Saturday, October 30, 2010

Living Without Gluten

Imagine never being able to bite into a chewy, gewy, soft, warm piece of bread again. Or never being able to dine on pizza, subs, pasta, pretzels, crackers, most cereals, fried foods, and breaded foods.
No, I mean
really imagine it!

If you are truly imagining it, you are probably horrified. Well, welcome to my world. It is time I admitted it publicly, it is time for me to take hold of this and accept my new life. So here goes!

Hello, my name is Amanda and I am a gluten free, vegan.

About a month ago, I was diagnosed with Celiac's disease. While I knew this was on the table, I didn't think this is what I had and neither did my Doctor. He thought I had dyspepsia with ulcers. I never prayed so hard in my life for ulcers! It turns out there was a different plan for me. I don't have ulcers, chronic heart burn, dyspepsia, or other GI disturbances. I have an autoimmune disorder called Celiacs disease that creates a toxic reaction to any food containing the gluten (including wheat, barley, rye, and triticale). This reaction causes damage to my small intestine which leads to food being improperly absorbed. The results of the malabsportion could lead to anemia, osteoporosis, vitamin D/calcium/iron deficiencies, and a type of lymphoma cancer only seen in patients who ignore the diagnosis and continue to eat gluten.

Hold up! Cancer? This is too serious to ignore!

So, I have embarked on the beginning of my life-long gluten free journey. Yes, this is something I will have to live with for the rest of my life. If I want to live, and I do, then I'll have to following this diet.

Several people have asked me if I am going to go back to eating meat, eggs, and dairy. The answer is a resounding NO! Just because I changed an aspect of my life doesn't mean that my convictions have changed. I still believe with all my heart that compassion towards animals is my mission and purpose in life.

I am taking this all one day at a time. Sometimes I laugh about it and sometimes I cry. I am hoping my days of laughter will soon outweigh my days of sadness. I know it will come, I just need time and support. As silly as it may sound, I need time to mourn the loss of gluten in my life. I fluidly go back and forth through the stages of grief, but I know I need them all to come out of this as a strong person.

To some this may seem small, but to me this is my new life. Love it or hate it, it is mine.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Vegan Mofo 2010

I heard about an awesome concept from the Post Punk Kitchen called Vegan MoFo. That stands for "Vegan Month of Food." The main idea is for bloggers to blog about vegan food for the month of November. The blogs can be anything related to food. There are not a lot of guidelines, but the deal is that those participating will write about 20 times in the month. Here are some ideas of what to write about. There is also a website devoted to the Vegan MoFo challenge. All you have to do is to sign up.

So, what is the point you ask? To get the word out about veganism and to show people how easy, awesome, and beneficial it is to our health, the animals, and the planet. You don't even have to be vegan to do it, you just need to write about vegan food.

Stay tuned to my blog during the month of November because I am going to participate. Are you going to participate?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bull City Vegan Challenge- Aliva's

I was so impressed by the first Bull City Vegan Challenge restaurant we tried, that I had high expectations for the remaining places. It is unfortunate that I started on such a high note, because I want to be fair in my assessments of the other participating restaurants. It would, however, be hard to match the level of taste at Beyu Cafe'.

It was time for restaurant number two, so my Mom, John, and I met for dinner on a Sunday night and decided to try Alivia's. I had already contacted the restaurant and found out that I could eat both of the dishes. Alivia's entered a salad and entree into the contest and we were pleased that the two dishes were listed on the first page of the menu for all patrons to see.

  • Salad- Mango, avocado, and mixed greens
  • Entree- Mediterranean vegetable platter with roasted red pepper salsa

John decided to get the entree and I ordered the salad. The plan was to share our dishes. Our food came out rather quickly and they got John's order wrong. They brought two of the salads. The waitress was very kind about it and said that the kitchen made a mistake and that John's order would be out shortly. The kind also let us have the salad for free because it would be discarded otherwise.

As we waited for John's entree, we started on our salads. The salad consisted of spinach and other mixed greens, tomatoes, onions, mango, and avocado. Neither salad had any dressing and we thought it was odd. I don't want a mountain of dressing, but I want a little something. The salad had a good combination of fruit and vegetables, but it was not worth the $9.50 or so that was listed as the price. I love eating salads as a meal, but I like them to be hardy. My recommendation would be to add dried fruits or nuts and please add dressing!

Mango salad- pic taken from BCVC page

We finished our salads and were still hungry. I started to wonder if I should have ordered the main dish in addition to the salad. John's entree finally arrived to the table and it was not like the picture on the menu (see below). John received half of the portion in the picture. I only took two bites because I knew he would be hungry. Heck, I was still starving! The vegetables were cooked well and the salsa/sauce had a pleasant flavor, but this dish needed more to it and less olive oil! We would have liked the dish more if it contained more of the salsa/sauce, less of the olive oil, and steamed brown rice/wild rice.

Entree- pic taken from BCVC page

I need to add here that the dish was $11.50. I don't mind paying that much for a complete entree, but this should have been an appetizer with a reduced price! If you add the entree price to the salad, you are looking at a dinner of $21 per person. Again, I don't mind paying that price, but not when we were given only about $5 worth of food. Needless to say, we walked away hungry.

Afterward, we went home and had popcorn, had rice crackers and dip, and John made himself a veggie burger. The only thing that made this dinner worthwhile was the lovely wait staff at Alivia's. They were so kind and accommodating to us. John ended up getting his entire meal for free!

On a scale of 1 to 10, I rate this dinner as a 5. The food had taste, but lacked substance and completeness. The price was extremely high for the ingredients, preparation, and portions provided.

I don't want to dissuade anyone from visiting Alivia's. They are part of the vegan challenge and should be supported. With constructive criticism, Alivia's can turn their dishes around and provide healthy and satisfying dishes! Please, don't forget to vote!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bull City Vegan Challenge- Beyu Cafe'

At the beginning of the month, I blogged about the Bull City Vegan Challenge (BCVC). I have been anticipating this event since I first heard about it from my awesome friend, Eleni! When October came around, I was ready to get eating. Our first dinner was with a large group of friends at the Beyu Cafe'. I had never been before and after reading about their entrees, I knew I was in. The Beyu went all out with a three course price fix menu including an appetizer, entree, and dessert.
  • Appetizer- Vegan gumbo with shitakke mushrooms, eggplant, king oyster mushrooms, and nopal cactus, served with saffron rice.
  • Entree- Mix grill with sweet potato and apple medallions and roasted fennel, served on a bed of coconut curry sauce, with cranberry and pecan wild rice and drizzled with a a blackberry balsamic reduction.
  • Dessert- Vegan chocolate mousse with strawberries and whipped coconut cream.
I could hardly wait after sitting down, I knew I was getting the entree and dessert. I'll explain in a later post why I could not have the gumbo (I heard it was awesome though). After ordering, we all got cozy and caught up on our lives. It was nice seeing such a large group together and all ordering vegan food. It felt like a win for the animals!

Vegan Gumbo

My entree came out and I wanted to dig in. I had to be polite as I was in public, so I calmly began eating and OHH MY GOSH!!! This was seriously one of the best things that I had ever eaten. The flavors burst in my mouth. The rich and spicy flavors of the curry mixed with the cool and sweet reduction. This dish was nothing short of creative and amazing! The sweet potato, apples, and fennel were roasted to perfection. I am not a fan of fennel and this made even me wanting more fennel. The three work together so perfectly. Someone alert the culinary institute, I think we found an updated version of a Mirepoix.

Mix Grill Entree

I could not get over the richness of the dish. Cranberries, pecans, wild rice ohh my! It truly was a party in my mouth. You may think I am exaggerating, but those with us that night felt the same excitement I am expressing. Surely, it couldn't get any better than this.

And surely, I was wrong. The dessert came and I wanted nothing more than to dive into the dish face first. I had to remind myself that I was in public and I had to behave. There is no way this dessert could match the entree anyway.

Vegan Mousse

I took one bite and I exclaimed my love for the mousse.
There was even a bigger explosion in my mouth this time! I didn't even realize I was making an exclamation until Eleni and Rob asked me to reproduce it for their documentary. The luscious chocolate mixed with the cool coconut cream and the flavors danced along my tongue. A surprise was waiting for me at the bottom, a raspberry preserve. This was bliss in a martini glass. I never wanted it to end, but when it did I was satisfied.

This was only my first restaurant. How could it be this good? The others have a lot to live up too! People think that vegan food can't be filling and can't be gourmet. Of course I disagree with both of those statements. If you have any doubt about the awesomeness of vegan food, I challenge you to go to Beyu Cafe' before October is up. Then, please cast your vote. They have already said that they are keeping the mousse as they have been selling out of it all month. Woo Hoo!! Now we have to get them to keep the entree and gumbo as well.

Please try Beyu and all of the other challenge restaurants and don't forget to vote for your favorites in each category!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Bull City Vegan Challenge

It is October and time for the Bull City Vegan Challenge! This is all thanks to Eleni Vlachos and Chef Shirle' Hale-Koslowski. We have all been asking, hoping, pleading, crossing our fingers, etc that a vegetarian restaurant would come to Durham. There are SO many of us here! Our Annual Thanksgiving Feast draws in over 700 people. We also have a monthly vegan brunch which serves over 100 people within the first hour! There are several vegetarian groups that meet regularly to go out to restaurants, have potlucks, demonstrate, and do other forms of activism. Many area restaurants have vegan and veg options on their menu. There are even vegetarian restaurants in most of the surrounding areas like Raleigh, Cary, and Chapel Hill.

As you can see, the need is here.

So, Eleni and Chef Shirle' devised a great plan to bring great vegan food to Durham. Throughout the month of October, 10 restaurants in Durham will have vegan options on their menu. The categories are appetizers, entrees, and desserts. Yes, that is right, vegan desserts. I can hardly contain my excitement!

If your curious about the restaurants and what they will have to offer, visit the BCVC site and check out the competing dishes. Then, go out there and visit as many as you can. When you have tried them all, vote for your favorite in each category! I'll post about some of my favorites so you can see what is out there.

Don't take my word for it, get out there and support veganism, vegetarianism, and Durham!