Challenge accepted, part 2

As promised, part two of this weekend’s veg challenge, with the actual details of the challenge. Prepare for bad food photos.

The rules: I had to buy everything I was going to eat, with the exception of cooking oil and spices. No meat, no dairy because I’m still stuck with that, eggs are ok because going vegan for a full weekend is a little bit of a stretch. I needed enough food for meals from Thursday night to Sunday breakfast, with the exception of one meal Saturday because I had to go home for a few hours to help with housework. And I had a budget of $20, since my $50/week limit is roughly $20 for the time frame I was working with.

Now that the challenge is complete, I can definitively say I did…. mehhh. I spent $15 at Stop & Shop Thursday getting ingredients, which was aided by my thorough examination of the flyer, trust of store brand stuff and recent discovery of the yellow “reduced” sticker.

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Brown rice, frozen mixed veggies, cinnamon raisin English muffins from the discount rack, a dozen eggs, 4 bananas, a can of tomato sauce, a box of Jiffy blueberry muffin mix, two bags of Gardein fake fish and a dark chocolate cherry NibMor bar I saw at checkout.

Thursday night: dinner was eggs in tomato sauce (a lame version of shakshuka but something I like when I want eggs but need to give myself the illusion of making something healthy), dessert was the NibMor bar. Then I left for the meeting I had to go to for work and had some time to kill so I went to the ice cream place in town and got raspberry sorbet. But it was less than 5 bucks so that sorta doesn’t count, right?

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I wanted a sugar cone, but the scooper lady was like “This is a little soft, do you want a cup too?” I was pretty excited because I prefer having both cup and cone but don’t ask for it because I don’t want to be charged extra.

Meeting, blah blah, came home and was still hungry so I had a cinnamon raisin English muffin with peanut butter, which was also a cheat because I took that from the cupboard.

Friday breakfast: blueberry pancakes with homemade maple syrup and eggs. The Jiffy mix has a recipe on the side for making pancakes instead of muffins, which is just making it a little runnier, and I subbed in water for the 1/3 cup of milk. I also had a little jar of syrup that my coworker made from the tree in the backyard, including about 2 gallons I harvested myself during a dogsitting session in February. I forgot how hot gas stoves are, so my first pancake was a little, uh, Cajun, and the second one wasn’t as burnt but it was raw in the middle. I had 2 more days of batter left, so I thinned it out a tiny bit and put it in the fridge for the next day.

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Notice the strategic placement of the egg.

Friday lunch: this was my lamest meal, just veggies and rice. I *ahem* had an issue making the rice the night before because I followed the directions and somehow the water was absorbed 15 minutes early, but it was cooked ok, so I threw some spices in with the frozen veggies to heat up at work.

Friday dinner: time to test out the fake fish. A few dogsitting sessions ago, I bought some Quorn for dinner because it was on sale and I was intrigued, so this wasn’t a stretch. My plan probably would’ve worked better if the Gardein BOGOF sale was better labeled, but the only products that were definitely included were the fish sticks and crabcakes, which had peppers and onions in them, so I got two bags of the fish sticks. They cooked up fine in the oven, and even though the internal texture was more like chicken nuggets than fish, the flavor was fine, like standard crappy fish sticks. It worked out because I was jonesing for fish and chips. Plate it up with more rice and veggies, this time prepared with a bit of soy sauce and some cayenne and we have liftoff. Dessert was another English muffin with PB.

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I’ll admit, not too shabby.

Saturday breakfast was blueberry pancakes and eggs again, this time the runnier batter so they turned out fine color-wise but I sucked at flipping them so they were yummy but ugly pancakes. Lunch was at home, and I totally broke the challenge by eating spaghetti with pulled pork and tomato sauce and then buying a Nantucket Nectars half-and-half, a fancy chocolate bar and other snacks when I went to Job Lot to get stuff for repotting our seedlings. I need to be supervised in that store. And dinner was a repeat of Friday, but I reheated the veggies and rice in some water on the stove so I served it in a bowl instead of a plate. I changed it up for dessert and put blueberry preserves from Job Lot on the English muffin and noshed on some of the chocolate bar.

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It’s not a Reese’s peanut butter egg, but it doesn’t have dairy and it’s pretty good anyway.

And finally, this morning. You guessed it, blueberry pancakes and eggs, but this time I made a blueberry maple sauce with the maple syrup and a bit of the blueberry preserves I got at Job Lot. Bonus: my last pancake actually turned out looking and flipping like a regular pancake.

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I decided that overeasy eggs + blueberry maple sauce = bad idea, so I made flat eggs instead.

I still have some of the tomato sauce, 4 eggs, 3 English muffins and a banana, but in the end, I’m pretty sure I totally failed this challenge. I spent more than 20 bucks, made the same breakfast and lunch/dinner for multiple days and ate meat anyway. (The Jiffy mix also uses lard instead of butter, but I ignored that.) But I’d be willing to try it again another time. Not full-time, but maybe for a week so I have money to buy a better variety or perhaps as a day or two a week incorporated into my regular diet.

Challenge accepted

Regular blogging is hard! So is making pancakes, as it turns out, but I’ll get to that in a sec.

More than halfway through a month of no dairy wooooooo

I stopped writing down what fun non-dairy things I’ve been eating, but I wouldn’t even eat a pasta salad thing that had ranch powder in it, so you’ll have to trust me on this one. Mostly “meat unit + veggies” lunches and dinners, the rest of my chili wannabe, another attempt at making coffee almondmilk, and a lot of applesauce and Oreos.

My schedule was super busy this week: Monday I flat-out forgot to write, Tuesday I had back to back derby practices from 5:30-9:30, Wednesday I was on cops and spent most of my shift waiting for a state police press conference that never happened, Thursday I was at a Board of Finance meeting and then started dogsitting, last night I got in my jammies at like 6 p.m. and watched Drag Race and worked on a MOOC and finished a book, and tonight here we are.

I think part of it was also getting tired of writing about how much going dairy-free sucks and I hate it. Also getting tired of complaining about how people keep pushing dairy substitutes despite my continued requests for them to stop. But I had an interesting chat with a leaguemate about the environmental benefits of going without animal products, which brings us to this post.

Polly is the kind of vegetarian that I enjoy talking with as an omnivore. She’s a great person in general, but specifically with this, she isn’t as sensationalistic as others I’ve met, which is why I was glad to engage her in a conversation the other day. She posted a link on FB and a short blurb saying how many people are concerned with current and future policies to protect the environment, yet many are unwilling to make changes in their own life to cut greenhouse gases by going vegan.

I’m familiar with the argument; IC hosts an environmental film festival every spring, and two of my classes senior year were used to screen a variety of docs, one being about this very subject. Being the miserly person I am, when we had the discussion bit at the end, I asked how this could work for low-income people because substitutes are expensive and not everyone has access to the quality vegetables that would make eating vegan a whole lot easier. My experience was that 50 bucks a week wouldn’t get you very far in the northeast. Two girls who weren’t in my class but sat with us to watch the doc got all pissy with me for asking that, as if Daiya and Quorn fell from the sky or something, but I didn’t feel like fighting so I dropped it and went about my day assuming their parents pay for their weekly trips to Wegmans (or GreenStar).

Based on my previous experience with the argument, I was glad Polly posted the article because I knew I could ask her about it and she would treat me like a human being. She and another vegetarian friend presented their rebuttals to my arguments regarding food access and price, and while their points were stronger than mine, they weren’t jerks about it like the two girls senior year. They also acknowledged that everyone going full vegan most likely won’t happen and even some reduction in animal product consumption (flexitarian or vegetarian as opposed to whole-hog vegan) would be beneficial for the environment instead of being all “blarg you need to drop everything and eat only raw vegetables for the rest of your life.”

It also got me thinking: is this something I could do? Not permanently, I don’t think; I’m still a little upset about not being able to have cheese for another two weeks. But on principle, I wanted to see if I could have some semblance of normal meals with minimal animal products while maintaining my $50 a week budget. I had to go out and buy food for the weekend for dogsitting anyway, so it would be a good time to test it out without drawing attention to it.

I’m going to save the rest of the post for tomorrow when I’ve technically completed the last meal of the challenge, that way we don’t end up with a super long post that keeps me up too late.

Accept no substitutes

This post is brought to you by my derby twin.

I won’t get into my aversion to dairy substitutes again because I’ve already beaten that metaphorical horse to death. But thanks to her, I am now the proud owner of a quart of almondmilk and a tub of fake butter. More importantly, I have consumed both and survived.

In going with our accidental twinning, my derby twin also cannot have dairy, but unlike my forced and purely cosmetic reasons, she’s lactose intolerant, so dairy is actually a bad thing for her. So when this challenge started, she was down for helping me come up with things I could eat without wanting to cry.

A lot of the league people had been sharing Whole30 and other healthy-ish recipes that happened to lack dairy since apparently dairy is “evil” even if your face doesn’t look like crap. Lots of nice neat bento box-style meat-veggie-sometimes-carbs setups. Those are pretty easy to keep dairy out because cheese is often just a seasoning for other “bad stuff.”

I was cool with this kind of plan — it forces me to eat more vegetables rather than filling up on potatoes. But my derby twin brought me almondmilk and fake butter at practice Tuesday because she had a coupon and thought I might want to try some dairy-free versions of foods I’d normally eat.

(this post took me a little longer to write and I got derailed by recent news developments and a minor existential crisis, so I’m going to keep this short)

I tried the almondmilk last night with ice and coffee syrup, and I don’t know if it was the ice or what but it didn’t really taste like anything. If I had to pick a word I would say it tasted like grain: not grainy as in texture but grain-like in being very bland. It’s been in the fridge since then so I won’t have to add ice to it next time, so I’ll report back when I try it again.

The fake butter was on my bread at dinner tonight as a sad attempt at a consolation prize for eating chicken parm without the parm, so really just chicken, pasta and tomato sauce. It tasted just like the real stuff on the bread. When I dropped some on my plate and just ate that bit straight up, I could tell that it wasn’t the real stuff because it was sweeter, but it was still pretty close.

Food today:

  • eggs, bacon and a snowflake roll
  • pork chop and mixed veggies, 2 Fig Newtons, raisins and honey roasted peanuts, applesauce
  • chicken parm without the parm, bread and fake butter, two more Fig Newtons

Licking the plate

I did not actually lick the plate clean when we went to the fancy restaurant in Providence on Saturday for my grandparents’ 50th anniversary, but what I did do wasn’t much better.

There are 10 of us in my mom’s immediate family: she has a sister, they each have two girls, plus spouses and my grandparents. Despite living within 20 minutes of each other, we don’t really get together a whole lot because of sports and work and such, let alone at a fancy restaurant. But a 50-year anniversary is a pretty big deal, so we decided to treat my grandparents and have a nice dinner.

Aside from this new stupid dairy thing, I eat most things, so finding something “fancy” to eat isn’t a problem. I’m not like some of my other cousins, who until adulthood only ordered cheeseburgers regardless of the venue, or my sister, who is roughly half Italian and somehow doesn’t eat tomato sauce. Instead, my mom had to have the money talk with me, the “everything is expensive, pick what you are going to eat and don’t worry about it” talk that I dread.

I’m a broke college grad. I should be happy that I can order a $20+ entree without punishment, right? Nope. Other people have Catholic guilt. I have student debt guilt. I hate myself the rest of the week if I forget to pack myself 2 meals on Tuesdays for double practice and have to get Moe’s for lunch. I’ve had internal fights over whether I can justify buying a snack from the reduced bakery rack at the food co-op. And missing out on Free Cone Day yesterday was a major bummer because instead of getting free sorbet, I went to Stop and Shop and bought like five other things in addition to the Italian ice I bought since it’s way cheaper than sorbet.

(notice how all these examples were food related. I won’t even go into what happens when I have to buy non-food things.)

The dairy thing limited me mostly to seafood dishes, which is fine because I like seafood, but that bumped me up into the $25-30 range. Fortunately the dish I ended up getting was a special that night, and the waitress never said how much it was, so as far as I’m concerned my meal was free.

Instead of getting spaghetti with clam sauce or this shrimp thing with squid ink pasta, I went with a pan-seared duck breast with a balsamic blueberry glaze, lemon fingerling potatoes and arugula. I’ve only had duck once and it was in the form of duck nuggets (saying it still makes me laugh four years later), so I was in for a treat. The duck skin and potatoes were nice and crunchy, the meat was tender, and the sauce not only cut the bitterness of the arugula but ended up serving as my dessert as well. It also allowed me to justify being an adult and ordering a blueberry vodka lemonade.

It was an Italian restaurant, so even though I should have known better than to look at the dessert menu for something I could eat, I did anyway. My sister looked at me funny when I passed up the chance for dessert until I read down the list for her. Mascarpone, that’s cheese. Milk chocolate. Mascarpone. Chocolate cake, usually has butter. Bread pudding, usually has milk. Cannoli, cheese inside. Custard, cream. Mascarpone again. So I took the leftover bread that the adults were responsible enough not to eat two baskets of unlike us young’uns and used it to soak up every last dribble of that balsamic blueberry sauce. The bus boy came over to take our plates and I felt like Gollum hoarding the Ring because I wasn’t done with the sauce (or *ahem* the rest of the bread.)

My mom and sister brought home leftovers. I did not. I have no shame.

 

Now that we’re caught up on that, here’s Tuesday and today’s episodes of what I can and can’t eat:

  • Yesterday: eggs and English muffin with jelly, pork chop and green beans, pulled pork and mixed veggies, crunchy Clif bar (like the Nature Valley ones), Fig Newtons, applesauce probably, obligatory Oreo
    • No-gos: I GOT RID OF THE DONUTS YAY. My grandparents came to swap out my EZPass and I gave them the donuts. Also Ben & Jerry’s, but I checked to see what they had for sorbet before I even left, and then it was moot because the line was too long.
  • Today: eggs, chili wannabe with Tostitos, a Pop Tart, venison mushroom stuff and potatoes, applesauce, raisins and honey-roasted peanuts
    • No-gos: Nothing specific, though I usually get hungry on my late shift and was tempted to hit the reduced bakery rack at the co-op but decided to be responsible.

 

Cans and can’ts

I consider myself to be relatively educated in terms of what I should and shouldn’t be eating. I’m far more likely to follow general guidelines of “everything in moderation” rather than dietary absolutes (with the exception of things like licorice-flavored things because they’re gross), so this has been a challenge even if we ignore the fact that I love cheese and other milk products. I guess no one is really holding me to it — if I eat a buttermilk biscuit and no one is around to see it, does the casein still count? — but if there is going to be any semblance of science here, I want to be fair. And the faster I get to a month without any dairy, the faster I can resume my regular eating habits and the second part of this experiment.

Some switches have been easy. No cereal and milk for breakfast. Oh darn, I guess I’ll have eggs cooked in bacon fat. No sandwiches with cheese for lunch. That’s cool, I kind of get sick of sandwiches after a while and have no problem with leftovers. No glass of milk with dinner. Fine, whatever, I need to drink more water anyway. And while it hasn’t been particularly enjoyable avoiding baked goods, it’s much less stressful to assume that they are guilty until proven innocent rather than agonizing over it and/or terrorizing the poor waitstaff or cashier over something that isn’t a life or death matter.

What has been a little tricky, aside from leaving the locker room at Planet Fitness today to see a beautiful, greasy spread of pies for Pizza Monday, is finding healthy alternatives for snacks. I like most vegetables and fruit, but there’s only so many days in a row that you can pack carrots and applesauce without wanting to throw something at someone. My sad attempt at “clean eating” for derby also led me to opt for string cheese or something along those lines for a snack at work or after practice rather than, say, unattended cookies, and now I can’t do that either. (My mom just bought a big BJ’s pack of string cheese, too, which sucks.)

My derby friends have been helpful with offering ideas, but most of them revolve around dairy substitutes like almond milk, which again kind of freak me out and threaten to annihilate what little expendable income I have. So here’s a quick list of what I’ve been able to eat in the last few days:

  • Wednesday: eggs cooked in bacon fat, taco turkey burger and a conglomeration of tomato sauce/black beans/corn that I call “sad soup,” chicken and stir fried noodles, carrot sticks, plain applesauce, peanut butter Oreos
  • Thursday: strawberry Pop Tart, Triscuts and roasted garlic/spinach artichoke hummus, something for lunch that I can’t remember but it was leftovers and not a sandwich, potatoes and kielbasa, plain applesauce, peanut butter Oreos
  • Friday: eggs, tossed salad, russet potato chips, plain applesauce, teriyaki burger and fries, peanut butter Oreos (are you noticing a pattern yet?)
  • Saturday: eggs and bacon, a super lame lunch of carrots/Triscuits/russet chips/hummus because I woke up late and had a late breakfast, and this awesome pan-seared duck breast with potatoes that might warrant its own post tomorrow
  • Sunday: eggs/bacon/sausage/English muffin with peach jelly, chicken/rice/carrots, pulled pork chili wannabe (a true chili connoisseur would probably be horrified by my mix of pork, tomato sauce, canned kidney beans and seasoning, but it tasted good) and a banana
  • Today: brown sugar and cinnamon Pop Tart, more chili wannabe with Tostitos, applesauce, venison and mushrooms with a roll and potatoes, and a strawberry Pop Tart because apparently I’m not supposed to be eating all the Oreos

Things I have encountered and wanted to eat but cannot:

  • Wednesday: donuts
  • Thursday: donuts, a lot of stuff at Panera (we had a meeting there, and I needed to be responsible and not buy food even if I was allowed to eat it)
  • Friday: still donuts, retirement cupcakes for one of the guys on the copy desk at work
  • Saturday: WHY DO WE STILL HAVE DONUTS THESE SHOULD HAVE BEEN EATEN THREE DAYS AGO, pretty much everything at the duck restaurant but again that will be another post
  • Sunday: nothing in particular, actually. Sunday was pretty easy.
  • Today: wait just kidding the stupid donuts are still in the house, Pizza Monday at PF, and I almost buttered my roll but stopped myself from reaching toward the butter dish

All things considered (heh, NPR joke), it hasn’t been hair-pullingly bad, more just annoying and inconvenient. Still looking for cheap and healthy snack ideas, though. I’m running out of patience for carrots and it hasn’t even been a week yet.

DONUTS

I tried to stick with the vague, somewhat intellectual-sounding titles throughout the course of running this blog, but with recent developments, I felt this one was necessary.

With my assignment given to me last Tuesday, I decided to wait until Wednesday to give up dairy. Tuesday had already been shot — I had half jokingly assumed she’d cut me off from both dairy and gluten since my mom’s coworker with the same problem had to give up both, so I had eggs, yogurt, milk and toast with farmer’s cheese for breakfast — and I wanted a little more time to prepare myself (read: get an ice cream cone from Dairy Queen) before committing to a month without any casein-containing goodness.

I had to drop off my car at the dealership first thing Wednesday morning to get my clutch replaced (apparently some kinds of automatics still have clutches?), and it just so happens that one of my the offices where my mom works is just up the road, as is the local donut shop, so I decided to be nice and drop off 2 dozen donuts. It was a little upsetting because I had to be like “hmm I’ll take one of everything and I can’t eat any of them,” but the ladies at the office appreciated them and the aforementioned extra paycheck came that morning, so it felt good.

Wednesday is also the day I work a later shift, so I did other productive things like get the face soap recommended by the new doctor, go to the gym, and made my lunch and dinner for later. Work was busy because last week was one of those weeks where stuff hits the fan all at the same time, and I had to get a little creative with an after-work dessert, but otherwise it was a pretty normal day.

I came home, and I walked in the kitchen and the stupid donuts were on the table. There were only maybe 6 left of the original 24, but come onnnnnn. These were supposed to be gone long before now and now they’re just sitting on the table in that cheery yellow box saying, “Haha, sucker, you can’t eat us.” I had what has now become my standard dessert of a bowl of applesauce and two peanut butter Oreos (Oreos are safe, which I’ll get to in a sec) and pouted and went on with my nighttime routine.

It’s now Sunday, and while the yellow box has made its way to the recycling bin, there are still four donuts in a ziploc bag on the counter, taunting me as I make pulled pork. If it had been the previous week, those donuts would have been gone by Friday because I have no shame.

I suppose I’m making this a little harder on myself by shunning dairy substitutes during this challenge, not only because they’re prohibitively expensive on my meager budget but also because they kinda freak me out. Fortunately, my derby twin is a baker who is also lactose intolerant, so she said she’s game for helping me come up with ideas for “safe” desserts beyond applesauce and Oreos.

In the meantime, someone better eat these damn donuts.

Making sacrifices

Not for Camp NaNoWriMo this time. I’m signed up in our cabin of Camp people from last year, but between taking an online class, prepping for our bout on the 22nd and a trip to New York the following week, I knew I wasn’t going to get much done, so my role will be more of support this go around.

As such, I set my word goal at 15,000, or 500 a day. I’ve been wanting to blog more regularly, despite the fact that I pretty much do the same thing every day every week (some combo of work, practice, etc.). I thought this might force me to write more in some capacity. It’s still too early to tell whether the fiction fairy will visit in the night and give me inspiration or whether something will happen in derby or work that will be worth writing about, but at the very least I will have food to talk about because I was put on a dairy ban for the month.

I’ll back up a bit. I have always had crappy skin. Breakouts, dryness, easy sunburns, breaking out when I’m outside for a period of time too short to get a sunburn, the works. It sucks, and there’s been a constant back and forth with my mom for at least seven years about what I should do about it. We’ve tried different programs, dermatologists, etc. and spent a lot of money. But on the grand scheme of things, I have more important things to worry about.

The most recent iteration of this ongoing fight started last year when she recommended that I go to a naturopath doctor that her coworker, who also had crappy skin, had results with. I was skeptical but humored her and asked the coworker about it. $250 bucks an appointment. Noooooope. I don’t have that money laying around, and if I did, it would go toward food or loans, not fixing my face with methods I’m not entirely sure I trust.

I get paid every two weeks and have a handy dandy spreadsheet with when all my bills are due so I know what is paid when. March was one of those months where I get three paychecks instead of two because 26 is not divisible evenly by 12, so I hemmed and hawed and eventually humored my mom and made an appointment for the end of the month (March 28 to be exact) so I could use some of that extra paycheck instead of spending 2+ months worth of my leftover income in one go.

The appointment itself was fine – we had a good long chat about family medical history, my skin weirdness, etc., and it was determined that my crappy skin might be the result of liver function things rather than hormonal since it was consistently bad regardless of my birth control situation and liver problems run in my family. I was given a liver supplement to take, fine, whatever. And then the doc also suggested going dairy free for a month to see if that helps since casein (the protein in milk) sometimes messes with skin.

I eat vegetables and stuff, but dairy is a significant part of my diet. Milk, cheese and yogurt are go-tos for healthy-ish snacks (well, healthier than cookies, anyway), and I like ice cream like any reasonable lactose-tolerant human being. I was not a happy camper. This isn’t like being lactose intolerant where Lactaid or lactose pills would solve the issue. This is no dairy at all. No milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, or anything that contains milk derivatives like sodium caseinate or whey. Which is like everything, as it turns out.

This experiment is not the best scientifically since the no-dairy thing started the same time as the liver supplements. Technically I was given a choice as to when to do this month with no dairy, but if I was going to have to do it, I wanted to get it out of the way. And I’m not going to lie, I’m still skeptical about the impact of a dairy protein on the fact that I have the skin of a greasy teenage boy. But in theory, that skepticism should reduce or eliminate any placebo effects, so if my face still looks like crap at the end of the month, then I know it doesn’t work, and if it does, then I use the following month to see whether the change was the result of the no dairy or the liver supplement.

I’ll try to keep the griping to a minimum — I will have more details about what I’m eating (or not) in tomorrow’s and future posts — but this challenge should at least give me something to write about. We’ll see if I make it to April 28.