Eating At Home

As things start to open up in my state, everyone I know seems to be dying for a restaurant meal. I can honestly say that eating in a restaurant is almost at the bottom of my list of things to do.

It may be because I’m a decent cook and know how to prepare meals exactly the way I like them. It’s partly because restaurants in my area aren’t interested in people who wish to eat healthy or who eat plant based.

Sad salads and greasy grilled cheese sandwiches are the standard faire for vegetarians in my area. A few nicer restaurants in neighboring towns offer the Beyond Burger or a black bean burger but most vegetarians or vegans are better off just staying at home in my part of the state.

Personally, I eat mostly vegan at home and hope for vegan but am happy with vegetarian in restaurants. I tend to use eating out as an excuse to have pizza or some other really bad cheat dish because the options are so slim.

The above picture is from my lunch yesterday – just a simple sauce packed with veggies over soy noodle spaghetti and a nice little salad. All the ingredients came from Aldi and nothing was expensive.

Dessert was this big bowl of berries. Easy, simple and delicious!

People act like those of us who don’t eat meat or dairy are asking for something ridiculously hard to achieve. It’s really not when you stick to simple ingredients.

So I’ll just continue doing my thing at home and be happy. At least cooking at home is cheaper than take-out!

Breakfast at Bakn

The Pittsburgh neighborhood of Carnegie boasts the cutest local restaurant called Bakn.

Their logo is a little carton pig. It’s used in the wall art, menu and all through the restaurant. Nichola laughed as we discussed what an unorthodox choice this place was for a plant based eater. While they don’t have much on the menu for a vegan eater, there were a few vegetarian choices. This worked great because I’m not super strict, especially when I travel.

I was perfectly happy with my hot cakes, a real treat that I like to indulge in while traveling.

They are Food Network endorsed with good reason. My breakfast was tasty and there was plenty of it. even the menu is fun to read here.

In the neighborhood? Hungry? Just enjoy dreaming over a good restaurant menu? Here you go!

Tomorrow we leave Pittsburgh and move on to other topics. Hope to see you back then!

Eating Healthy On The Road

Saturday around Winchester (2)

I transitioned into a mostly plant based diet this fall. In layman’s terms – I’m vegan. This has been for health reasons although I have long avoided meat for moral reasons as well.

My diet now consists of mostly fruits and vegetables, whole grains, plant based proteins and some healthy fats. No meat, dairy, eggs or oils. And I do my best to not make a lot of unhealthy foods using healthy ingredients.

This works great when I’m at home or can pack my lunch. In restaurants, life is hard. A lot of restaurants, including fast food giant Burger King, are offering plant based burgers now but you can’t live off burgers alone and these products aren’t what you might consider health food.

So, when eating out, my goal is to eat as healthy as I can within the rules I live by at home. As much as possible. 

This road trip was my first as a vegan and was helpful in shaping my goals and standards for future travel.

The first goal was to find a hotel that offered a fridge. I opted for a newly remodeled Motel 6 where the tile floors and removal of all unnecessary wood and fabric made me rest easier about protecting myself from bed bugs and other nasties. Motel 6 is a very basic, affordable chain with no bells and whistles. While they don’t provide breakfast, they do provide a fridge and microwave.

So I packed a small blender, a plate, reusable straw, kitchen towels and utensils. When I got to town, a stop at the local Aldi for supply acquisition – frozen fruit and almond milk for smoothies, peanut butter, bread, bananas and bottled water – cost about $15. With no toaster at hand, I just heated my bread to simulate the peanut butter with toast that I have with a smoothie most mornings.

I also packed some apples, homemade granola and a few protein bars in case I was in a pinch while traveling.

I had mexican one day and found a small pizza shop that made me a veggie pizza with gluten free crust and no cheese. They offered vegan cheese but that just sounds like heavily processed crap and maybe something that doesn’t fit with my healthy eating goals. So I passed.

There was a veggie burger at a cool old diner in West Virginia too.

The day of the Flying Circus Air Show, I stopped at Subway for picnic food at the airport – a veggie sub on bread that isn’t vegan but I needed something more substantial than a salad to get through this day.  I also went to Chipotle for a bowl that night.

And I cheated for a few meals. After leaving Winchester on Monday, the road took me south to Luray Caverns and west to a town in Maryland before landing in Clarksburg, West Virginia for the night. I arrived after dark and ended up at a mall looking for a few things. By then, I was hungry, tired and in no mood to go hunting healthy food. Traffic was bad in Clarksburg so I wasn’t going exploring at that point either. I ended up with food court pizza and salad. The next morning, I had a cheat meal that was planned – pumpkin pancakes and scrambled eggs.

In all, it was more fast food than I would normally like but I was on the go a lot and didn’t want to waste time waiting in restaurants.

I tell you that to tell you this.

None of these meals made me feel good. I woke up each morning grateful for my healthy breakfast and looking forward to cooking fresh food when I got home. The sodium in most of those meals was ridiculous and made my fingers swell – always a bad sign.

Could I have tracked down healthier options? Probably. Although, I had researched Winchester options prior to the trip and the best alternative would’ve been going to the grocery store for wrap ingredients or getting veggies to have with peanut butter sandwiches. But I wasn’t interested in making that kind of effort on this particular trip. I just needed to eat something so that I could keep going. There were adventures to be had!

As I become more entrenched in this way of eating, priorities may shift on future vacations. For now, I’m happy with doing the best I can with what I have to work with while road tripping. And also – I will blatantly break the rules and be plain old vegetarian in any and all cool old diners. I don’t care. Sometimes you have to make small sacrifices to do something you love! And I do like my cool, old diners! 

 Have tips? I would love to hear them!

From Whole 30 To Plant Based Eating

We have discussed the Whole 30 way of eating a few times on this blog. It’s a great means to ditch bad eating habits like a sugar addiction and to learn what foods might be causing your health issues.

Unfortunately, Whole 30 doesn’t have a vegetarian plan and instead pushes pescatarian eating. I followed this plan for more than a year, mainly straying off course in restaurants and for special occasions like cake in the lunchroom at work.

But I don’t care that much for seafood and had grown tired of the meal plan. It was time for a change but I wasn’t sure what that change would be.

Ditching the seafood in favor of vegetarian eating sounded favorable but so many vegetarian recipes prominently feature a grain – bread, pasta, rice – along with some kind of cheese and beans.

I hadn’t eaten grains, beans or dairy on any consistent basis since starting the Whole 30. Sure, I would order pizza, a sandwich or pancakes in a restaurant but never brought these things home.

Not even the healthy whole grain stuff.

As I wrestled with food questions, it became increasing clear that my desire to eat vegetarian was at odds with many of the unhealthy recipes the internet provides.

And then I met Dewey, a friend whose health scare caused him to completely overhaul his traditional American diet of basically everything he wanted. Now he eats a plant based diet which also eliminates oils and sugar.

He has cut his cholesterol in half and lost about forty pounds in a season. He now enjoys each day as a new man – energetic and happy.

When I expressed interest in his food habits, he shared the details of his diet – called the Engine 2 plan – and how it has improved his life.

Then he suggested I try it for thirty days.

I said yes because you can do anything for thirty days, right?

As the thirty day marker approaches, I am quite happy with this way of eating. I feel energetic, my skin looks better and I feel better most days.

Honestly, I’m still figuring out what works and what I like, experimenting with new recipes and trying to determine what is right for me.

I don’t expect to have such stunning results as Dewey has enjoyed. For one thing, going from eating mostly seafood and produce to including grains and beans seems like it will make weight loss a little harder.

But I love that I feel clear of mind and have lots of energy. Plus, I’m hopeful that my cholesterol will be a little lower at my next doctor visit.

The biggest challenge to date has been restaurant eating. There’s a road trip on the horizon this fall and restaurants in the towns where I’ll be have limited plant based options. If they have a meatless option, it’s typically grilled cheese or maybe some kind of heavy pasta or a sad little salad.

Restaurant green beans are often cooked with pork in them, giving even the sides section of a menu the feel of a mine field. And I refuse to live off the sad little iceberg lettuce salads that so many places try to pass off as a meal.

There are some fast food options. For example, the Burger King Impossible Whopper is tasty but it’s still heavily processed fast food that should be a treat rather than a dietary staple. Qdoba caters to vegans but I assume they use oils in their cooking. Yet cooking oil on vegetables sounds like a lesser evil than greasy grilled cheese someplace else. Subway preserves their vegetables to the point they taste like plastic so that’s not a viable option either.

The good news is that I’m clearly committed because I’m already considering how to make it work and how much I’m willing to bend on vacation.

Since I’ll be in one hotel for a few days, taking a blender would allow for breakfast smoothies in the room.

I’m thinking there will be pancakes for dinner one night – a comfort food and a luxury at dinner time if there ever was one. That’s a single meal with pancakes made from white flour, eggs and milk with highly processed syrup instead of the pure stuff from home.

What other concessions am I willing to make on vacation? These are not game time decisions because I promise you, I will make the wrong choice when I’m hungry and the pressure is on.

Every. Single. Time.

I don’t want to be so strict that eating becomes a hassle but I do want to find hacks and means for nourishing my body without sacrificing my goals.

That’s not asking too much, right?

Some Advice

September 2018 (7)

Look around. You never know where you’ll find some good advice and great pizza. The above sign hangs on the wall at C&J’s Pizza in Wytheville, Virginia. It’s a little off the beaten path and populated mainly with locals so you know it has to be good. The walls are lined with great memorabilia including this cool vintage sign from the New Orleans Police Department.

“Beware Pickpockets and Loose Women.”

Sounds like timeless advice to me!

The food here was fantastic. I had a delicious side salad and the veggie pizza was amazing. The service here was good too despite the fact the place was packed the entire time we were there. My only regret is that there’s no photographic evidence of this tasty meal.

I try to avoid chain restaurants when traveling. I didn’t drive all the way to Wytheville to eat at Applebees and was thrilled to find this local joint was as good as internet reviewers and  locals claimed. I don’t eat meat but I hear their hamburger pizza is a local favorite and something you don’t find on a menu at a chain restaurant.

Whether it’s your own town or a vacation destination, my best advice is to head off the beaten path and pay no mind to how ugly the front door is. If the parking lot is full and it is clean inside, you’re probably in the right place.

Wherever you go – just beware those pickpockets and loose women!