Food (and other things) as Coping Mechanisms

Today, this post is only tangentially going to be about veganism. Instead it’s going to be about my mom, because it’s Mother’s Day and because I lost her quite recently. I want to talk a bit about how she, a dedicated carnivore and lover of all things cheese, made me become a vegan.

The very first time I ever contemplated veganism and vegetarianism was last September. My aunt rented a cabin in Deep Creek, Maryland and my mother and I went down with her and spent our Labor Day weekend by the lake. My sixty-six year-old mother, who loved to party even at her age, spent the weekend inebriated, while I spent much of it in a canoe by myself.


With a view like that, can you blame me?

It was in this canoe, surrounded by water and trees and a sky that went on forever, that I contemplated my effect on the world around me. Not being a religious person, I feel that my role in the grand scheme of things is to be a walking, talking pile of stardust on a tiny rock in a distant corner of an insignificant galaxy somewhere in the vast reaches of the universe. However, when you look at it up close, this tiny, beautiful, miraculously life-supporting rock is all we have.

I don’t need to lecture any of you on the pollution that raising animals for food causes, and if anyone reading doesn’t accept that man-made climate change is a real thing, you should probably stop reading now. This post–and indeed this entire blog–is probably not for you.

Sidenote, à la Neil deGrasse Tyson: Science is real whether you believe in it or not.

From that point on, I made it a point to reduce my meat intake and even went vegetarian for about a month. Then Donald Trump won the election and there didn’t seem to be much of a point in caring about the environment (or even personal well-being) anymore.

I bought a pack of cigarettes and went to a wing joint. I’m bad at coping.

That was a knee-jerk reaction. I don’t smoke and even though I never went back to full-on vegetarian, I still continued to eat less meat than I did before.

Back to Deep Creek, my mother loved that vacation. She jumped in the lake before either me or my aunt did, prefacing it with “Sometimes you just gotta take the bull by the horns!” She loved the camp fire, the hot tub, brutally beating my aunt and me at 500 Rummy and making snide comments about it, and she even snuck outside one night by herself to go skinny dipping.


She was diagnosed with lung cancer in February and died last month–not from the cancer itself but from complications from a surgery to help get rid of the fluid in her lungs from a case of pneumonia she couldn’t shake.

It was supposed to be the easy surgery, the routine one, the one that she recovered from quickly so she could go under the knife a second time and have the more difficult surgery where they removed the tumor and part of her lung.

I feel like I’ve been cheated. I have this image of her stuck in my mind, the morning of her surgery, sitting on the bed, being impatient because she wanted to get it all over with so she could go home.

She died twelve days later.

I didn’t buy a pack of cigarettes or go get wings this time. I went downstairs to the basement, hit my punching bag until my knuckles were bloody, and then a week later became a vegan.

Maybe I can honor her memory by making positive lifestyle changes instead of negative ones to help me deal with grief.

My mother didn’t want a funeral or any kind of service. She wanted us to throw a party to celebrate her life. So, we rented the same cabin in Deep Creek this August, and we’re going to throw the party there and scatter her ashes in the lake she loved so much.


Happy Mother’s Day.


The Cheese and the Feels

I had a dream that I very surreptitiously visited a McDonald’s out of town, where I was certain I wouldn’t run into anyone who knew I was now a vegan. During this illicit, illusionary visit, I ordered a Big Mac and fries. I was so excited that I could barely wait to sink my teeth into this delicious mound of unhealthy, abused cow flesh. At the same time, I felt so guilty. I hesitated. I reminded myself that it’s not right that a cow should die just to feed my food addiction.

I took a bite anyways. I chewed once, twice. It tasted awful and I spit it out. Surely, it was just that bite. It was mostly bread anyways. I knew the second bite would be as delicious as I remembered. But it wasn’t. It tasted like chemicals and death. I spit it out and felt both relieved and disappointed at the same time.

From there, it got weird. Something about customers being served grilled cheese sandwiches in stainless steal bowls of ice water and being largely dissatisfied with the quality thereof, but the first part of that dream really stuck with me. I haven’t eaten an animal in nearly three weeks now (although I’ve inadvertently eaten milk products twice), and what I miss the most isn’t meat.


It’s still cheese.

I miss ooey-gooey, savory, sharp, tangy cheese, and I don’t know why I’m not having dreams about that instead. I signed a petition yesterday to try to get Pizza Hut to offer vegan cheese, out of the hope that a large national chain of pizza purveyors can get access to some highly processed, largely artificial, restaurant-quality vegan cheese that actually tastes good. If so, I will gladly pay their obscene prices for their subpar pizza and be contended.

The really horrible part is that every time I get to the point where I tell myself that screw it, I’m just going to be vegan except for cheese, a vegan friend of mine posts a video on Facebook of a baby cow being forcibly dragged from its mother while both animals struggle in vain to reach one another again, bleating and crying and panicking the whole time.

It’s heart-wrenching, and is my love for cheese really enough to justify that?

Never mind the environmental consequences of the dairy industry, never mind the dietary consequences of consuming dairy products, and even never mind the cruelty inherent in the veal industry, which is propagated almost entirely by the dairy industry–is smoked gouda or sharp cheddar or fresh mozzarella really worth that kind of pain, the pain of having your baby or your mother ripped from you?

I’m not even a mom–in fact am vehemently against the idea of ever becoming one–and the answer is no.

Doubts and Assurances.

Brace yourselves; it’s gonna be a long one! It’s been a rough and tumble couple of vegan days over here.

Let’s start with Friday. Friday was a really good day, actually. It was my last day of having to get up early and go into the office, and the bank (I work for a bank, by the way) was cool enough to buy us all lunch. Now, I was super scared that “lunch” was going to mean pizza that I could stare forlornly at but not eat, but I was wrong.

Sidenote: I had decided early on not to mention my new dietary preferences because I didn’t want everyone to have to accommodate me.

What they ended up doing was letting us order whatever we wanted at Noodles & Company so I got Japanese Pan Noodles with Seasoned Tofu.

Another sidenote: I’m beginning to like tofu. I was certain I could never get past the texture. Sometimes it’s good to be wrong!


There were a few good natured jokes made about the fact that someone was eating tofu, but it was tasty. Their loss! Friday continued being good even after that because we all got an extended lunch which I used to take a walk around the city. I even lucked out and the sun was out the whole time!

I actually love Pittsburgh, even though I still prefer to work from home. Nothing beats listening to music of your choice while you work, while wearing yoga pants and a hoodie.  I do miss being able to take scenic walks like this on my lunch break. It’s a trade off.

After work, I sat in rush hour traffic for the last time (for awhile anyways) and then came home and made vegan poutine. I was a little scarred of what vegan gravy would be like, but it was actually really good.


Sidenote Again: Vegan cheese is still gross. Next time I’m going to leave the cheese out. More on that later.

Moving on to Saturday, I followed through on my plan to drag my boyfriend to a vegan restaurant, so after I finished working my overtime shift, we headed out to Loving Hut for their Saturday vegan buffet.


This food made me love being a vegan. I literally don’t have enough words for how freaking delicious all of it was. (The boyfriend didn’t like much of it, but even he went back for seconds on the seitan pepper steak.)

Now, let’s talk about Sunday. Sunday was not a good day to be a vegan.

Having finally sampled seitan and discovering how versatile and delicious it can be, I decided to try making it. Twice, even.

I failed horribly both times. My first attempt was simmered seitan from one of the cook books I bought. It turned into inedible meat jelly. I think I didn’t knead it enough. The second time, I tried baking it from a recipe I found online. This time, the texture was closer to correct, but it wasn’t good at all.

Along with that seitan experiment, I attempted a version of vegan mac and cheese. It was also inedibly bad. Remember what I said about how I hate to waste food? Both seitan attempts and the vegan mac and cheese went straight in the garbage. (Also, an attempt at a vegan “cheezee” sauce from earlier in the day went straight in the garbage as well.)

Disclaimer: I have cooked long enough to know that not all recipes are winners. I would even go one further and say that sometimes you try something new and it fails so horribly that it ruins you for that particular food item for awhile.

I know seitan can be yummy. I just might not have that skill set and that makes me a little sad. The cheese thing is killing me though. I love cheese. I miss cheese. And I have yet to try a vegan alternative or substitute or creative hybrid that is not terrible.

I’ll be perfectly honest here. I sulked most of the night after these failed cooking attempts and wondered why I even thought I could do this vegan thing. I wanted to quit. I was close to quitting.

My boyfriend went to Hardee’s and came back with a bacon cheeseburger and a chicken sandwich and it just smelled so good. I watched him eat them while I forlornly nibbled the fries I asked him to get me, and  I was just so close to jumping in the car and coming back with a burger and chicken sandwich of my own.

I didn’t though. I told myself it wasn’t the first time I’d made a bad recipe and that there were other things I had yet to try.

This morning I knew I needed a good breakfast to get my head back in the game. Something vegan and tasty that would make me feel better. So I made a waffle with a banana in place of the egg, used peanut butter as my topping, and I decided to try some of the “Gimme Lean” (Haha!) vegan breakfast sausage I dubiously bought a week ago.


I think it’s safe to say that I’m back in the saddle again. The sausage was better than I expected and at least I know I can buy seitan products even if I never acquire the skill to make it. I still don’t know what I’m going to do about the cheese thing, but at least I no longer feel hopeless about it.

I Do Chipotle Better Than Chipotle!

…except for stale chips and trendy hipsters. I don’t do those better. Or bad décor and long lines. OK, maybe I don’t “do” Chipotle better, but I definitely do sofritas better!

I very subtly gave you all the recipe in my last post, and ever since then, I’ve craved it. Now my tummy has a happy because I just finished a delicious Chipotle-style sofritas bowl.


While I didn’t make the Salsa myself (I can’t keep tomatoes long enough to turn them into salsa because I eat them), I did turn my leftover brown rice into cilantro lime rice, and I made the whole thing vegan by using vegan cheese and vegan sour cream. All I have to say here is OM NOM NOM NOM!

(Sidenote: I should make a recipes page. Sharing is caring.)

In other news, last night was supposed to be a BIG test for me but it ended up only being a small test. See, the boyfriend and I were going to meet a friend at Buffalo Wild Wings to eat and watch the Pens game. I explicitly chose “B-dubs” because they have TVs on which to watch the game and because they have a black bean burger option, which seems to be the easiest way to acquire vegan food while eating at non-vegan locations (other than literally eating whatever pile of unripe vegetables they want to call a garden salad).

I still really, really like chicken wings and it was an absolute certainty that the boyfriend was going to order them and that I would be able to see and smell them but not eat them.

I was scared.

However, the friend canceled on me, so the boyfriend and I decided to make what we western Pennsylvanians call a “Sheetz run” instead. (Sheetz is a local gas station chain that makes made-to-order food.) Now, my typical Sheetz run involves getting popcorn chicken, cheese bites, fried pickles, and–if I’m feeling particularly raunchy–an Oreo frozen cream. All of these things are completely terrible for me and completely yummy.

Now though, I can eat literally none of them. (Admittedly, the fried pickles are a toss up; I don’t know how they make their batter.) So instead, I stuck with my convictions and just got fries. Then I took them home and worked some magic on them that involved black beans, vegan cheese, scallions and some of my leftover vegan ranch.

(Holy crap, that ranch is still super good!)

Anyways, voilà!


It was good, it was waaaay too much food, and the Pens won. A good night was had by all!

Except the Capitals and their fans.



Confessions and Sudden Outbursts

I have a confession to make: When I (impulsively) decided to give veganism a go, I thought it would be too hard. I thought plant-based alternatives would be gross, that I would feel hungry all the time, and that my energy levels would plummet from what I was certain was going to be unbalanced nutrition.

I could not have been more mistaken.

I mean, yeah, vegan cream cheese, on its own, tastes like what I imagine a nightmare would taste like, and tofu–even well-pressed tofu–has the consistency of slightly congealed phlegm. But vegan cream cheese can be used to make some succulent vegan sugar cookies, and tofu, scrambled and marinated with some roasted poblano peppers and chipotles in adobo, makes a pretty smoking burrito.

It’s all about creativity and a willingness to experiment with new ingredients, and I love it. I made vegan ranch dressing today so I could eat my first salad since becoming a vegan, and it was so delicious I actually yelled “OH MY GOSH THAT WAS SO GOOD!” after I finished eating it, startling all three cats and my boyfriend.


Those are my cats. None of them are vegans, although the calico’s favorite people foods to guilt-trip me into sharing are cereal, popcorn, and lettuce.

What do cats have to do with veganism? Nothing at all. But they’re super cute, aren’t they?

Anyways, I think I’m kinda sold on this whole vegan thing, and I’m going to drag my meat-and-potatoes boyfriend (who tried the ranch and said it was “not terrible”) to a vegan restaurant this weekend. At least one of us is very excited about it!


Vegan Week One Complete!

This calls for a celebration! More on that in a moment though. You know what else calls for a celebration? I passed a vegan test I gave myself.

Remember a couple posts ago when I said that the real test was going to be the first time I ate out?  Well, I did, and I’m still a vegan. While my boyfriend ordered himself something involving meat and dairy which looked and smelled delicious, I had a black bean burger with mustard and no cheese, and a healthy pile of French fries. To go with it, I had two beers–Rhinegeist Rosé Cider and a New Belgium IPA called Citradelic.

Side note: I’m super happy that there are vegan friendly breweries!

Anyways, back to the celebration! Looky what I found at Market District today!


Now, I’m not going to lie. I was a little scurred of vegan ice cream. My experience thus far with vegan dairy replacements have been less than satisfying. The best I could say about any of them is that they’ve been more or less tolerable kind of, so it was with much trepidation that I opened the lid and scooped a little bit out.


Vegans: You do ice cream really, really well. I have not said this about any vegan product I have had thus far, but it actually is every bit as good as the “real” thing. No joke. It is also every bit as unhealthy, but you know what? If it weren’t, it definitely wouldn’t taste as good. Ice cream is not a health food.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for knowing that and for doing it right.

Pretty Sure I Broke a Rule

Let me just preface this by saying I didn’t eat anything that came from an animal.

I’ve still been chugging along, eating leftover couscous and experimenting with something called Somen noodles (which are remarkably similar to angel hair pasta when cooked).


Sometime this weekend, I plan to make seitan since I can’t find it at any store I’ve gone to, even the ones that sell vegan products. Plus, a coworker gave me a recipe for vegan chocolate chip cookies and I do love me some chocolate chip cookies.

How, then, did I break a rule? Well, I didn’t eat meat, but I cooked meat. Is that bad? I don’t know.

See, I’m in school part time and I needed a proctor for my World Lit exam, and my boyfriend’s mother was cool enough to do it. As a thank you, I offered to cook her dinner. She’s not a vegan, is a fairly picky eater, and I know she likes chicken. Also, since I still have a freezer with various animal parts in it, at least it didn’t go to waste.

I might be playing around with a cruelty-free lifestyle, but I still hate wasting food. It’s my grandmother’s fault.

I still have butter in the fridge too, so I made a butter sauce (with thyme and garlic) to drizzle on the chicken and the brown rice and red peppers that went with it. It looked good. It smelled good. I’m told it was good, and I very much wanted to have some.

But I didn’t.

I watched her eat, lied and said that I already had, and then when she left a few hours later, I heated up some leftover Somen noodles with edamame and peanut sauce. It was also good.