Maggie Swan

Archive for February, 2014|Monthly archive page

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.