Monday, June 27, 2011

Making Life Easier - Part One

{This lamb has nothing to do with the following post but I cannot get over the cuteness! This photo was taken by the writer of one of my favorite beautiful blogs - Honey Rock Dawn - check it out!}

The first few weeks and even months can be difficult. You’re a little foggy on vegetarian options at your old favorite restaurants, whole entire zones of the grocery store are being avoided, and going to dinner at a friend’s house makes for uncertainty and potentially uncomfortable moments. Nothing screams *awkward* like your sad little plate of lettuce leaves at a dinner party where you don’t know all of the guests!

Is it worth it? Of course it is!

At 10 months into the journey, I’ve latched on to a couple of tip and tricks you may find useful.

Dinner in someone else’s home...

Who is meeker than a new vegetarian? “Oh, it’s ok, don’t worry about me” “I’m fine, I ate!” “Please… don’t make anything special for me”. Enough already! Please tell the hostess that you don’t eat meat. Remember – they invited you because they like you. Nothing makes a hostess feel worse than a dinner guest with absolutely nothing on their plate because they weren’t told there was a vegetarian in the mix! Telling them you’re veg doesn’t mean you’re dictating their menu but at least they will think to throw together some sort of side dish with the pulled pork. Think of it as saving the hostess!

I always offer to bring something as well. You can almost always bring a hummus plate to any party. If you’re concerned that hummus may be the only thing you’re eating at dinner, make sure to make plenty of pita chips to go along. Veggie sticks will not tide you over Rover! I brought an additional main dish to a dinner party recently (AFTER speaking with the hostess) and it worked out fantastic! The dish sparked conversation about vegetarianism and three or four people tried tofu for the first time and liked it!

Very Important If you get to bring a dish –make it delicious. This is not the time to experiment! This may be the only time a big burly meat-eatin’ guy will acquiesce to try tofu – make it count. Make it beautiful.

Dinner in your own home...

This shouldn’t be tricky but it is! If you plan on hosting a dinner party of your own, take your guests into consideration. My husband still eats meat so we provide an option for dinner – say grilled chicken. (I wish it wasn’t so but I’ve got to pick my battles!) It’s my job to make the side dishes so delicious and beautiful that the chicken takes a back seat if only for a night! If you live alone, cooking chicken for your guests is not going to happen so take special care to make a main dish that feels familiar and hearty. One of the biggest misconceptions about vegetarians is that we just sit around munching on carrot sticks. Not SO! Make a hearty dish – show em’ what we’re made of!

Another great option for a home meal is any kind of “bar” – taco bar, pizza bar, etc. Vegetarians can rule the roost here with loads of expertly cooked and seasoned vegetables and even some meat/cheese substitutes that may surprise your guests. During a Mexican fiesta with a taco or quesadilla bar I typically serve seasoned soy burger that goes almost undetected. If you have access to a Vegan cheese like Daiya no one will ever know the difference. One taco at a time! This type of “self-assembly” meal takes all the pressure off and lets your guests try new things if they wish…

Dinner out...

Go ethnic! Mexican, Indian, Italian, Chinese – these foods are your friends. At my fantastic Indian/Thai place there are so many meatless dishes that I haven’t been able to try them all! Black bean enchiladas avoid the “refried bean lard factor” and there is always a pasta dish with fresh vegetables or a wicked baked ziti on any Italian menu. The two times I’ve asked if the chef could make a vegetarian meal “off the menu” both were delicious and creative. You never know what skills the chef is dying to use! Let them run wild with no special conditions or suggested ingredients. You’ve already asked for something that’s not on the menu – the rest is up to them.

If you know you’re stuck going to a steakhouse for dinner (Sorry, by the way) just know that steakhouses have some of the best side dishes in town. Their salads are traditionally wonderful and there’s always the baked potatoes, creamed spinach and veggie sides. Not ideal but if it’s your niece’s rehearsal dinner and you really can’t shake the steakhouse – you won’t go hungry.

Lastly, if you are heading out for a meal with a group from work or with family and friends, suggest a vegetarian or vegetarian-friendly restaurant if you are asked. You may get overruled and that’s A-OK – you are ready and prepared for anything! But wouldn’t it be nicer if everyone in your sphere of influence had the opportunity to pick a kinder option because of your suggestion?

I started out as possibly the meekest veg in the world. Who was I to take up a vegetarian lifestyle? O’ Cooker of Pork! But slowly, I am coming into my own. I am finding my voice and I am beginning to use it. It’s easier to speak up when I remember that I’m speaking in support of my health and in support of those who have no voice. It all gets crystal clear in no time.

With love, Lauren

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