Thirty-One Years Alive

My birthday was Friday, so I’m officially “in my thirties” now. No more of the “I just turned 30” crap. (Boo.)

Instead of relaxing, I spent my birthday getting sunburnt by pulling weeds and planting flowers, and I have to say: I definitely underestimated my flower gardens in a big way. After three hours of blood, sweat, and tears, I still didn’t get all the flowers in the ground. I may even have to admit defeat and make a couple of DIY baskets and just put mulch down because I had no idea there were going to be so many freaking rocks in the ground.

I’d post a picture so you could see all the pretty petunias in my back yard now, but owing to some lawnmower trouble, the boyfriend didn’t get the backyard mowed.

Sidenote: By “lawnmower trouble” I mean that we don’t have one, so you can see the trouble. We do have an electric weedwacker, but we didn’t acquire a long enough extension cord before it started raining.

After earning sunburn and almost heat stroke, we ventured forth in part to get an extension cord and also to get dinner. We went to a place in Cranberry Township called Double Wide Grill. The ambience of said place is a little horrifying because if you hadn’t guessed based on the name, they’re going for “Hick Chiq” which is just weird. I guess it’s what the yuppy rich folks of Cranberry Township call “slummin’ it.”

But the food. Oh my goodness the food.

First of all, while I had eaten there before back in my om-nom-nomivore days, I didn’t actually pay any attention to the vegan and vegetarian options this place offers.

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That’s right, folks. Two pages of deliciousness. I’m so used to having to make due with a black bean burger or, failing that, some form of potato when we eat out that I literally couldn’t contain my excitement.

We started with some honey garlic seitan “wings”:

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There were more than this on the plate, I promise, but I was too excited about it to remember to take a picture before we ate half of them.

Sidenote: I know honey isn’t vegan, but I’ve decided that I’m going to ignore that rule. The reason is that I can’t stomach the hypocrisy of “but the bees!” and then pointedly and deliberately murder any stink bugs I find in my house.

After we shared that appetizer (which the boyfriend said was weird but fine), then came the main course:

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Vegan Philly Cheesesteak with fries!

Now, I don’t know in what world a cheesesteak is swimming in barbecue sauce, but I also don’t really care. That bun was overflowing with seitan steak, vegan cheese sauce, peppers, and onions, and I ate every single scrap of it, plus all the fries.

That makes twice in one day that I had seitan so I now I know it can be freaking yummy. There will be further seitan experiments in my kitchen now.

Moving on to Saturday, after I put in six hours of overtime in the home office, I headed up north to my home town for a cookout with some friends and family. I took my vegan cookies, and while I knew that there would be veggie burgers for me to eat (while everyone else ate fifty dead chickens worth of wings), I decided I wanted to be able to eat more than just a burger, so I made some vegan potato salad and brought that with me. Not only that but one of my friends made vegan stuffed mushrooms as well.

The end result was that while the veggie burgers weren’t very good (but the potato salad and the mushrooms were), there was enough food for me to resist the tantalizing smell of fried chicken wings.

Not going to lie; I was proud of myself. Also, the vegan cookies were a hit. So were my friend’s mushrooms, for that matter. Everybody had a good time and went home with a full belly.

Then came Sunday. What? Your birthday celebrations don’t span three straight days? You’re doing it wrong, I tell you!

On Sunday, my aunt, who traditionally cooks me a birthday dinner every year because she’s awesome like that, made me a vegan dinner, which makes her even more awesome.

We started out with falafel and vegan tzatziki sauce (which, by the way, is literally awesome sauce).

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Now, I’ve had falafel before and I’ve never been super impressed with it. This, however, this is the stuff dreams are made of. Up until that point, it was the best thing I’d eaten since that mushroom pot pie in my previous post.

Next came the main course, somen noodles with veggies and a very spicy peanut sauce.

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Fun fact: This one was actually hers because my over-eager self had already dug into mine and completely forgot to take a picture. I’d been planning on making this myself but she beat me to it. Plus, she sent me home with leftovers to boot!

Last, but certainly not least was dessert: Dark chocolate sorbet.

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Take a moment and just look at that. I’ll wait.

I’m serious. It deserves a moment of appreciation.

Are you drooling yet? I am.

If you had asked me after the falafel if there was any possible way that whatever dessert was forthcoming could possibly compete with the falafel as my favorite dish of the meal, I’d have said heck no. I’m not really a sweet-loving kind of gal and while I certainly do like me some chocolate, I would never call myself a chocoholic.

This, though–this sorbet, this godly concoction of cocoa and Kalua and cinnamon and whatever else, this was literally divine. Like, if Heaven could be said to have a taste, it would taste like this.

It was so delicious that I don’t even have a witty or eloquent way to wrap up this blog post because I’m so lost in the memory of that literal scoop of heaven.

Just look at that picture some more and dream.

The Wagon

I want to talk a little bit today about the wagon. And by that, I mean veganism. Brace yourselves; this one will probably be a lengthy one.

My cousin got married yesterday. Despite having to work my full shift in order to get eight hours of free money for Memorial Day tomorrow, I was able to make it up to my hometown for the reception.

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Doesn’t she look gorgeous? The reception hall was beautiful and everyone was occupied stuffing their faces when I got there.

This reception was incredibly non-vegan, by way the, complete with at least three tables full of cookies (because that’s how we celebrate weddings in western PA–with literally enough cookies to kill you), as well as chicken, meatballs, Italian sausage, butter-drenched potatoes, butter-drenched green beans, and penne covered in parmesan cheese.

There was nothing I could eat, but I left as soon as my shift had ended and I was hungry. So, I ate. I had some potatoes (and told myself it might be margarine) and some beans (and told myself it also might be margarine) and I dug under the layer of parmesan on the penne and had some of that too. Also, some cookies, but there was no lie I could tell myself that would convince me that there weren’t eggs and butter in them.

Again, this is a western Pennsylvanian wedding, and you eat cookies. It’s what you do. People–particularly the people who spent a small fortune and about 84 hours of their lives making all these cookies–get offended if you don’t.

That’s not why I ate them though. I ate cookies because I wanted to. I kept it vegetarian though, which was not a total relapse, I suppose.

It wasn’t until some hours later that the wheels came off the wagon.

After leaving the reception, the boyfriend and I went to hang out with some other friends in town and eventually everybody got hungry. I’m reasonably sure that there are no vegan-friendly places in the dank hole in the world that is New Castle, Pennsylvania, so after some discussion wherein everybody tried to accommodate me and felt bad because my only option literally everywhere was some form of fried potato product, we eventually decided to go to a Chinese buffet we lovingly refer to as China B.

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What vegan options does China B offer? White rice and fried potato wedges. What did I eat at China B?

A couple chicken wings, some pork on a stick, crab rangoon, rice noodles with veggies and egg, mussels with cheese, some sushi with veggies and cream cheese, and I did actually have some fried potato wedges as well.

Did you hear that? It was the sound of the wagon bursting into flames.

We have a tendency, in these days of Instagram and Facebook, to only show off our good side. You see it all the time. People post selfies of their perfectly beach-blown hair while they’re on vacation, and of their newly planted herb garden. They don’t post pictures of five days worth of dirty dishes piled in their kitchen sink and they don’t post selfies of when they’ve spent two straight days on the couch wearing the same pajamas with their greasy, unwashed hair pulled up.

It’s so easy now to only show the world the moments you want them to see, and I could easily adopt that tendency with this blog as well. I’m certainly guilty of it on Facebook, but that’s not what this blog is for. That’s expressly why I choose “A Carnivore Experimenting with Veganism” as my subtitle. I have every intention of talking about it when I screw it up.

I do actually feel guilty, and none of it (with the sole exception being the mussels with cheese) was as good as I’d hoped. Here’s the thing though: The guilt comes from feeling like I cheated on a diet I was on and not so much from the fact that several animals had to be mistreated and killed for me to stuff my face yesterday. I’m still processing the implications of that, to be honest.

In the meantime though, just because the wagon fell apart doesn’t mean I can’t slap some duct tape on it and continue meandering down the road.

That’s what I’m going to do. I told myself I was going to write my blog confession first, as punishment, before I was allowed to eat breakfast. Now, I’m going to head downstairs and make some vegan blueberry waffles to enjoy with some vegan sausage.

 

Bringing Families Together

I don’t know about everyone else, but my family always comes together over food. The dinner table is where we meet, where we share secrets and stories, and where we sometimes have vicious arguments, usually with our mouths full and a piece of bread in one hand. We might not agree on everything (or anything for that matter), but we can still share a table and some supper.

My mom’s side of the family is Italian, so every time I imagine a family gathering, it’s always around a big bowl of pasta and homemade sauce. I’m probably reminiscing now because I just heated up some leftovers of my own homemade sauce (complete with homemade garlic bread) and hastily ate it from my home office.

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Perfectly vegan and perfectly delicious!

Sidenote: Except for the faux parmesan cheese. It makes the dish look “right,” but it’s pretty gross. This cheese thing is still finding subtle ways to disappointment.

Up until Sunday, very few people outside of the blogging world knew I decided to go vegan. But, in remembrance of my mom, I thought I should share my last post on Facebook, and the moment I did, I steeled myself for the backlash.

“You didn’t really become a vegan, did you?”

“But you love meat!”

“I can’t believe it!”

“You’ll change your mind, I know it.”

These are all things I expected to hear. I expected outrage, disappointment, and maybe a little bit of scorn. A funny thing happened though. Everybody (with the exception of one relative who heard a couple of weeks ago through a friend) was really supportive, and instead of hurling accusations and judgments, they asked questions.

My birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks, and traditionally, a couple of really awesome people offer to cook something for me. (I’m a foodie–can you tell?)  Now that I’m officially “out” as a vegan, I thought that would go by the wayside.

Another funny thing happened: They still want to, and they’re totally willing to make it vegan. I have no idea what these vegan dishes are going to entail but I’m super excited to find out! (And also really touched, as well.)

On a semi-related note, I want to talk a little bit about tofu.

The first time I tried tofu was last October (in my pre-Donald Trump vegetarianism). My experience with tofu up until that day was exactly zero, and I totally didn’t expect a spongy white mass of vaguely plant-scented goop stored in water. I couldn’t even touch it without getting squeamish.

Needless to say, I didn’t like it. At. All.

Fast forward to yesterday morning. Along with some store-bought, horrendously expensive vegan sausage, I tried tofu scramble for breakfast with scallions and garlic (seasoned with cumin, paprika, turmeric, parsley, and nutritional yeast), and then after it was done cooking, I tossed on some hot sauce and fresh pico de gallo.

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I guess now you could say I’m a fan. Who needs scrambled eggs?