If you follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and/or Pinterest, you surely have noticed an uptick in food-related posts over the last few weeks. Since September, I’ve been taking small steps toward improving my nutrition and over the course of subsequent weeks and months, this has evolved into me trying new recipes several times a week. This is a pretty major shift for me.
At my previous job, working as an attorney for a Federal government agency, I spent over 2 hours a day commuting in addition to regularly working extra hours and then tri training on top of that. I often would come home, throw a frozen Amy’s meal in the microwave, eat that as my dinner, watch maybe 30 minutes of TV, and then head to bed. I had neither the time, nor the inclination, to cook.
It hadn’t always been that way. When I first moved to the D.C. area after law school, I actually cooked and baked a lot. Sadly, that was nearly a decade ago and while I have had short periods of trying to get back into the swing of things, I’ve never been able to stick with it.
In June, I left my attorney job and joined my husband’s residential real estate business in Northern Virginia. Now, I am fortunate enough to work from home most days and even when I have to go into the office, my “commute” is ten minutes. This has been life-changing for me. When I first started the new job, drunk on my new-found freedom, I was trying to cook something new every night and, not having cooked in so many years, the end result was often a lot of cursing and occasionally even crying. I think it was just too much change all at once. I needed to ease into my new routine.
In September, when the insomnia started, I started eating healthier, thinking part of my problem could be related to my diet. I’ve never really been overweight or unhealthy, but I do really like candy, pizza, ice cream, burgers, etc. and I admittedly would “splurge” more often than I should. Especially with my crazy work schedule, pizza made an easy, delicious, and relatively inexpensive dinner option that both my husband and I could enjoy.
When I first started making a concerted effort to eat better, I wasn’t really following recipes, but doing simple things on my own, such as vegetable soup, where I would throw a carton of vegetable broth, brown rice, and a bunch of random vegetables and beans in the crockpot for a few hours. I was eating more vegetables and splurging less.
I let myself enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas, but after Christmas, got back on track with eating right. This time, I decided to cut all obvious animal products out of my diet for both health and ethical reasons. I say “obvious,” because while avoiding meat, dairy, and eggs, I’m not scouring the internet to try to find out whether the “natural flavors” in a particular product are possibly animal derived. That is just too intense for me and my goal isn’t perfection – it’s improvement.
I initially picked a couple of recipes from the Feed Zone Cookbook, which I already own, to get going, but soon started expanding to Pinterest and internet searches and even adapting “regular” recipes to make them vegan, such as this recipe Kara Goucher recently posted on social media. Some of my favorite vegan recipe sites so far are Oh She Glows and Minimalist Baker. I’m really enjoying looking for new recipes and trying them out at home! Everything takes longer than I expect to make, and there are a TON of dishes to clean, but I am definitely appreciating the food I’m eating more.
Top to bottom: Feed Zone Cookbook Spicy Asian Noodle Soup with tofu; Feed Zone Cookbook Simple Biryani with added chickpeas; Oh She Glows Creamy Tomato Mushroom Pasta; Two Peas & Their Pod Black Bean and Quinoa Enchilada Bake made without the cheese.
I was a bit uncertain about how difficult it would be to avoid animal products when I’m not in control of the menu, but it actually hasn’t been bad at all. I recently went out to lunch with some former colleagues of mine to celebrate an engagement and I had a lot of anxiety beforehand about what I would be able to order for lunch. At the same time, though, I was bound and determined I was not going to miss out on this lunch with people who are very important to me. I still want to be able to do things with friends and family and don’t want to feel guilty about it. I checked out the menu in advance and decided that the worst case scenario would be that I would order fish. Honestly, I just don’t feel the same way about fish as I do about cows or pigs or chickens (rightly or wrongly). Much to my surprise, when I got up the courage to ask the waitress if there were any vegan options off-menu (it was clear there weren’t any vegan options on the menu), she immediately answered – without sounding annoyed at all – that they had a kale salad I could order without meat or feta. I was so happy that I asked! The salad was beautiful and delicious! I was so very happy with my lunch. So, lesson learned – don’t be afraid to ask!
I’m learning that the sky is the limit when it comes to vegan food options. I brought delicious vegan brownies to a Super Bowl party last weekend and no one even knew they were vegan!
Minimalist Baker Vegan Gluten Free Black Bean Brownies
So, I’m not going so far as to say that I am a vegan or even an aspiring vegan – I don’t need any added pressure. I’m just trying to do what makes me feel good – both physically and ethically – which is cutting down on my consumption of animal products. I feel like I am my best self when I am eating this way. I hope that I can stick with it. My goals over the next few weeks are to keep improving my cooking skills and to identify some favorite, key dishes now that I can fall back on when training gets insane in the spring/summer. Everything won’t be “new” then and I think that will help me stick with it. In the meantime, I’m enjoying learning about cooking, trying new recipes, and eating the fruits of my labor!