Vegansaurus Diet: Tamara Palmer! »
We welcome food writer extraordinaire Tamara Palmer who approached me about doing a Vegansaurus Diet (inspired by Grubstreet’s New York Diet, of course!) and I was beyond stoked. Not only is she one of my favorite food writers, she’s also just a totally rad lady. Oh, she also writes about Too $hort on the regular, so she’s basically living my dream life.
Anyway, I’m thrilled with her addition to our archives, and hope to fill it with more non-vegan food writers, or even writers and bloggers who don’t write about food! Interested? Let me know! Oh plus, if you’re a reader who wants to do one even if you’re already vegan (yay you!), email me with yours! It’s fun! And informative! Yay vegan eating! Now, please enjoy Teemoney’s Week of Living Veganly because this girl eats WELL; I just discovered about 15 new foods I MUST try! Enjoy!
As a freelancer who has written close to 2,000 stories about food just over the past three years, I have chosen to be an editorial omnivore, eating broadly with far more adventure and curiosity than I ever had up until that point. And while my eating habits at home still tend toward the vegetarian, the cumulative toll of many months of decidedly not-vegetarian dinners and food battles was getting increasingly harder to ignore.
It took me more than a month of longing to try the Vegansaurus Diet before I actually did it; one reasonable excuse I’d like to offer was that I had many assignments I did not want to forgo for the experiment. Truthfully, though, a smaller reason is that I also wanted to get my fill of some of my favorite foods first. I realized quickly that those all fell in the dairy category.
I’ve never been a vegan, but I have been a vegetarian, so I thought that would help make it a lot easier. I was wrong! I wouldn’t come to truly appreciate the vast difference between being vegan and being vegetarian until late in the week. My cravings for meat were minimal and pretty much limited to when a few particularly stellar temptations were directly under my nose. But I’d learn mid-week how much my brain thinks it desperately needs dairy; definitely something to address. [Ed.: Casein is no joke! That shit is addictive!]
As I shopped for rations at Rainbow Grocery and Other Avenues, it was nice to be reminded that many of my favorite snacks are vegan. I also had the good fortune to receive a few samples of new and locally made products being carried at Whole Foods’ new Haight Street location in San Francisco and noticed that some of the ones I was most excited about from Love & Hummus and Rocket Ship Ice Cream were vegan.
I decided early on that I would be extravagant about this “diet,” surrounded by amazing snacks at all times so I wouldn’t feel deprived or accidentally screw up. I also wasn’t going to try to reduce my typically mammoth sugar intake, wanting to avoid some sort of heroin-like physical withdrawal. I did want to do well and show how delicious it is for an omnivore to go vegan for a week. Being careful was clearly weighing heavily on my mind: I fell asleep on Saturday night and had a dream that I absentmindedly ate all the wrong things.
Sunday, Apr. 10
I woke up with the assistance of an Amazake Tiger Chai rice shake, an occasional purchase when I think I can handle the caffeine (I drink very little). Lunch was a salad of pea shoots and microgreens topped with Ginger People pickled ginger, carrots, pineapple mint from my back stairs, and crumbled five-spice tofu nuggets from Oakland’s Hodo Soy Beanery. I’m not into tofu at all in general, but after I visited Hodo Soy’s factory to shoot this tour, I learned that I really like the company’s artisan products. I think these nuggets would be good in a morning stir-fry with some peppers, onions, and potatoes. I got some needed crunch with my salad via a handful of Edward & Sons’ rice toasts, the Thai red rice and flax variety. For dessert, I broke off four squares of Mast Brothers 70 percent dark chocolate spiked with Serrano peppers, a treat I smuggled back from my last visit to Brooklyn. [Ed.: Megan Rascal loves their stuff, too!]
A few hours later, I snacked on a Pepple’s blueberry donut, a frequent purchase at Other Avenues. I’m still not buying the story that there wasn’t any drama behind the name change of People’s to Pepple’s, but I do love that blueberry glaze.
For dinner, I heated up two slices of wild mushroom Field Roast, tentatively drizzling some Daiya “mozzarella cheese” on one of them, and fried up some slices of sweet potato for a side dish. I had a bad Tofu-Rella trauma back in the day and have turned a blind eye to fake cheeses ever since, but I’ve read on Vegansaurus and elsewhere how much Daiya is beloved, so I gave it a shot. Not bad. The Field Roast on the other hand—not so good.
Melodi Donahue from OCD Sweets in Napa kindly sent me a big box of her vegan agave nectar caramels to sample after I had fallen in love with her “Vegan Rosalia” tangerine rose caramel a couple months ago. Despite its large size, I polished off an Irish ale caramel stuffed with a big sourdough pretzel in just a few minutes.
The Field Roast wasn’t very satisfying, so I ate a Lundberg rice and popcorn cake and drank a mug of So Delicious coconut milk a bit later.
Monday, Apr. 11
Started the morning with a shot of Tonix coconut water kefir, which is like downing kombucha concentrate. It’ll make you shudder and might put hair on your chest, but it also can add pep to the step. I got in the bad Monday habit of blogging and skipping breakfast, but I felt good after the Tonix.
I escaped for a few minutes to run down to Shangri-La Chinese Vegetarian, which is not only vegetarian and largely vegan, but is also Buddhist and Kosher. I knew that their mu shu vegetables and pancakes were vegan, but I asked just to be sure.
“Vegan? Yes. You want egg or no egg?”
“Um, no egg, please.”
These were just as satisfying as I remembered them to be. Shangri-La’s got very convincing styles of mock meat, if you’re into that sort of thing (I’m not, but I do like the vinegar-y, cabbage-y flavor of the “vegetal goose”).
An afternoon snack blended the savory and the sweet: A handful of wild rosemary almonds from Oren’s Kitchen of El Cerrito and half of a tiny bar of Sweetriot 65 percent dark chocolate with cacao nibs.
I made a hearty dinner with Canaan Organic Fair Trade Maftoul, a Palestinian couscous made with sun-dried wheat, roasted Purple Haze carrots and onions, cilantro, and purple kale and chives from the back stairs, with a squeeze of Meyer lemon and a side of one of my favorite snacks, Kettle Chips in Spicy Thai flavor. Canaan donates a portion of proceeds to a San Mateo-based non-profit for Palestinian women called Rebuilding Alliance.
I got some Vegan Booty for dessert. Not the super-fun and sexy kind, but some lovely coconut toffee with dark chocolate and orange peel from OCD Sweets.
Tuesday, Apr. 12
I remembered to eat breakfast, a hunk of carrot spice teacake from Aunt Nettie’s Bakery of Santa Cruz, and even had a midmorning snack: An Oskri sesame bar with date syrup. I met my friend Jeannie Choe, organizer of the SF Food Wars competitions that I judge, for lunch at Gracias Madre. It was our first time there so we were unaware that the portions (like the prices) are large. A tiny glass of horchata was $5, which I thought was crazy until I tasted and loved it. Still expensive. We made up for it by splitting two appetizers (guacamole con tortillas and gorditas, the latter a fried masa and potato cake) and an entrée (enchiladas con mole with mushrooms and cashew “cheese”). Jeannie was suspicious about the “cheese” until remembering that we awarded second place to a vegan macaroni and cheese entry in the first SF Food Wars, the “Battle Royale With Cheese.” [Ed.: Here’s the recipe for the award-winning Fat Bottom Bakery’s vegan mac & cheese!] We both ate until we were full and I took home a huge box of leftovers.
That epic lunch didn’t stop me from having a decently-sized afternoon snack a couple hours later: A Fuji apple, the last two squares of the Sweetriot chocolate bar, and half of a large peanut butter “creamie” sandwich cookie from Sugar Plum Vegan of Sacramento. The filling was almost too rich, and I had to scrape some of it out, but it was a good treat. Dinner: more Madre.
Wednesday, Apr. 13
Today, I felt cranky for the first time. Not for meat but for cheese, ice cream, and yogurt. I skipped breakfast accidentally and later tried to bat down the cravings with leftover mu shu, a rice cake with crunchy peanut butter, and some handfuls of cardamom-infused granola from Nana’s Natural of Sonoma. Didn’t help much. My afternoon snack was a bowl of pita chips with some spicy harissa-flavored hummus from Love & Hummus and some spicy red velvet chocolate almonds from Lillie Belle Farms.
I was angry when I made an accidental slip-up, taking a swig of Prince Neville’s ginger beer without looking at the ingredients. Once I figured out that it has honey, I put it back in the fridge.
I met Vegansaurus’ HBiC Laura Beck for a dinner at Encuentro in Oakland. We had to push two tables together to fit our chickpea socca, red quinoa salad, “cheese” plate, taquitos (pictured), and Reuben sandwich, which is my kind of dinner. I hate raisins but somehow loved the taquitos, which were stuffed with some form of them. I later learned that this meal is her sort of sexy initiation ritual for omnivores, and I really dug it. We didn’t get to the Reuben so we took it home, and I had a late-night date with it.
Thursday, Apr. 14
Double shot of Tonix coconut kefir water for breakfast. Believe it or not, I still had a little bit of Gracias Madre leftovers so I polished them off along a bottle of Bruce Cost pomegranate hibiscus ginger ale. There wasn’t quite enough for a proper meal, so I kept snacking, first on a rice cake with Justin’s chocolate almond butter on top [Ed.: Try it on matzo!], and then by popping some popcorn and dumping a whole container of Suzanne’s Ricemellow Crème on top like a crack addict. I way overdid the proportions and even encased the kernels in ‘mellow in the race to put this in my face, but it’s a good combo that should be experimented with by people more patient than myself.
I drove back to Oakland to photograph the pre-opening party for Berlyn’s Eatery, where there will often be salads and other vegan options on the small menu. That night featured some rich-looking tofu and black bean soup, but the wait was long and I felt cranky again after taking pictures of some of the omnivorous options. I sped back across the bridge and back to Rainbow Grocery to re-up on the vegan snack rations, grabbing a container of Mari’s veggie gyoza and a package of Just Apples dehydrated apples. Don’t ask me why I didn’t just have a live apple. Still craving cheese, I made a late-night snack of tortilla chips, Daiya, and chopped up a quick pico de gallo.
Friday, Apr. 15
I had a video shoot at Brown Sugar Kitchen in Oakland for The Feast so I got there a little bit early and sat in my car feeling sorry for myself while I ate a few Shakti cashew diamonds with saffron and popped a couple of Yummy Earth hard candies (why on Earth is alfalfa one of the ingredients?).
Chef/proprietor Tanya Holland made us an omnivorous Creole special, the details of which I’ll politely skip, but I will admit that the smells had me wanting to dive into the bowl and swim around. It didn’t help that her busy cooking line meant that my nose would be no more than a foot away from the dish at all times.
Afterwards, I told my video producer Mike Anderson about my diet and how, despite those moments of crankiness and deep cravings, I think I was experiencing a little bit more energy in general. He suggested I continue for longer than seven days, that perhaps this was just a hint of the stellar energy in store. A great idea, but I could already feel myself looking forward to lifting the restrictions, even if it would mean sacrificing some of this energy.
Mike shot a gorgeous video of the vegan “charcuterie” platter at Berkeley’s Gather restaurant for us last month, and I had fantasies about going there for lunch after our shoot for a leisurely meal, but was overcome by guilt and had to get back to the day’s bloggery.
Back in front of the computer, I settled for a pair of Shi Gourmet’s fresh rice paper Vietnamese spring rolls (a frequent Rainbow purchase), a banana (Fair Trade, Peruvian, to be exact), and a Nature’s Path “peanut buddy” granola bar (dry but satisfactory), followed by a hefty snack a few hours later: A “mini” loaf of Sugar Plum Vegan’s pumpkin pecan quickbread, which is packed with a ton of pureed pumpkin. Like SPV’s peanut butter creamie, it was tasty and almost too indulgent.
After finishing enough work for no one to be mad at me for the weekend, I picked up some friends and rushed down to “Street Food Fridays” at Fabric8. The hope was for some tofu and veggie curry from the Magic Curry Kart, but it had sold out in less than an hour. I hung out for a while and then dropped my friends off so they could go eat whatever they wanted. Bitches.
Back at home and too tired to make a proper meal, I settled on a slightly more elaborate version of the previous night’s nachos, adding some fresh diced pineapple to the pico de gallo.
Saturday, Apr. 16
Began the day with an Amazake Vanilla Pecan Pie rice shake, which is a better choice for me than the Tiger Chai because it doesn’t have any caffeine. I perused my inbox and was lured in by an invitation to check out the private warehouse sale of a gourmet food distributor in San Leandro; soon, my friend Missy Buchanan and I were headed to the East Bay, with plans to hit up the Japanese vegetarian restaurant Cha-Ya back in San Francisco afterward.
Here’s where I admit the big transgression of my heart that happened while on the Vegansaurus Diet: This sale touted a wide variety of French cheeses, offered at wholesale prices, and I hovered around the table for a long time before snapping up two specimens. I also bought two kinds of truffle butter. I don’t know when I became such a cheese or butter enthusiast, but the fact that I couldn’t eat them then sparked a powerful longing.
We arrived at Cha-Ya to the disappointing sight of a “closed for renovations” sign. Although I loved my lunch at Gracias Madre, I had hoped not to return this week just for the sake of variety, but it was just a block away and seemed like the best option for that meat-saturated corridor. It turned out to be a great choice. This time I forked over the unreasonable $8 for the large version of that delicious horchata, and saved by ordering the “ensalada de mango” (pictured) with some side orders of black beans and mushrooms. The “queso fresco” slathered on the Acme baguette that accompanied the salad didn’t taste cheesy, but still helped to carve away at my gnawing craving.
Later that evening, I sliced up a zucchini and a white potato, filled a wok with a generous amount of French black truffle oil I had purchased at the warehouse sale (which made me realize I didn’t need to buy that stupid butter), and fried them up until they were no longer nutritious (perfect). I washed it down with a bottle of pomegranate kombucha from Kombucha Botanica of Santa Cruz.
Inspired by this recipe from Peaceful Table, I had wanted to try to make a vegan tapioca pudding all week and finally made the time to do it on Saturday evening. I followed the measurements of the recipe but used coconut milk instead of soy milk, added some chopped Fuji apple, and the last four squares of my spicy Mast Brothers dark chocolate. This dessert was the revelation of my week, hands down. Not only is it ready slightly quicker than the conventional method, it is vastly easier with, to me, negligibly similar results since you can skip all the steps of separating the egg whites from the yolks and adding different amounts of each at different times. I’m thrilled to know I can avoid that tedium and have delicious, healthy results.
I almost forgot that I had been saving my Rocket Ship chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream that I had gotten at Whole Foods for last, so I sampled some even after I downed a big bowl of tapioca. Supplier of ice cream to San Francisco’s fine vegan restaurant Millennium, I was instantly hooked on the flavor and consistency of the ice crystals. I buy a lot of non-dairy frozen desserts and will be adding this to the rotation.
I deliberately did not set my Vegansaurus Diet up like a “cleanse,” but I did emerge from it all with a noticeably lighter feeling. The lack of dairy was what my brain told me was the biggest deprivation, even as I realized I don’t need it for actual survival. Yesterday, I told my father (who I actually love a whole lot) that I would throw him under the bus for an early shot at a double-cheese pizza; later, the thought of having a midnight pizza party got me through the rest of today. My cravings for/loyalties to dairy are alarming me, so I am going to go drown them in more coconut milk tapioca pudding now.
Tamara Palmer is the food editor for The Feast SF Bay Area and a contributor to SFoodie and Bay Area Bites. We dig her a lot. All photos from Tamara, except the Rocket Ship ice cream and Pepple’s Donut from Yelp!