I recently found out about Unprocessed October, an online challenge to cut all of the processed food out of your diet for the month of October. It’s such a great idea, not only for the obvious health reasons, but also because October seems to mark the beginning of the annual winter binge- Halloween candy, baked goods, all those heavy winter casseroles and roasts that seem like a good idea now that it’s getting colder out.
I love the idea of beginning the cooler months with a lighter diet. It can take a lot of energy to take care of the farm in the winter, daily chores being complicated by heavy rains and the occasional freezing temperatures. It would be really nice to feel extra healthy going into all of this. So… We’ve already got a little group of friends together who are going to do the challenge, each person with their own takes on what Unprocessed October means to them. I’m finally committing to a vegan diet, supplemented by eggs from our chickens… I think eggs are incredibly good for you (perfect little daily dose packages of protein and vital nutrients) and I know that my chickens are happy as clams. I know that doesn’t really mean it’s a strict vegan diet but I don’t care; I’m still not eating meat or dairy products.
Apart from eggs, I follow a vegan diet a lot of the time anyway, so this shouldn’t be so much of a stretch. I’ve noticed that when I’m really busy working, cooking for myself is one of the first things to go by the wayside. As part of doing this, I’m hoping to help find a little more balance in my life and make sure to budget in time and energy to cook real meals for myself.
My Mini Vegan Cooking Primer
Cooking really delicious vegan food is easy peasy if you have a garden or shop at the farmers market, by the way. My general formula for a dinner is this:
- Vegetable soup/stew/stir fry: no menu planning needed, just walk up in the garden and check out what’s ready. Usually my stews fall into one of two categories: the first is more of an Italian vegetable cacciatore type thing, with crushed tomatoes, white wine, and lots of fresh herbs like thyme or bay leaves. The second would be more of an eastern curry/stir fry, with seasoning ingredients like ginger, turmeric, soy sauce, dried chilis, coconut milk, and fresh cilantro. If you keep the various spices and pantry ingredients like this on hand, it’s really easy to throw together a masterpiece. Keeping lots of dried beans on hand also helps get through nights where you might be low on fresh vegetables. For this time of year, I’m already dreaming of dishes like honey-glazed roasted butternut squash, pumpkin-coconut curry, squash and apple gratins, and more…
- Some kind of grain dish: I almost always use quinoa with vegan meals since it’s so high in protein and other nutrients, but I also like brown or wild rice. I don’t make boring grains, either. Add-ins from the pantry or herb garden might include: vegetable stock, fresh herbs like thyme or bay leaves, preserved lemon, sauteed alliums (leeks, onions, garlic, shallots, etc), tomato paste, dried spices like chili powder or turmeric, oven or sun-dried tomatoes, and most importantly sea salt and black pepper.
- Greens, usually dark leafy ones: I love making creamed kale and swiss chard with a little nutmeg, which is easily made vegan by using hemp or almond milk instead of heavy cream. Just make a little more of a roux than you might with heavy cream and the sauce will come out just as thick and velvety as the dairy counterpart. Regardless of what recipe I use, I try to make sure that every meal includes some kind of greens. Pantry items I keep on hand to make sure they taste amazing usually are garlic, ginger, olive oil, soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, roasted peanut oil, chilis, onions, and tahini. Sauté up some greens with two or three of those ingredients and you’re pretty much guaranteed success.
Enough about my plans, though. J. is giving up meat but not dairy, and one of our good friends who’s been vegan for years is actually giving up processed fake meat and vegan junk food. I’m also giving up refined sugar, and will be making a bunch of new jam recipes sweetened only with local honey. It kind of feels like a New Year’s Resolution… but why wait til January? We’re doing it right now. This post is my invitation to anyone else out in the internet universe to join in with us. It doesn’t have to be meat at all. Are there any foods that you’re eating that you feel like are hurting you more than helping? Any bad habits you know you have and haven’t had reason to quit yet? Here’s your reason.