Monday, March 18, 2013

The Rules

Cedar plank salmon with grilled veggies

Since I'm making up my own pescatarian rules, it helps to actually write them down and commit to them.  If I think up a plan but don't voice it out to people, I won't commit to it.  I also have a partner in crime who is partaking in this pescatarian venture with me and we keep each other accountable.  So for the forseeable future, here are the rules of my diet:

1) No animals except fish.
2) Anything a vegetarian can eat, I can eat too.
3) Eggs and dairy are allowed, but only in small quantities or infrequently.
4) If I accidentally eat something outside the rules of this diet, I should forgive myself and move on.
5) All food is permitted while traveling.
6) The punishment for breaking the diet is instant veganism!

Even though these rules are fairly straight-forward, I still get a lot of people asking me questions.  Here are some answers to some of the questions I've been asked.

Q: What about other marine animals?
A: Just fish, no shellfish or cephalopods.  They are very high in cholesterol.

Q: What do you mean by small quantities of eggs and dairy?
A: I'll feel free to use eggs and dairy in my cooking as ingredients in a dish or in baking.  However, I try to limit my egg consumption to only one egg for breakfast or will discard one egg yolk in a 2-egg omelette.  I will only eat eggs for breakfast once every few weeks or so.  I switched to soymilk unless I'm using it for cooking.  I'm also a cheese aficionado.  For now I'll keep it in as a permitted vice, but it will change if the diet isn't effective enough to bring my cholesterol under 150.

Q: How do you accidentally eat meat?
A: Sometimes, a small amount of a meat finds itself into your dish.  If I know it's there, I could try to avoid it, but if I end up ingesting a bit of meat, it's really not a crime.  It's worse to starve myself or dwell on it.  Just move on.

Q: Why do you choose to break your diet when traveling?
A: Sometimes it can be difficult to be vegetarian while traveling.  Some cultures have a huge emphasis on meat in their diet.  Even ordering a salad or a veggie dish will come with some small amounts of meat mixed in.  It can be really tough scrounging for a vegetarian friendly place with decent options.

If I'm doing a road trip and I'm hungry, I may have only a rest stop restaurant to eat at.  My vegetarian options could be a cheese pizza, baked goods, baked potato, mashed potato, candied yams, tasteless "house salad" and any dessert I please.  I would probably have to hold everything on a baked potato and just eat it plain and ask for a house salad without dressing, because a vinaigrette is typically not a rest stop option, oh and hold the bacon bits!  I could eat any of that, or I could just eat the grilled chicken sandwich.

As a true foodie at heart, I can't bear to miss out on tasting a region's signature dishes.  So since I don't travel that often *shifty eyes* I figure it would just be better for convenience's sake.

Q: What about oil?
A: Ahh...what about oil?  Yes, well, this is why I'm not losing too much weight.  So while oil is really a huge problem in a diet, it's also extremely limiting to live without it.  I'm sure I could outfit my kitchen to have plenty of oil-free options and replacements, but I can't only eat at home.  That would suck.  Eating out would almost always mean that I have oil in my food.  Veggies are typically sautéed, even in soup.  Even salad dressing has oil.  I'll try to avoid deep-fried items or other items high in fat.  So let's just see how this goes for now.  If I can get my cholesterol under 150, then there's no point in leaving extra virgin olive oil out of my diet, now is there?

Q: Why is veganism a punishment?
A: Let's be honest here, I really don't want to be vegan.  I love food and don't have a moral problem with animals being used as food.  It so happens that I'm doing this for my health to avoid a heart attack and diabetes.  This is definitely a "punishment" that I do NOT want.  I need a punishment that would not be counter-productive to my diet and something that would be hefty enough to scare me into thinking long and hard about breaking the rules.  Is that piece of meat worth becoming vegan for?  Yeah, didn't think so...

If you have any questions about my rules or why I chose them, please feel free to comment and I will answer them!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Easing In (Part 3)

A vegan Christmas was just too sad to bear, so this past Christmas season, I allowed myself a potentially last meaty Christmas.  It's just not as much fun if I can't indulge in all the yummy goodness.  I didn't, however, stuff myself with meat.  Even though it'll be my last meaty Christmas, I do need to exercise some self-control, otherwise it'll defeat the "easing in" process and make the new vegan year even more difficult.  I loaded up on all the veggies and had only small, "reasonable"portions of meats.  I'm talking like 2 oz or less of no more than 2 different meats.  Mmm hmm... *pat myself on the back* ^_~

Anyway, for actual Christmas dinner, the boyfriend and I did our grocery shopping at his favorite store: Costco.  @_@  Don't get me wrong, I love Costco too and I'm often the one who needs to be held back at our Costco visits.  But this year, we decided to have a very small, intimate Christmas dinner for two.  For such a small dinner, Costco can be very dangerous for a compulsive grocery shopper like myself.  I was craving a beef rib roast, but I can't make it with anything smaller than 2 rib roast.  That's a 5 lb hunk-o-meat right there!  Yeah, there'll be leftovers, but we'll be eating meat for days afterwards and that's again not the point of the "easing in" process.

See, now I have a moral dilemma.  Should I give myself the last hurrah I wanted and satisfy my craving or should I stick to my plan and find something else.  This is a huge decision for me, because those who know me know that I DO NOT deny myself ANY food that I desire.  However, I was a good girl and decided that a good alternative would be a rack of lamb.  I can still roast that sucker and I do love a good rack of lamb.  It's also small, so we could eat it all in one meal without feeling too stuffed.  Yes, I learned to exercise some self-control.  This is huge for me!

Here are some pictures of our humble Christmas dinner: herb-crusted roasted rack of lamb, sauteed spinach, grilled asparagus, an aged V. Sattui Cabernet Sauvignon and homemade apple pie.  We were both satisfied by our meal.  It was a lovely Christmas indeed.  :-D  Please excuse the ghetto candlestick holders.  I couldn't find the real ones. :(

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Easing In (Part 2)

Going vegan isn't easy.  After about a week into my attempts at going partially vegan, I hit a pretty low point.  Here's what happened:

I've been eating vegan meals half the time for about a week when a huge urge to eat meat hit me hard.  I had already decided that it would be a vegan day, since I had a lot of meat the day before.  I was going through some major withdrawal symptoms for sure.  I kept thinking about meat!  I tried eating "filling" vegan foods to make myself feel full and stop the cravings, but despite my best efforts, nothing would satiate me.  I started going nuts!  I was sweating, got frustrated and felt very restless.  At this point, I was starting to believe what was said in Forks Over Knives - the western diet breeds us to be addicted to fat, salt and sugar.  In the absence of these things in my diet, my body just didn't know what to do and kept telling me that I needed those things.

So in my desperation, I ended up calling my boyfriend.  The conversation went a little like this:

Me: *slight sob and mild hysteria* I don't feel so well.
Him: Uh oh, what's wrong, dear?
Me: ...I want meat... *slight sob*
Him: *slightly shocked* Aww, it's ok.
Me: If we're gonna do this diet, you'll have to get used to these calls.  Where are you?
Him: ...I'm at the supermarket...
Me: Are you holding meat??
Him: I was just about to get some chicken.
Me: *whine*

Yeah, pathetic, I know.  The rest of the conversation made me feel like I was in the bargaining stage of grief.  I whined that I really want meat, but I wasn't supposed to have some.  He suggested that I have a little meat, since I'm not fully committed yet.  I didn't want to, because I wanted to exercise discipline, etc. etc.  I ended up making a deal with him: If I was good that day, he'd take me to eat all the meat I wanted the next evening.  Even Brazilian BBQ??  Yes, even Brazilian BBQ.  SCORE!!!  :D

I felt better and reinvigorated to continue my vegan day.  I even ended up deciding to not have Brazilian BBQ.  I was so good that I even made us a vegan dinner - dirty quinoa in a butternut squash cup.  :D

There have been other instances of wanting meat, but that was probably the worst.  I'd say it's not so bad, but it was pretty embarassing and fairly pathetic.  Such is the life of a recovering meat addict...

Monday, January 28, 2013

Easing In (Part 1)

I decided some time in early December that I would do this crazy Esselstyn diet, but I needed to decide when.  I thought about going cold turkey, but that would mean cheating myself out of my last carnivorous holiday season.  I just couldn't do that to myself.  That would be too cruel.  Heart disease could wait just one more holiday season.  I also thought about going cold turkey at the beginning of the year with all the other new years resolutioners, but I that would be a huge shock to my system after all the holiday carnivorous binge eating.  Hmm...what to do, what to do...  I decided that I would start the Esselstyn diet at the beginning of the year, but start easing into the lifestyle immediately.

This meant that I should start experimenting with vegetarian and vegan meals, shift my diet to include more veggies in general, and reduce my total intake of meat over time.  I also decided that I should have full vegan and vegetarian days - at least once a week, then ease up.

I very quickly learned that doing the Esselstyn diet would mean subjecting myself to a life of never eating out.  This is a really big deal, because these days, most of my social interactions with friends revolves around food!  Almost anything you can order in a restaurant is made with some oil.  This includes almost anything that's pan fried, sautéed, roasted and baked.  All the dry heat methods of cooking usually use oil and when you're at a restaurant, chances are that they WILL use oil.  Moist heat methods may or may not use oil, but consider that most veggie soups will contain veggies that are sauteed in oil until tender, then broth or water is added.  That also contains oil.  Even SALAD has oil!  Almost all salad dressings you can get in a restaurant is made with oil. Any vinaigrette is made with oil and vinegar.  Any creamy dressing uses either a cream or mayonnaise base, and mayonnaise is oil, egg yolk and a tiny bit of mustard.  Yes folks, I'm starting to feel pretty down at this point.

I did find wonderful salad dressing recipes in the book though.  I prefer vinaigrettes in general and always make mine from scratch.  There's one that uses a 3:2:1 proportion of vinegar, maple syrup and dijon mustard, respectively.  That's a particularly good substitute for a vinaigrette.  It's well-emulsified thanks to the dijon mustard and a little sweet because of the maple syrup.  I've done this with any vinegar or lemon juice, honey or maple syrup and any kind of mustard.  All combinations have turned out well, except for whole grain mustard.  Whole grain mustard is more mustard seed than ground mustard, it won't emulsify the ingredients and it creates a weird texture that may be good in your sandwich, but not in your salad dressing.

I ended up making a lot of salads, eating oatmeal with ground flax seed and quinoa.  Quinoa has much more dietary fiber than rice and I use it as a substitute sometimes.  I made all sorts of what I call "dirty quinoa".  It's kind of like dirty rice, except with quinoa.  I cook quinoa in a rice cooker, then when it's steaming like mad, I add in my veggies directly into the rice cooker.  This cooks the veggies with the excess steam from the quinoa cooking process and eliminates the need for me to sauté them separately with oil.  The same rules of stir-fry hold for this dirty quinoa.  Put in the veggies that take the longest to cook in first, then progressively add in the veggies that take less time to cook.  Don't stir it in with the quinoa though!  You'll get a whole big fat mess and unevenly cooked quinoa.  Just let it sit on top of the quinoa and steam.  When the quinoa is finally done, then you can stir everything in together.  Most of the time, my quinoa ends up a bit soggy when I follow the manufacturer's directions.  I just open up the rice cooker, wait a minute to let the steam out, then mix it up again, wait to let the steam out, and rinse/repeat until it's dried out a bit.  Soggy quinoa isn't the most delicious thing ever, but not terrible.  So you can skip out on this entirely.

I started adding roasted veggies to my quinoa or serving it in a roasted squash cup.  Here are some pictures of my quinoa exploits:

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A New Year, A New Me

As anyone can attest to, I'm a serious foodie - some would call me an encyclopedia of food.  I'm a complete and utter food junkie.  I love everything that has anything to do with food.  I even have a food blog, however neglected it may be.  So what I say next may come as a bit of a shock to you, so please, sit down and clear any liquids away from your laptop...

I'm becoming a pescetarian!

...and I'm working my way toward becoming an oil-free vegan!

A pescetarian is a vegetarian who eats fish.  Some pescetarians eat any kind of seafood, but I choose to only eat fish.  That means no oysters, lobsters or uni.  Yes, sad, I know.  I've gotten personal messages from friends saying things like:

"Why do you hate life?"
"It deeply saddens me that you have become vegan"
"Sciencebunny, a vegan?  Ha!"

Gee, thanks for the support, guys. @_@  Of course they're only partially kidding, but it's true that a vegan Sciencebunny is beyond preposterous.  Many of my friends are seriously shocked.

Anyway, this is a personal decision I made in an effort to improve my health.  Though I'm still young, at a normal weight and fairly active, my cholesterol is hereditarily high.  It's not just high, it's crazy high!  So, something needs to be done.  There's a book called Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Dr. Esselstyn Caldwell that talks about his 12 year study of 20+ patients with advanced coronary heart disease as well as a host of other health problems and how he helped them live for 12+ years.  The evidence is pretty shocking.  He advocates a plant-based, whole foods diet.  With nothing more than putting his patients on this diet and for some, a very low dose of medication, he was able to get dramatic results, reducing their cholesterol to healthy levels, eventually weaning them off of all medications, increasing their energy levels and improving their quality of life.

In the documentary, Forks Over Knives, Dr. Esselstyn says:

"Some people think the 'plant-based, whole foods diet' is extreme.  Half a million people a year will have their chests opened up and a vein taken from their leg and sewn onto their coronary artery.  Some people would call that extreme."

Yup, I would.

I was first introduced to this book by a friend at church.  One of the other church members had a heart attack in his mid-40s and had a quadruple bypass surgery.  Yeah, that's pretty extreme.  Afterwards, he went on this diet and got his formerly ridiculously high cholesterol (mid-300s) down to normal levels (150ish).  All of it is pretty amazing evidence.  I met him myself and talked to him about the whole thing.  It's one thing to read about it in a book and in a medical study, but it's quite another to talk to someone who actually went through it.  He says he feels healthier, stronger, shed a lot of weight and will continue to live this lifestyle for as long as he can.  In his words:

"I just got 4 new tubes.  I don't want to mess them up"

Of course, this diet doesn't include being pescetarian.  Originally, I wanted to go straight into being an oil-free vegan, but a friend suggested that it may be extreme to start doing that from being a heavy carnivore.  She's got a point.  She said that it's all about long-term lifestyle change, so I need to take measures to ensure that the change is lasting.  That's very true.  So instead of going straight into it, I decided to take it in steps.  I think it would make me feel less resentful for the lack of meat and dairy as well.

In mid-December 2012, I started experimenting with eating more and more vegetarian and vegan dishes in order to ease into the diet.  At the beginning of the year, I became a pescetarian.  So far, so good.  The plan is to continue for a few months, then re-evaluate my cholesterol to see if it's at a normal level.  If so, I probably don't need to change much.  If it isn't, I'll step it up and become a vegetarian.  Rinse and repeat and move up and up with increments of vegan and oil-free vegan.

I highly recommend everyone at least watch Forks Over Knives.  If that piques your interest, then you may want to read Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.  

If I make this sound like it's an easy decision for me, it's DEFINITELY NOT!

I love steak and BBQ.  I love giant slabs of meat.  I have 5 different kinds of olive oil, including one I dragged back from Italy.  A drawer in my fridge is dedicated to cheese and charcuterie.  I believe that butter is the only true way to make french food or french-inspired food.  All my facebook friends love posting photos of their mouthwateringly delicious meals - mostly stuff I can't eat now.   I love food and hate having any kind of limitations.  I get cranky when I'm hungry.  When I say I want something, I better get it, or else I'm likely to bite someone's head off.  I mean, seriously...I'm known on the internet as THIS GIRL:

So needless to say, it's a huge sacrifice on my part.  Food has become my identity and one of my greatest passions in life.  It's not easy, but hopefully the results are worth it.  This blog will now be re-purposed to be a kind of diary of my struggles, successes and failures with this diet.  It'll include recipes and health tidbits as well.  I considered changing the name of my blog from to, but I figure that's not very positive and would probably make me feel sad.  

Anyway, wish me luck!  I'll need it.