day six (aka cloud nine)

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Today was one of the best food days, not just of this vegan experience, but of my life. After a horrible stomach ache last night and this morning, I was not excited to jump into getting creative with my food today. It’s was also overcast and a bit gloomy this morning, so a warm slice of Food for Life brown rice toast smeared with a thick layer of mashed avocado was a soothing start to the day.

After breakfast, I was still not fully awake and ready to embrace the day (and my huge laundry pile), so I headed off to the gym for a pick me up. Lately, I’ve been practicing the art of reading on both the treadmill and elliptical, and let me tell you: today was proof that I may never master it. I’m reading Zoo City for a writing class (a really fascinating sci-fi book, if you’re into that), and my notes in it look like chicken scratchings. Hopefully I’ll remember enough details that I can avoid consulting the messy scrawl in class…

As I hoped, by the time I finished my workout and took a shower, I was totally ready to tackle the laundry and set my focus to a much more difficult textbook on revolutionary theory (while snacking on cauliflower and carrots with garlic hummus, of course). It’s so amazing to me how exercise can completely alter your mood and outlook. Although I’m definitely sometimes guilty of going to the gym for vanity alone, I love how the act of exercising tends to correct my outlook. Being active is not about “fixing” your body or being more physically attractive. It’s about finding whole health, self-esteem, and taking care of yourself. I’m grateful today for this shift of consciousness that mimics the bigger changes that I’m making in my life as a whole. Taking a step back from self-depracation and obsessiveness, it’s easy to appreciate the body for everything it allows us to do: run, bike, stretch, dance. For this reason, I now feel like exercising is a thank-you note to the planet for giving me this body to live in. I’m promising to enjoy it every time I put on my tennis shoes.

I had a tiny lunch, because I was saving room for an AMAZING dinner, but it was delicious nonetheless, thanks to Chocolate-Covered Katie! The healthy vegan eggnog recipe that I found on her website was to die for. And it wasn’t just good for a vegan recipe. It was good for any recipe. It tasted just like real eggnog!

I altered her recipe a bit (because I don’t have measuring utensils in my dorm room, and because I had to give it a little personal flare). What’s the fun in a strict recipe anyway? So I evened out the amounts of tofu (yes tofu, don’t freak out) and almond milk to make a thicker nog than her recipe would make. I about doubled the vanilla extract that she calls for, along with the nutmeg, because, well, who doesn’t love nutmeg in eggnog? It’s kind of the whole point, if you ask me. I also nixed the lemon and the sugar in favor of one Stevia packet (which was plenty for me, but I don’t like things very sweet). I threw all that in the Magic Bullet (God created this blender on the 8th day, in his image of course) and watched anxiously as the tofu disappeared. I know, I know. Tofu…?? But this drink was a cup full of frothy, eggnoggy goodness. I PROMISE.

And it only gets better from there…

Because my building took a group of residents out to dinner at Real Foods Daily, an all organic and vegan restaurant in West Hollywood. And paid for it. Cultural excursion? I can work with that. Thank you USC!

The menu was huge and had so many gluten free options that it must’ve taken me years to decide. Even settling on a drink, an almond milk teeccino latte, was a huge struggle. This caffeine free tea latte, with notes of hazelnut and caramel, was tucked in on the menu amongst a slew of coffees and teas, homemade agave-sweetended lemonades (including a kale-cucumber lemonade and a ginger lemonade), fresh smoothies, and hemp milkshakes.

If it’s possible, the appetizer menu looked even more delectable than the drink menu… We ending up ordering three plates of the “Not-chos,” a dish featuring corn chips topped with lentils, pico de gallo, guacamole, a drizzle of tofu sour cream, crumbled tempeh, and melted cashew cheese.

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These were WAY better than any normal nachos that I’ve ever had in my life, so to anyone who thinks vegan food is weird, please compare this dish with Velveeta, and get back to me:)

For the main course, I eventually picked out the Essence of Autumn seasonal special (also known by lovingly by friends as heaven on a plate). This lovely dish consisted of two main elements. The first was a portobello mushroom stuffed with forbidden rice, apples, and chopped walnuts. The second was a portion of blanched brussels sprouts, drizzled with a sweet pomegranate glaze and topped with whole walnuts and pomegranate seeds. As if this wasn’t enough, both were floating angelically atop a cloud of cauliflower mash. The dish got better and better with every bit as the balsamic from the mushrooms mixed with the nutty sweetness in the glaze and soaked in to the creamy cauliflower.

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I confess: when our waitress brought out dessert menus, we caved without needing much prodding. I really strictly avoid sugar normally, and I try to eat only very clean, healthful foods. But that being said… how often do you get a chance to eat vegan coconut bliss ice cream and get it paid for?? There’s not much else to say about that. Chances are, the gym will be getting a nice long visit tomorrow, but it’ll be in the name of balance and positive energy. There’s no guilt associated with this beautiful (and huge!) meal.

I guess it’s back to the dining hall tomorrow (this holiday weekend fantasy food couldn’t last forever), but I’m working on appreciating good ol’ EVK (EVerybody’s Kitchen) for providing health-conscious options and extreme ease of access. I’m sure I’ll miss it next year when I can’t go grab a zero-effort snack at any time of day…

Anyway, this has been one more solid day on my Lenten journey, filled with small lessons and moments for gratitude. An early wake up for classes tomorrow should be another opportunity for appreciation of the wonderful world that’s always surrounding us, no matter what struggles we’re facing:)

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