Lagniappe: Happy Religion-Based Culinary Abstinence Season!

**Note: I really did write this on Ash Wednesday, but then Calculus came into my life to ruin it and everything else I love.**

And by that I mean, today is Ash Wednesday and the kick off to the Lenten season before Easter! Lent is of course a Christian religious occasion, one wherein adherents typically give something up for the period in order to honour Jesus' 40 days of fasting in the desert, or alternately as a form of penitence. Different denominations of Christianity practice this fast in different ways: committed Greek Orthodox members abstain from all animal products, alcohol, and caffeine; Catholics avoid meat except for fish on Fridays; some denominations use a "Daniel's Fast" and other individuals just choose to give up something they really love, like chocolate or coffee or alcohol.

It's been YEARS since I last fasted, but last year my Greek boyfriend at the time set the example by going vegan for his Orthodox Lent period. I was impressed with his commitment to the tradition and intrigued by the culinary challenge. I've been both a vegetarian and pescatarian (where fish and shellfish is the only form of meat consumed) in the past, and am largely dairy-free in my day-to-day life--but I've never taken the plunge to being a full vegan. I love cheese too much!

However, after the sheer non-stop indulgence of the holidays I gotta say I am REALLY excited to do this vegan cleanse for 40 days. I'm looking forward to the challenge of coming up with really yummy dishes that even meat lovers will enjoy while at the same time letting my body re-boot into a healthier, cleaner state.

I plan to post the best recipes I develop here, but don't fret--I believe that vegan cooking shouldn't be that much more complicated than regular cooking because it should be more accessible to more people. Give it a shot for a Meatless Monday, or if you're fasting for Lent too and want to share recipes, post in the comments!

So, what are the rules? Vegans don't consume any animal products at all so that's no meat, eggs, dairy, chocolate, or honey--also no mayo (contains eggs yolks) and nothing with chicken broth in it. It's amazing how much I have to focus on reading food labels--you'd be surprised how often animal products sneak into places they shouldn't be! SUPER strict vegans even avoid some vegetarian products (like "fake cheese") that contain small amounts of casein, a protein derived from milk. I'm not being that strict, but I'm choosing to follow along with basically everything else.

"No meat?! But how will you get any protein?"
I disliked this question when I was a vegetarian and I don't much care for it now--come on guys please tell me you know enough about nutrition to know that THERE ARE OTHER SOURCES OF PROTEIN RIGHT??????? And not even that garbage tofu stuff (tofu sucks) but like, beans! Lentils! Nuts! Quinoa! Green peas! Oatmeal! Chia, pumpkin, and hemp seeds! Now I get that I'm not a muscle building dude so I definitely need less protein than some other people, but there are some super famous and super fit and super hot celebrities who are also vegan, like Carrie Underwood, Natalie Portman, Mike Tyson, Woody Harrelson, Olympic runner Carl Lewis, Venus Williams, and Mac Danzig of the UFC. It'll require a bit more thought and preparation on my part, but it can be done.

"Dairy! I could never in a million years give up dairy, I love ice cream and cheese too much. And chocolate, too?!"
Yeah, I was pretty bummed to remember that chocolate actually counts as dairy--God help me in about two weeks--but I've been mostly dairy free for years. I don't eat ice cream but when I have a craving I go nuts for So Delicious Coconut Milk Ice Cream which, if you haven't tried it, is just as rich and delicious as regular ice cream. I've never liked yogurt or cottage cheese and I can easily do without sour cream so that takes care of that. I already use a non-dairy creamer in my coffee, Earth Balance vegan spread as butter, and Almond Breeze Unsweetened Original Almond Milk whenever I need milk (which isn't often). But cheese...oh CHEESUS! At any given time in my fridge you can usually find, at minimum: feta cheese, gorgonzola or bleu cheese, and a thick wedge of Parmesan or Grana Panada. Very very often some extra sharp cheddar, Brie, goat cheese or even those delicious little Babybels will work its way in there as well. I. LOVE. CHEESE.

Today it's easier than ever to be a vegan or vegetarian as more and more companies provide alternative products, but a lot of them are based on processed soy. They're also considerably more expensive. My goal is to focus on natural whole foods and avoid the processed stuff as much as possible. THAT SAID, I know there are going to be days when I'm craving cheese and to be honest some of the substitutes out there are DELICIOUS. I'll post about the best new products I find in case you're interested in giving them a try!

At any rate it's time for my avocado toast breakfast, so I will bid you adieu and keep you posted on my progress. Cheers! (Yes, wine is vegan, because wine is proof that God still loves me and wants me to be happy, even without cheese.)

Posted on February 12, 2016 .