad dressing and buried underneath all kinds of yummy vegetables and beans. But I would eat it again.

Tofu salad

Can you spot the tofu?

Dinner was another story entirely.

I had to re-shoe my car (there went a fast $700+) and so my dear husband offered to cook dinner: spaghetti and sausage-flavored tofu. Surprisingly, the “sausage” wasn’t too bad. The texture was *almost* like sausage, and the flavor, though it had an artificial aftertaste, was reminiscent of smoked sausage. The real issue was the super healthy pasta, germinated wheat something-or-other. Normally our dinners are somewhat loud, but we sat in silence, picking at our food. Finally, Devin ventured to voice his opinion. “I don’t think I really like this new eating style.”

Always supportive of my husband’s efforts to cook and the cause we were undertaking, I tried to focus on the positive. “I know it isn’t like the food we usually eat. But hopefully we will feel healthier after eating this way for a while.”

Not to be outdone by Devin, my husband spoke up. He wasn’t so diplomatic. “I can’t decide if this tastes more like dog food or cardboard. It’s absolutely awful!”

I wish I had thought to take a picture. It really did look… terribly inedible. Devin decided he was full; Brian and I gamely finished the rest of our food because we were really, really, really hungry.

Which brings me to Day 2.

Again, breakfast seems to be the easiest meal of the day. Lunch was problematic. I had to attend a professional association luncheon, and the food looked… so amazing. Several gourmet pizzas (which I would not even look at for fear of being tempted) and three beautiful salads, of which I could eat only one because the others were covered in so much cheese there was no way I would be able to easily pick it out. So I had a small plate of lettuce with oil and vinegar dressing. By the time the workday was over, I was starving. No wonder vegans are so skinny! It can be really hard to find the right food to eat.

I decided to cook Mexican Pasta with some quinoa pasta and… it was actually pretty good!

Mexican Pasta (vegan)

Quinoa pasta, salsa, tomatoes, black beans, onions, corn, and taco seasoning…

Like any normal 8-year-old boy who has an appetite for meat, Devin declared he wasn’t a big fan. Of course, if he had been as hungry as I was, he would have inhaled it. Nana, however, took him to Chik-fil-A after school. I cannot compete with Chik-fil-A.

Brian then proceeded to inform me that he discovered there was a problem with the vegan diet. “Vegans are often deficient in B-12 and Omega 3s,” he announced. “You get those from meat.”

“You watched another video?” I asked. He nodded, chewing his mexican pasta.

“Can’t you get those from supplements?”

“You can to some extent,” he said. “Flax seeds. Chia seeds. But meat does serve a purpose.”

Hmm. Sounded to me like he was starting to really miss eating dead animal. “So… It’s been two days. Don’t tell me you are backpedalling on this eating vegan thing already?”

Oh no, he assured me. He was in it for the 30 days. It was just that, after the 30 days, he *might* reconsider eating meat. On rare occasions, of course.

Out of the Blue: My 30-day Vegan Challenge

In Vegan on February 17, 2014 at 8:59 pm

“I think we should start eating vegan.”

Huh? I was positive that I misheard my husband. After all, the one rule we followed without fail was to include dead animal in every dinner meal.

“You mean we should cut back on red meat?”

“No, ALL meat. And dairy, too.”

“Including fish and eggs?”


Oh boy. My mind was spinning. I love to cook, and have a long list of recipes I adore. Ina Garten’s Parmesan Chicken and Asian Grilled Salmon. Bobby Flay’s San Diego Salmon Tacos. Alton Brown’s roasted turkey. The Neely’s sloppy joe recipe.

And I had just bought beautiful chicken cutlets to make that aforementioned Parmesan Chicken for dinner. AND my latest copy of Food Network Magazine, which incidentally, happened to be the Bacon issue.


They say that bacon is the gateway meat…

In great detail, he explained what he had learned from videos posted on YouTube – professors and doctors talking about sugar and animal products and the impact on our bodies, the economy, and the planet. Both of us had initially planned to go into the medical field after college – pre-vet studies for him and pre-med studies for me – so we understood the scientific explanations that we were hearing.

“So you see, I just can’t eat that chicken tonight,” he said. “I want to see how I feel if I stop eating meat products and dairy and sugar altogether.”

I admit that the idea of feeling better and losing the little pooch around my waist was appealing. But this seemed awfully drastic for a family that used to make up silly songs about the wonders of bacon, and who loved nothing more than a juicy grilled rib eye steak.

“You know,” I said, “There is a book about eating vegan until 6 pm. That could help us ease into it.”

“Nope.” He was adamant. “If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it all the way. No cheating.”

“So… how long do you want to do this experiment? A week? Two weeks?” I was prepared to suggest 21 days, just to show my support and commitment.

“I was thinking 30 days.”

I was silent. One entire month. Could we really make it one month eating vegan? I was surprised at my reluctance, since I was always a champion of healthy eating. I couldn’t tell you the last time we ate fast food or meat that wasn’t farm raised and antibiotic-free. We eat a wide variety of vegetables. We drink soy and almond milk, and green tea every night. We don’t drink soda. We don’t eat many processed foods. We don’t usually go out to eat, preferring instead to cook our own meals.

Somewhere deep inside was a tiny feeling of loss. Perhaps it was due in part to the craving for that Parmesan Chicken, which I knew I wasn’t going to be eating for at least 30 days. Or perhaps it was because I suddenly had NO IDEA what to cook.

“We’ll find new great recipes,” my husband said soothingly. “For tonight, we can make some rice and beans.”

Surprisingly, our 8-year-old son didn’t complain too loudly, although he was initially stricken at the idea of cutting out all the sugar. He ate his rice with roasted seaweed that we happened to have in the pantry, and seemed happy enough. Yes, he is on this journey with us, whether he likes it or not!

I decided to document this journey so that I would be able to reflect back on any mental and physical changes I experienced, and to keep myself accountable. My husband and I are pretty competitive, and the last thing I wanted was for him to be a “better vegan” than me. And, if it helps someone else who is thinking about making the leap from carnivore to herbivore, then so much the better.

And thus, somewhat unexpectedly and suddenly, I am now eating vegan. For 30 days.