Kermit said it best: “It’s not easy being green.”
Last Tuesday night we said “goodbye” to all things animal. We didn’t let go easy and we celebrated Fat Tuesday and the days proceeding up to it with spaghetti carbonara, hamburgers, duck liver pate, and enough eggs, white flour, and sugar to build a small gingerbread village. To be truthful, I was looking forward to Ash Wednesday morning and the ensuing sobriety of becoming a Vegan.
I probably gained five pounds getting ready for the culinary makeover, but when I woke up Wednesday morning and called myself a Vegan for the first time, I felt like I could already put on my skinny jeans again. (And when I say skinny jeans, I’m not referring to the pencil leg style you see on high school students and affluent PTA meetings moms, but the ones at the bottom of the stack that haven’t seen the light of day for a couple of years or more).
I also felt prepared for the extra work that changing a diet takes. I had spent the three-day weekend carefully mapping out a couple of weeks worth of recipes and had made extensive grocery lists on a new App for my Ipad. I calendared out when we would eat which recipes and on what days I needed to buy certain ingredients to make sure they were fresh. I even planned for the Saturday closures of my local kosher markets that have many non-dairy and vegetable-based meat substitutes because of religious dietary laws against using dairy and meat together in a meal.
“Be Prepared” was the Boy Scout Motto I had learned early in life, and I felt like I was well on my way to earning my Vegan merit badge.
The day started off great. We had oatmeal with almond milk with just a touch of agave syrup to sweeten it up a bit. For lunch I had already prepared whole-wheat sandwiches with avocado, lettuce, Tofurky, and soy cheese slices. I really didn’t want to start using processed foods, especially since we didn’t use them BV (Before Vegan), but I needed a few transitional items that could make the first few weeks workable for a single dad. For dinner I had planned a lentil and whole grain chili that sounded really good and filling.
That was 7:00 am.
As my mother always says, “the best laid plans of mice and men… “ I know there is more to the saying, but she’s never said it. Still we get her meaning.
By 8:15 a.m. I was thrown into a whirlwind day that included back-to-back meetings from 8:30 am to 4:30 p.m. I snacked on Marcona almonds in between appointments and ate my Vegan sandwich while teachers shared their lesson plans. By the time my last meeting was over, I was starting to get hungry, but still had our school’s science fair at 5:00 p.m. With our Ash Wednesday service beginning at 8:00 p.m., I was starting to wonder how I would pull off dinner.
I knew Andrew would be starving when he got home and hoped he would reach for the apples and peanut butter or hummus I had left him. These kinds of overbooked days happen, but throwing a quick hamburger on the grill was not an option and all my vegan meal planning involved at least some time in the kitchen.
I had to make a quick decision.
At 6:30 p.m., I drove straight to the Veggie Grill, a fast food style Vegan restaurant and $30 later I had dinner on the table in time to get us to church. The food was tasty, but the extra hit at the wallet didn’t go down very easy. To make matters worse, the following day was just as bad. Not only did I have meetings until 4:30 p.m., Andrew had his Orchestra Concert and had to be at school by 6:00 p.m. Veggie Grill was an option, but not for me. It wasn’t just the money; Vegan or not, I didn’t really think it was all that healthy.
We had started out on this path to increase our awareness of better nutrition and to challenge my brother to look at alternative cancer treatments and so far all we had done was eat processed vegetable-based junk food. It is possible to eat nothing but French fries and soy lattes and still call yourself a Vegan, but I would think a sustainably and humanely raised egg omelet would be a better choice for all involved.
However, I wasn’t ready to give up quite yet.
I looked at my recipe for the chili and realized that I could do almost all the prep work ahead of time. I put the seasonings in one baggy, the veggies in another and poured a bit of olive oil into a small Tupperware container. I put it in my cast iron pot and brought the whole thing to school with me the next day. I still had to eat my sandwich on the run, but I took enough of a break to head to our school kitchen and ensure that dinner would be ready when I got home. The whole thing took less than 15 minutes to put together and I left the pot on low while I attended my other meetings. By the time I was ready to leave, the school cafeteria smelled better than it had in a long time and I had a warm pot of chili ready for the table.
I was home by 5:15 p.m. and dropping Andrew off at the high school by 6:00 p.m. with a belly full of homemade plant-based food that he loved enough to eat again the following night when my school meetings lasted until 10:00 p.m.
No, it’s not easy being green. It’s even harder when you are a single parent with a demanding job, but we just got through three days of crazy scheduling and managed to stay the course.
By the way, the chili is delicious. It’s also very easy. Serve it with some Vegan cheese on top and a big leafy salad and I guarantee that you will have a very satisfying family dinner. The chewiness of the barley and bulgur wheat give it such a hearty texture and meaty chew that even your hardcore carnivores won’t mind the absence of animals in the pot.
Lentil and Grain Chili
This recipe is based on a non-vegan version from The Olive’s Table. It is already very “meaty”, but if you want an even more meaty texture add a package of Seitan. Seitan is a wheat based meat replacement that mimics the feel of meat and takes on the taste of a dish much like chicken does. You can find it at Whole Foods and other well-stocked grocery stores.
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped peeled fresh ginger
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 large Spanish onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, copped
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
2 chipotle peppers, seeded and minced
1 (20 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 to 3 tablespoons chili powder (3 to 4 for a spicier version)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cups brown lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 can garbanzo, drained
1/2 cup barley
1/2 cup bulgur wheat
8 to 10 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Place a large stockpot over medium heat and when it is hot, add the olive oil. Add the ginger, garlic, onion, carrots, and celery, stirring well after each addition, and cook until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.
Add the jalapeno pepper, chipotle peppers, tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, oregano, lentils, garbanzos, barley, bulgur wheat, stock, salt, and pepper, stirring well after each addition, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the lentils are soft, about 1 hour.
Top each serving with a sprinkle of shredded soy mozzarella and a dollop of non-dairy sour cream.