Feature - My Four Weeks As A Vegan

Feature – My Four Weeks As A Vegan

Week One

Beginning my month of Veganism on Monday 1st of April seemed like an ill-informed April Fool’s joke. But no, I genuinely won’t be eating any animal product for the next month.

I spent a the majority of my days beforehand the 1st frantically researching and browsing endless vegan orientated websites for glimmers of hope on an otherwise tofu laden horizon. Pringles, Jordans Country Crisp, New York Club Sesame Bagels, Jolly Ranchers – all kosher. Some of these are foods I’d have on a day to day or week to week basis. But surely this isn’t a varied enough diet?

Bombarding supermarkets with requests for vegan friendly products in their stores produced some more results. I did a huge online shop from Waitrose and brought a tonne of their own label stuff, including chickpeas, cannelonni beans, soups, hummus, soya milk, soya cream, a mountain of vegetables and fruit.

My food shop not arriving until Tuesday evening, I had Monday and the majority of Tuesday to survive hand to mouth. Planning was the key here. Sunday evening I made a list of all the vegan products in M&S I could eat for lunch and on Monday morning before work, took myself down there and stocked up. Tomato and Basil soup for Monday, Super Green soup for Tuesday. Easy.

That only left dinners. Monday was a case of using up what I had in the fridge and Tuesday was pretty much made up of the same. I knocked up a Risotto – with broad beans, peas, chard and lemon on the Monday and a Roasted Vegetable Cous Cous – with red onion, orange pepper, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes served with garlic and rosemary mini roast potatoes on the Tuesday.

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So far so good. I hadn’t craved meat, although I did get a slight hankering for a Cadburys Caramel on Tuesday lunchtime but this soon passed.

My food shop arrived on Tuesday and I was astounded on how crazy I’d gone. It doesn’t feel like real shopping when you’re not physically putting items in a basket does it? Plotting and planning my menu over the next few days, I was genuinely excited about my vegan haul (once the shock of the bill had passed).

Lunchtime on Wednesday was left over cous cous, pitta, carrots and hummus. I unfortunately came down with a horrendous cold that day and by the time I’d got home, I physically couldn’t force anything down except that of an orange and a banana for dinner. Still, they were both vegan so it’s fine.

Thursday saw the day pass in a blur of painkillers and hot lemon. For dinner I rustled up a Spicy Chickpea Curry – with potato, aubergine, onion, creamed coconut and basmalti rice. This was an absolute winner. As nice as my previous dinners had been, I had felt they were lacking in a certain je ne sais quio. But this one hit the nail on the head. Serving myself up a bowl big enough to feed a small army, I portioned up a huge load for a lunch later in the week.

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Friday saw a day off from work and the chance to try one of Brightons vegen establishments a bash, plus a visit to Infinity Foods was in order. Donning as many layers as possible, stuffing my pockets with tissues and venturing red eye’d into town, I met up with friends at Iydea. To see what delights I experienced, read my review here.

I then hit Infinity Foods for some real vegan shopping. I was with a fellow vegan, Neil, and my friend who works there, Molly. Basically, I wasn’t going to go away empty handed as they both had a wealth of knowledge to share. I admit, I got a bit sucked in and ended up spending over £35. But hey, when in Rome…

I came away with all sorts of vegan delights including some amazing Cleo’s Peanut Buttercups (I scoffed these on the bus home), Vegusto cheese, fake sausages, a freezable peanut nut roast, a variety of chocolate bars, two types of tofu, sesame burgers and god knows what else. Stuffing it all in the fridge and freezer, my confidence soared.

That evening, inspired by my trip to Iydea, I made Green Stir-Fry – tenderstem broccoli, kale and chard with garlic, chilli, sesame oil, soy sauce and noodles. Not one of my best, but it did the job of a wholesome, healthy vegan dinner.

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Then came the tricky part, my first trip to the pub. I’d previously looked at the Barnivore website which lists what alcohol is vegan and was pleased that many ciders were vegan-friendly. I thought I’d falter and end up ordering something completely wrong, however The Mash Tun stocked Wild Berry Rekorderlig so I was safe.

On my way home, I made a purchase in the newsagents of a bottle of Lucozade and a packet of Trebor Extra Strong Mints. I didn’t think twice about this until the next morning when getting ready for work, I stood aghast as I opened my bag and found the evidence. Ashamed, I contacted my ‘Vegan Mentor’, JoJo, who informed me Lucozade is fine and mints are a no go. I’d chucked both in the bin by this point, but did feel annoyed I’d broken my pact by scoffing a mint.

Putting this to the back of my mind, I survived Saturday and whipped up some Sesame Burgers – with vegusto cheese, salad, vegan mayo and chips for dinner. This was my first foray into vegan specific food. I found the burgers to be surprisingly good! Until I got half way through the second and it started to cool down and reminded me of the texture of cold scrambled egg in a roll. The vegan mayo wasn’t up to much but I genuinely enjoyed the vegan cheese.

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Sunday came around and as we all know it’s the day most of us enjoy a slow roasted meat of some description, but not for me. I’d planned ahead and purchased a Seasons of Lewes Peanut and Apple Nut Roast – served with rosemary roast potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, roasted carrots and red onion with a vegetable gravy.

Did I miss my usual slathering of roasted pork belly? It didn’t even cross my mind. Yes, it would have been nice, but my roast felt a lot, well, cleaner for want of a better word. Less fatty, more pure and I feel like I’m starting to taste vegetable flavours more. 

And so, thus ends my first week as a vegan. In all honestly, I haven’t missed eating meat, fish or dairy. I’ve found enough items that are as nice as the items I’d usually eat, so therefore haven’t really felt like I’m missing out on much. I’m also confident that only after a week I’ve lost a bit of weight on my chubby cheeks and I’ve generally felt quite good in myself, less sluggish and finding the foods I’m eating are filling me up for longer.

I’ve yet to find anything that was so vile I couldn’t eat it and have enjoyed the range of meals I’ve been cooking and the new snacks I’ve been trying. I really enjoyed the Choices vegan chocolate bar I found in Waitrose, not to mention the Clif White Chocolate and Macadamia Nut energy bar I got from Infinity.

The expense is a small worry as I thought it would be a lot cheaper, but as my friend Neil pointed out, I’ve brought a lot of vegan ‘treats’ and in day to day vegan shopping, not every trip to Infinity Foods is a £35+ binge.

That’s only week one done and dusted. Week Two sees me take a dinner trip to Terre a Terre, try and find a vegan friendly Italian restaurant and cope with a friends birthday drinks midweek, as well as attempt to cook tofu for the first time. Wish me luck!

Week Two

I’m not one to beat around the bush at all and I’ll tell you in all honesty, this week has been very tough. Very, very tough.

Monday started badly and just got worse. I was running late for work, didn’t have time for a coffee at home, had literally seconds to spare before a rap on the knuckles beckoned which meant no time to  grab a coffee on the way in either. Begging my colleagues for a hit of the caffeinated stuff, I was given a Nescafe ‘All In One’ sachet, poured it eagerly into my coffee mug and gulped away.

Only about half way through did I realise it was an ‘All In One’ and clearly had powdered milk in. Whoops.

Lunchtime didn’t fare much better as I watched others enjoying ham sandwiches, juicy burgers and various other meat orientated delights as I sipped on a palid bowl of Waitrose Lentil and Vegetable Soup. Very thin, very lacking substance and very boring.

That evening I broke my veganism. There is quite good reasoning behind doing so – I’d been invited to review Breeze Brasserie and had the dinner lined up for ages. Not really ideal to turn up and say ‘oh, by the way I’ve turned vegan so, can you adapt meals to suit that yeah?’ So I just went with the “normal” dietry requirements. If you want to know how I fared, read the review here.

Tuesday’s breakfast and lunch were completely un-memorable. I think it was the usual Marmite on soya and linseed toast with soup (again) for luncheon. I do remember thinking that afternoon how much I was missing chocolate as I watched them being shared round at work. Sigh.

However, Tuesday evening perked me up as I took a trip to one of the most famous vegetarian and vegan restaurants in the UK – Terre a Terre.

Oh man, the menu and food was excellent. Be sure to check out my full review here.

Visiting such an interesting and high class restaurant really put me back on the vegan enthusiasm train and after sinking two bottles of vegan friendly red wine (between two, I must add!) I left Terre a Terre buzzing about my veganism.

Until I woke up the next morning with a pounding headache and an unbelievable desire to stuff my face with a bacon sandwich. I actually nearly cried when I realised I couldn’t have one. Surviving a hangover with a bowl of Jordans Country Crisp and soya milk for brunch wasn’t quite the same. However, it was the first of 5 days off work. How would I fare without work to keep me occupied?

Wednesday dinnertime I knew I had to really line my stomach as it was one of my closest friends and big time Ale fan’s birthday drinks that evening. I decided on sausages and mash – vegan style. Using one of the Vegusto Farmhouse Style sausages I’d purchased in Infinity Foods, I set about boiling a mound of potatoes, reducing a vegetable stock cube and steaming some kale. Cutting open the sausage pack, I tossed one in some oil and heated it through for about 6-7mins in a frying pan, wondering what it would actually taste like.

Due to sheer greed, I forgot to take a photo, but it looked pretty tasty. Digging in, I found the sausage to be quite nice, considering it had zero pork content whatsoever. It was more like a hotdog texture than meaty sausage, but was doing the job of providing me with a meat substitute flavour.

Until I got about half way through and it started to dawn on me that I may have left a plastic casing on said sausage. The thing was, I couldn’t tell! I didn’t know if they were meant to be squeezed out of a plastic protector or it was meant to resemble sausage casing. I decided to squeeze what ‘meat’ I could out of the plastic/casing and leave it at that.

Thursday morning started pretty much the same as Wednesday – the desire for some greasy hangover style food was pretty intense. I decided to compromise by making myself a BLT – but without the bacon. Essentially just bread, humous, lettuce, tomato and avocado. It was quite nice, but boy was I missing the salty, crispy bacon!

Trying to put meat desires to the back of my mind, I concentrated on researching recipes for the block of tofu that was sitting in my fridge. Putting the feelers out to Facebook likers and Twitter followers, one name and one recipe kept reappearing – Yotam Ottolenghi’s Black Pepper Tofu.

Black Pepper Tofu – VERY hot!

I followed the recipe’s advice and limited the chilli content, knowing my pallet can’t handle hot food. I didn’t really think about the affect of the 5 tablespoons of black peppercorns and worked away on my dish, from pressing the tofu to finely slicing the spring onions, I really enjoying putting time and effort into my vegan cooking.

Sadly, the meal was far too spicy for me. I ended up scraping black pepper off the chunks of tofu, trying to ease my burning pallet with cool, jasmine rice. However, I’m interested in Yotam Ottolenghi’s cooking and have borrowed a copy of his book ‘Plenty’ to flick through.

Come Friday and after Thursday nights small disaster, I was feeling lack lustre and to be honest, a bit bored of eating things that were nice, but not as nice as my usual food fare. I went over to my Aunts for lunch and she’d made a wonderful, high veg Spanish style soup which was really good. She’d found it difficult to adapt her cooking to be completely vegan friendly, but did a very good job in succeeding!

I made a simple stir-fry for dinner and threw in some RealEat Chicken Style Pieces. I’d expected these to not taste anything like chicken, but was pleasantly surprised! They had the same texture and consistency of chicken, albeit more of the tougher, red meat on a chicken leg or similar. But I was really pleased with these and a stock pile trip to Infinity Foods beckons.

RealEat chicken style pieces stir-fried with orange pepper, mushroom, courgette, spring onion, garlic, ginger, soy sauce and noodles.

Saturday morning was cereal based and lunchtime was a homemade tomato and basil soup with Alpro Soya Cream. That evening I decided to make one of my favourite dishes and flex it so the recipe became totally vegan. Knocking up a Green Thai Curry with Tofu was something that I really enjoyed both cooking and eating! It was heavenly. Tofu is fast becoming a favourite vegan food of mine. I’m yet to not deep fry it, mainly as I’m scared it will disintegrate and fall apart. I’ve still got a couple more slabs to experiment with, so we’ll see what I can throw together in week three!

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Green Thai Tofu Curry – with homemade green Thai curry pasta, tofu, courgette, sugar snap peas, baby sweetcorn, lime and rice.

With only Sunday to go, the tail end of Veganism Week Two had got a lot better. Riding this wave, I headed to Iydea for lunch with my fellow ‘vegan for a month’ cohort, Jess. Living in London, Jess has been a solid rock to text when you feel like eating stuffing your face with a family bar of Cadburys Caramel or similar. It’s also great to have someone to bounce recipe ideas off. I’d highly recommended doing a vegan challenge with someone else as you don’t feel so alone in the changing of your diet and needs. Jess had never been to Iydea and was also bowled over by her first visit!

I chowed down on a wonderful sweet potato, aubergine and courgette lasagne, broccoli and almonds, tamari roasted wedges and homemade humous. Delicious! I popped into Wai Kika Moo Kau, a vegetarian cafe on Kensington Gardens, to see if they had any Operation Icing vegan cupcakes in. But sadly they’d sold out.

After a couple of Rekorderlig Wild Berry ciders in the glorious sunshine, I trundled home and made a high carb, stodgy tomato and basil pasta for dinner, followed by half a tube of Pringles!

And so there ends my second week of veganism. As Jess and I were discussing, this week has been more of a challenge as the initial novelty has worn off and the instances in which you’d rely on meat or dairy have been higher. I guess I’m learning that you don’t have to eat wildly different to how you would normally, you just have to be able to adapt.

I’m pretty sure I’ve got enough to keep me interested and occupied in Week Three and now I’m finding out what vegan chocolate, snacks and other things I’m enjoying, I feel a lot more confident. Week Three sees me heading out for dinner at Food For Friends and trying to keep being imaginative enough in the kitchen… Wish me luck!

Week Three

 

This week has certainly gone better than the previous week. Eating like a vegan seems to suddenly feel ‘normal’ and I don’t feel like I’m forcing myself to make complex choices about what to cook or what to eat. I think I tried a bit harder to mix up my dishes and not concentrate on finding specifically vegan products, I just stuck to what was in the fridge and went from there!

On Monday I was off work for the day. This meant spending a lot of the morning planning on what to have for lunch and dinner. Knowing I’d brought a huge bunch of coriander the day before, I set about planning a totally vegan Carrot and Coriander Soup. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, I get soup completely wrong and it ends up either too thin or too thick. However, this one turned out just right.

Homemade Carrot and Coriander Soup

Homemade Carrot and Coriander Soup

Eaten in bed, in my pyjamas, at lunch time. Surely this is what every girl does on her day off, right?

With the remainder of Sundays pasta scoffed for dinner, Monday was off to a flying start and Tuesday got even better as I visited the wonderful Food For Friends for the first time. Click here to read my full review.

A late start on the Wednesday meant a nice long lie in and after a bagel and marmite (my new favourite breakfast) I headed into work at lunchtime. When my break came around at four-ish I was already on ‘dinner mode’ and had taken in a lunchbox of my Tofu Green Thai Curry from last week. Not as great re-heated, but still it filled a hole in my vegan stomach. Surviving on another of my new favourite snacks – hummus, olives and pitta – I went to bed feeling really pleased with how the week was going so far.

Thursday I sampled another of Waitrose’s fresh soup collection the Red Pepper & Harissa Soup. A better consistency than the watery Vegetable and Lentil, the bold, crimson soup left me slightly red faced and scoffing my baguette accompaniment faster than ever due to the intense heat. Far too spicy for me! Palming my half eaten bowl of soup off on a hungry colleague (we’re a close bunch) I tried one of the Alpro Soya Chocolate Yogurts that had been recommended to me by my friend, Nick. These were outstanding, I was so pleased to eat something that so closely resembled chocolate.

Heading home, I planned on attempting cooking my last Vegusto Farmhouse Style Sausage alongside some mash, wilted spinach and vegetable gravy. You may remember I made this last week and was unsure whether I’d left some plastic on and eaten half of it.

Vegusto Farmhouse Style Sausage

Vegusto Farmhouse Style Sausage

Turns out, I had. Whoops. Fully removing all plastic element to my sausage, I pan fried it in a little oil, made a creamy mash using Alpro Soya Cream, wilted some spinach in Pure Spread and reduced a vegetable stock cube to make a gravy. This was a really tasty and filling meal and certainly one of my favourite vegan dishes I’ve made.

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Vegan Sausages and Mash

Friday I was on an early start and felt slightly paniced come 5.30am when my alarm sounded and I hadn’t made anything for breakfast to eat on the way into work. I was relived upon arrival that there was some M&S Granola available, so I threw together a bowl of that with soya milk. After a banana at 11ish, I was fuelled enough to take lunch at one. That’s one good thing about vegan and healthy eating in general, I have a lot more energy.

For lunch I had made an olive salad the night before and devoured this alongside some pitta and hummus. When the clock struck four, I was out the door and on my way home, my mind already planning that evenings meal.

The inspiration went as soon as I got through the door. Not in a particularly cooking mood, I made some Waitrose Vegetable Burgers, Chips and Salad. Without any mayonnaise, I found my dinner disappointing bland and didn’t particularly enjoy the stodgy vegetable burgers.

Vegetable Burger, Chips and Salad

Vegetable Burger, Chips and Salad

Saturday was once again an early start and I prepared a marmite bagel for the journey into work. By 11am I was starving and took an early-ish lunch of Waitrose Tuscan Bean Soup with a baguette. I was really impressed with the tinned soup, it was filling, flavoursome and surprisingly better than the ‘fresh’ variety.

After being inspired by my trip to Food For Friends the previous Tuesday, I attempted my own version of Sweet Potato, Spinach and Tomato Curry served with basmati rice.

Sweet Potato, Spinach, Tomato and Cougette Curry

Sweet Potato, Spinach, Tomato and Cougette Curry

Laced with cumin, tumeric, coriander, ginger and coconut milk, I was so pleased with my creation. Not a patch on the Food For Friends version, but not a bad Saturday night curry!

Sunday I did a little Greek mezze for lunch, including olives, salad leaves, wholemeal pitta and hummus. I wasn’t even that jealous when others were scoffing salami and chorizro around me! For dinner I opted to experiment with orzo (not to be confused with ouzo…) and base it around a vegetarian version of a Nigel Slater dish containing lemon, courgette and parmesan my friend Jess once made me.

Chopping leeks, courgette, shallots and frying them gently with a sprinkle of thyme, I then stired the mixture through a batch of al-dente orzo and finished it with a drizzle of lemon juice and a touch of Vegan cheese.

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The result was fantastic. I’m not one to make things up or experiment all too often, it doesn’t agree with my retentive personality, however, this time it went down a storm.

I finished my weekend off by watching a film on food production called Food, Inc (2008).

Food Inc, although completely focussed on American production, is a documentary that presents an insight into how meat is produced for consumption. What does ‘organic’ or ‘from a farm’ on packaging really mean? What quality is the meat that we buy from supermarkets? The findings, although slightly biased, are quite shocking. It made me think twice about where I buy not just my meat, but other produce from.

Vegan has become the norm for me and I’m enjoying it. Sure, I would love a rare steak, mayonnaise, cream, cheese and so forth, but for now I’m enjoying the healthier aspects. I’ve lost weight, feel like I have more energy, am more focussed and am slowly starting to realise how meat-centric my life is.

As I push forward into the home stretch, Week Four sees a quiet work week and then a visit to the Street Diner market on the 26th, friends birthday celebrations over the weekend and trying to not crack in the final few days!

Week Four

After 30 days of no product containing any element of an animal, my month of being a vegan is now over. The final week was really good and I genuinely enjoyed pulling together all I’d learnt over the previous weeks.

Monday night really stood out as I attempted two things I hadn’t made before, firstly a batch of Falafels and secondly a version of Yotam Ottolenghi’s Sweet Potato Wedges and instead of serving them with the recommended lemon creme fraiche, I opted for roasted vegetables and an olive cous cous.

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The falafels I really enjoyed making and devouring in a warm pitta with hummus, salad and tomato. However, I don’t think I fried them for long enough as they had a tendency to fall apart!

My Yotam inspired dinner was also delicious. The potato was doused in cumin and salt which I found was a brilliant combination against the sweetness of the potato. I’ll certainly be cooking these again!

Tuesday was a combination of a combination of leftover falafel and leftover orzo pasta from Veganism Week Three.

Wednesday I whipped together a basic pasta dish of courgette, mushroom and red pesto for my dinner after feasting on re-heated curry for lunch (also from week three – can anyone tell that these are the final days before payday yet?!)

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By the time Thursday came around, I was really penny pinching! Pitta, hummus and carrot for lunch with reheated pasta for dinner. Very unexciting, but very economical.

Friday was the day that everyone loves and only comes around once a month – payday. I was also off work this day and in the morning made my way through the North Laines to pick up my Operation Icing cupcakes. I’d ordered them earlier on in the week as a treat for myself as well as a birthday gift for a friend. Read my review here.

Following that adventure, I wandered up to Brighthelm Gardens for the fantastic Street Diner market. Taking place every Friday between 11-3pm, Street Diner brings the best in street food to Brighton. I was pleased I got there early as it gave me time to have a proper browse around the stalls and feast my eyes on the foodie delicacies and delights. I was particularly impressed with the Turkish orientated Sultans Delights which offered a range of vegan pastries, salads and meze. However, I was really after something large, hot and filling so enquired as to whether the Crocus Paella stall had a vegan option and luckily their vegetable paella was completely vegan!

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Oh my. Containing pea, leek, two different types of Spanish red pepper, onion, saffron and tumeric, this was a very good paella indeed. I didn’t miss the meat or seafood in it one bit and devoured the beast of a portion with gusto. I also had to watch my friend devour a Trolls Pantry burger in front of my eyes and you know what? I wasn’t even that jealous as my paella was that good!

Friday evening I did make a mistake. Quite a large one. I was out for a friends birthday and being very good by only sticking to the ciders I knew were vegan, mainly Bulmers and Rekorderlig. However, then came the stage of not remembering very much and I certainly did a shot of Jagermeister at some point and I’m pretty certain the German digestif isn’t vegan. Whoops.

Saturday was unbearable. I was very, very hungover and forced down a bagel and marmite in the morning then went back to bed for the majority of the day. The overwhelming urge for a disgusting pizza that night was painful. But, I was good and made myself a green vegetable stir fry, thinking the vegetables will replace vital lost vitamins from Friday night’s bi-annual binge drink.

I can’t really remember what I got up to on Sunday, I think it was nut-roast.

Due to working a variety of weird shifts over Monday and Tuesday, I made an enourmous pasta bake that would last me through until Tuesday evening. And that was it. Wednesday was the first of the month and vegan month was officially over. I’ll admit, I did feel quite sad. It felt like I’d achieved something really great and now that it had ended, I did feel slightly morose.

Final Thoughts

Being vegan certainly opened my eyes into how much I had previously relied on meat to be present in all my dishes, hell, I was buidling meals around whatever meat substance was in the house.

I’ve realised I don’t need meat to survive every day. I need to eat a balanced and nutritional diet based around vegetables and fruit, not dairy and meat. As such I’ve committed myself to continuing with ensuring I get my five-a-day by basing my meals around vegetables, snacking on fruit not chocolate and enjoying meat every Monday, fish every Friday and for meat to be a ‘treat’ when I dine out, not an everyday occurrence.

Eating a vegan diet also meant I lost weight, mainly on my face. My jaw became less, well, flabby and my cheekbones more prominent. I also started to lose weight on my stomach and hips, which is something I’d wanted to do for a long time. I also felt like I had more energy, I didn’t feel sluggish after eating and often didn’t need that post-lunchbreak pick me up coffee.

Overall, I’d whole-heartily recommend a vegan diet for anyone who wants to experience a healthy, fulfilling and interesting way to live. The benefits are eye-opening and it’s certainly changed my outlook on not just my diet, but my lifestyle too.