By Sarah Shermyen
Last summer was a strange one for me. I took six weeks of summer classes and lived alone for the first time as my roommate left for other states, my boyfriend took off to other countries, and all my freshmen-year new friends went home. I lived semi-hermetically, going for multiple days without saying a single word with classes only twice a week, spending the other days trying to read hundreds of pages of anthropological texts and writing. I decided that all that time alone could be used for uninterrupted self-improvement. I wrote up a list with check marks to ensure that I studied French five times a week, worked out (or at least did my physical therapy) six times, and, the idea I’d been toying with for a few months: Go completely vegan.
I can tell you now that I only studied French four times in the entire six weeks, worked out fairly regularly the first few weeks but then fell off, only managed complete gluten-free veganism for 20 days, and had at least two “what am I doing with my life” crises to round it all out. I do not recommend, especially if you are introvert like me, giving yourself a month and a half alone with your own thoughts.
I will say, though, that the trial with veganism, though according to my list a failure, was successful in a way. I never intended to drop animal products forever; I roast potatoes in rendered goose fat and cart a suitcase home with frozen beef and chicken from my parents’ farm every time I visit home. Instead, my experiment with veganism got me to think more about the food I eat and different styles of cooking. I now stick, more or less, to the Mark Bittman “Vegan Before 6” rule; that is, I only eat animal products in one meal each day (if that). Experiments with vegan protein powder were almost entirely a disaster, but I have a newfound love for fermented soy and a can of beans. Below are a few suggestions.[divider] [/divider]
I never learned to like tofu much, and will only eat it when its been marinated for half a day and then baked. Tempeh is like its much tastier, infinitely better mouth-feel, and easier to cook cousin. I live in New York and usually order my groceries online; Fresh Direct sells packets of tempeh (2–3 servings) for $3.19 each. It’s good protein and fiber, and has a slightly nutty taste.
Slice the block into thin strips and sauté with olive oil/sesame oil and dry ginger, garlic, black or cayenne pepper, and soy sauce over medium heat. Great with brown rice or quinoa, cooked veg, and some slices of ripe avocado. Feel free to experiment with other spices; I’ve also cooked this with chili powder and salt in place of the ginger and soy sauce and made vegan burrito bowls.[divider] [/divider]
I believe in keeping cans of low sodium black beans in my cabinets at all time. I’m a Goya person, but any brand with a simple ingredients list will do. Inexpensive, delicious, filling, they are the best for making soups or for serving with rice and sautéed sweet peppers and onions (or vegan burrito bowls!).
Recipe Black Bean Soup
16 oz. can low-sodium black beans
16 oz. vegetable broth
1 tsp. Cumin
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. garlic salt
Combine spices, beans, and broth in a blender until pureed, then set over medium heat with bay leaf. When soup begins to simmer, turn to low heat and allow to cook uncovered for about 20 minutes. Adjust spices to taste (I usually double the cumin and black pepper). Excellent with a salad for a light lunch.
Recipe Green Breakfast
I eat Irish oatmeal first thing, but mid-morning I like fruit and veg. Below is a simple, not too sweet smoothie.
2 handfuls ripped kale leaves
2 handfuls baby spinach leaves
1 ripe banana
juice of half a lemon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/3 c. water
Blend until smooth. Adjust lemon and ginger as you see fit. If you’d like to add some protein, a couple of tablespoons of hemp powder won’t overpower the taste.[divider] [/divider]
For me, the easiest thing to do to save money was to stop buying chips or cookies. If I wanted hummus, I bought carrots or celery stalks to go with. I wouldn’t be tempted, then, to snarf down a $6 bag of pita chips in one sitting vs. half a $2.50 celery heart. I splurge on seasonal fruit and vegetables, and like every obnoxious health blogger out there, yeah, I feel better for it. Plus, when I write a paper now, I don’t have a handy bar of chocolate in the house to eat. A whole bag of baby carrots is less exciting and less likely to put me into a sugar stupor half-way through an assignment. Yes, of course, I still believe in the power of my triple chocolate cake, my Southern biscuits, and a good apple crumble. But most of the time, this is what I (try to) stick to. And it’s not so very hard.[divider] [/divider]
Sarah Shermyen originally hails from the greatest university town in Florida, but now lives in New York where she is pursuing a BA in English at Barnard College. She doesn’t have the patience to get a proper degree and figures life as a transient busker isn’t such a very horrid future. She enjoys missing references to popular culture and quoting British sketch-comedy shows; at least her brother understands her. She used to be a model or something but then puberty happened or something and, lacking the hand-eye coordination to play sports, she now uses her height to reach the highest shelves for others. When not selflessly reaching cereal boxes for her roommate, she cooks the things her parents send her and tries to figure out a way to make the kolrabi in her weekly CSA palatable. Sometimes she sings things and sometimes she acts in things; she was a part of Columbia University’s Vagina Monologues cast in 2013. She has a long list of books to read and movies to see but right now she just wants to enjoy some Flannery O’Connor and a small glass of rye, maybe try to write poetry, okay? You can read those attempts at her inconsistently updated blog, meandthehyacinthgirl.tumblr.com[divider] [/divider]