The Unlikely Vegan – Part Two, by Phil Shainmark

6/21/18: Update from last week – the stir fry noodles with tempe was delicious, but dry, so we’re gonna have to make some adjustments there. But it’s definitely a sold meal idea. So after another week I can say that this is no longer even an “adjustment,” it’s now just the way I eat. And the benefits just keep coming – my energy levels are higher than they were pre-cancer. Hell, I barely drink coffee in the morning anymore. If I have a cup it’s because I like the taste, not because I need it. I found out this week that there’s a 100% Vegan doughnut place near the only other shop I ever worked at. Gonna have to head over there at some point. It’s not near anything I normally go to, but I LOVE doughnuts, so it’ll be worth the trip.

Met my two good friends (Swedish and D-rex) for coffee the other day. We hadn’t talked in a little while, outside the basic Facebook conversations and “how are you,” “I’m good,” texts. I had to mention to them that I no longer ate animal products, and I was surprised by their reaction, which was “I’ve thought about that,” and  “I bet I could do that.” This prompted a discussion about all the different foods I’ve tried and liked. At various times in their lives each of them had been vegetarian or eaten very healthfully, so we decided we’d have a Vegan pot luck lunch on July 1st. We agreed we’d bring our favorites as well as a vegan recipe they want to try. Then we’d get together and try them all out. Not that I needed reminding, but I have some of the best friends in the world.

6/27/18: I haven’t been sleeping well the last few days. Today, for the first time in 20 years, I shut my alarm off and set it for half an hour later. Actually had a cup of coffee today because I needed it. Now that I’m not drinking gallons of the stuff a day it works to wake me up. I think I’m fighting off a bug or something. UPSIDE: Had an onion bagel with vegan cream cheese which was f*cking delicious. We have a shaker of something called “everything but the bagel” which is all of the things you find on an everything bagel. It’s awesome and it’s vegan and it makes everything taste better.
In the last week, I’ve tried some great vegan burgers from Costco (not sure the brand). They’re delicious but dry. You gotta put some tomato and onion and pickles on them. And my wife made vegan sushi, with avocado, bell pepper and I think cucumber wrapped in rice and seaweed. I never liked fish, so I was never a sushi eater, but the vegan stuff is pretty good. Even though I still don’t like the taste of seaweed. I think we’ll make some for our vegan potluck on Sunday.  Normally we’d get pizza on Wednesday, but my son decided to come with us and he REALLY wanted to go to Del Taco. So we went there. Half Pound bean and cheese burrito (red sauce, no cheese, EXTRA EXTRA onions) and some crispy fries on it. Always good eating. Continued to drag ass for the rest of the day. But this marks a month or so where fatigue is the exception, rather than the rule.

7/4/18: We had our pot luck on Sunday. What a great time. Swedish attempted Swedish meatballs with bowtie pasta. Unfortunately, the meatballs didn’t stay together when the sauce was added. It looked like a pasta gruel, but it TASTED awesome. We decided it would be a kick ass stuffing substitute come Thanksgiving. D-rex and his wife decided (due to the time constraints of working and having 4 kids) that they would bring snacks. He brought some diced up fruit, Oreos and Sweet chili Doritos ( the only vegan Dorito). My wife made pasta salad and sushi. She made the sushi with tofu this time, which I’m not nuts about, but it was still good. And the pasta salad is ALWAYS amazing.

The rest of the week leading up the Fourth was normal, mostly helping my father-in-law in his shop. My wife got some pre-made pizza crusts at Trader Joe’s, so she made me some pizza with olives. That was amazing. It’s generally been to hectic to cook much, but today  we had BBQ jack fruit (like pulled pork). We weren’t real nuts about it straight out of the oven, (I thought it was too sweet), but once I put it on some bread with some more BBQ sauce, (Sweet Baby Rays) and some spicy pickles, it was delicious. We also had some spicy cole slaw. I don’t normally eat any of the slaw or salads that use regular mayonnaise, but since we were using vegan mayo mixed with Buffalo wing sauce (also Sweet Baby Ray’s brand), I ate it. Putting  some of that on a sandwich with the jack fruit was awesome. Finished it up with some cherry pie. This was an absolutely  awesome 4th of July BBQ even without the meat. Even seeing others eating meat didn’t make me miss it the way I thought I would. Also, we’ve been looking up some vegan restaurants, so hopefully we’ll be able to try some out soon.

Addendum: I have noticed something. When I talk to people about food (usually online) the conversation starts off pleasantly enough, trading a recipe, or technique. Then they’ll very quickly add, “I know it’s not vegan because of X,” (added butter, or cheese or whatever), almost like they’re expecting an attack or criticism. To me it seems to be exactly why I don’t generally like most Vegans (though I do have some dear, life long friends who are). The online vegan community seems so focused on being hostile that people are afraid to even think about trying it. They’re so scared that if they try it a little or maybe change to mostly vegetarian it’s just “not good enough” and that they’ll get lectured or scorned. It sucks and I don’t like it, even though I understand it. Now, my wife thinks it’s the exact opposite, that these people are just quick to not want to claim being something that they’re not, and that it’s my inherent dislike of vegans that’s clouding my view of it. She says the hostility of vegans online is directly related to all the flak they get, which seems logical enough that I can’t dismiss it out of hand. I hope that it is just simple clarification, and not that just because my eating habits have changed that my friends think I’m going to give them shit. Anyway, just something I noticed.

Also, since I’m writing outside my normal schedule, I’ll add that I tried the mushroom and onion pasta again, this time with vegetable broth. It was delicious, but too salty – I have to use less vegetable bullion next time.

7/13/18: Didn’t write on Wednesday this week, as I had a bunch of things to do. Anyway, Wednesday was pizza day, and since the whole family came to the in-laws, we got a take home pizza as well. My wife has found a brand of vegan “mozzarella”. We’ve tried it a couple times. It’s ok, so we decided to put some on our pizza (mushrooms, onions, green and black olives). It doesn’t melt quite right, but it absolutely works as a cheese substitute. It FEELS like cheese, while tasting like not much of anything. We had the leftovers the next day and it holds up pretty well.

Today we had to go to the actual UPS depot to drop off an international package. So me and Mike decided to have “Farm Boys,” which is a burger chain I’ve only ever heard of, never been to. Turns out they have a Vegan veggie burger, if you take off the “dressing.” (I don’t know what the dressing is – the page that I found when googling if it was vegan just said “hold the dressing.”) It came with tomato, lettuce, onions and pickles. And fries. I added some Cholula and it was DELICIOUS. It wasn’t dry like the other brand we tried. I probably could have skipped the Cholula. It also looked really appealing. A lot of the other veggie burgers are super homogenous veggie paste. This actually looked like it had bits of veggies in it (may just be for looks, but I like that). We are now tracking down the brand to see if we can get some at the store. Preliminary googling shows they have them at Walmart and Costco. So we’ll have to check that out. For dinner tomorrow, we’re hopefully going to try a new vegan/veggie taco place by Mike’s house.

7/22/18: Been sick the last week or so. Sleeping way more, etc., so I haven’t been on top of my writing. We tried out the new Vegan taco shop near my in-laws house (El Cactus, in Henderson, NV), and it was AWESOME. We were under the impression that it was vegetarian AND vegan, but it’s 100% vegan. They write the menu in a way that’s a little ambiguous, but when they say “chorizo” they mean soy chorizo. The first time, I had a chimichanga with Asada. It was so good, and like any good Mexican food, I was sweating as I was eating. That’s another benefit to eating vegan, my ability to eat spicy food has started to return. Before I started chemo, I had won hot wing eating competitions. Once I was on chemo for a few months, too much pepper made my mouth hurt, and anything even remotely spicy gave me mouth sores. Now that I seem to be overall healthier, I have been slowly adding more spice to my diet. I am nowhere near where I was before (and that’s probably a good thing) but it’s nice to enjoy foods as they were meant to be.

We liked the place so much we went back this Friday (7/20). I got a chimichanga with mushrooms, which was just as good as the Asada. I would HIGHLY recommend that anyone even slightly curios about trying vegan food, try Mexican adaptations. I can detect almost no difference. I don’t like sour cream, but that was the ONLY thing anyone could definitely tell wasn’t the same. Today, my wife made spaghetti and meatballs. I’m not sure what the brand was, but they were delicious. They had a lot of fennel taste, which I enjoy. And the consistency was spot on.

As a side note, since our potluck last month, my friend D-Rex and his wife, (and I believe most of their 4 kids,) have been vegan. I know his wife has been doing really well, and D-Rex has been doing fine (with a few lapses here and there). We’re planning another pot luck for next month at some point, to try out some new recipes and compare notes.