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Going, um, Cold Turkey:

One intrepid reporter’s foray into vegetarianism

By Shea Stewart

 

Being a vegetarian for a week was going fine until the morning of Day Four. That’s when the TV started speaking, enticing me with a hamburger smothered in a creamy cheese sauce loaded with portobello mushrooms.

Brilliant, I thought.

Even though I’d enjoyed a tasty vegetarian breakfast earlier that morning, the fast-food creation touted on the TV had me entranced. Suddenly, having given no thought to this burger-cheese-mushroom mutation before, I craved this—this thing. I needed meat; man shall not live by fruits and vegetables alone.

Thankfully, for the sake of this one-week, all-vegetarian experiment, I stayed strong. The fast-food urge passed. Less TV helped. Adding more foods to my diet beyond fruits and vegetables—pasta, dairy, rice—also assisted me in overcoming those advertising-induced hankerings.

Truth is, when I began this quest, I didn’t view the idea of eating vegetarian for a week as a hardship. I’m not a meat-with-every-meal kind of guy. In fact, outside of a long-standing affinity for turkey sandwiches, I don’t eat much of the stuff at all. But if I want a steak, I indulge.

So, vegetarian for one week? Not even challenging. I couldn’t go strictly vegan; I love dairy too much—cheese, oh yes, cheese—and milk is an absolute must in my morning coffee. But no meat? No problem.

On the eve of my veggie adventure, I enjoyed two of my beloved turkey sandwiches, preparing myself for the week. I was ready. But then I skipped breakfast, ate only pasta with sauteed corn for lunch and had two bowls of Special K Red Berries for dinner. My foray into vegetarianism was off to an inauspicious start.

Day Two was much better. Raisin Nut Bran cereal in the morning and a delicious veggie sandwich from North Little Rock’s Arkansas Ale House with grilled zucchini, caramelized onions, goat cheese, and an olive and fig tapenade on a grilled sourdough hoagie for lunch. I cooked up a batch of cheese grits for dinner and polished it all off with an apple.

After three days, I was in a groove. Breakfast was usually an egg or cereal, along with some fruit. Lunch was pasta, heavy on the vegetables, or a turkeyless sandwich such as the veggie wrap from Mugs Cafe in North Little Rock or the veggie burger from The Veg in Little Rock. (Both great.) It was easy finding vegetarian options when eating out.

Dinner was usually quick (I work nights), but frozen meals from Amy’s Kitchen worked well and tasted better than imagined, especially the broccoli and cheese pasta bowl. I added more apples, along with oranges and yogurt, into my diet.

By Day Six, the TV’s siren song of fast-food burgers had gone quiet, and that day’s dinner was the best meal of the week: a robust Sunday-night dish of veggie gumbo over rice loaded with okra, celery and onion. By now, I didn’t think of what I was doing as vegetarian. I was just enjoying food—minus meat.

Victory was in sight. I even thought I could keep this vegetarian experiment going. Maybe parlay vegetarianism into another week? Or a month? No longer craving meat, I craved a challenge.

On Day Seven, I felt triumphant. Perhaps this diet was sharpening my mind. I’m going vegetarian, I said. Why not? Turn this week of eating vegetarian into a new lifestyle.

I awoke on Day Eight, mission accomplished, thinking: This is who I am. I’m vegetarian. Let’s push this diet to the limit.

Or not. Later that day, I ate a cheeseburger from Arkansas Burger Company. I couldn’t help myself. But as a link to my former vegetarian self, I doubled up on the lettuce and onions.

 

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Not up for a complete diet overhaul? Try these 8 tips from Dr. Tina Crook, PhD, RD, LD to get your New Year off to a healthy start:

 

Get your ZZZs. Researchers have found that people who get less than seven hours of sleep per night are more likely to be overweight or obese.

Break the overnight fast. After fasting all night long, your body, especially your brain, is in starvation mode and cannot function efficiently. Not a breakfast eater? Keep easy options on hand that you can eat on the go or at work, such as dry cereal mixed with almonds or string cheese and whole-grain crackers.

Drink more water. Set a goal to drink a glass of water each morning within the first hour of waking and keep sipping all day.

Plan ahead for snack attacks. Some good choices: fruit, nuts, lowfat yogurt, whole-grain crackers, lowfat cereal bars, lowfat string cheese, peanut or almond butter.

Get out of an eating rut. Be adventurous at the grocery store. Get a new fruit or vegetable each time you go—you might like it!

Halt the salt. There is added salt in most of the prepared and packaged foods we eat, but putting down the salt shaker is a great first step in lowering your intake. Diets lower in salt have been linked to decreased risk of several chronic conditions including high blood pressure.

Swap mayo for a healthier spread. Try hummus or mashed avocado on your sandwich—both are loaded with essential nutrients.

Browse before you dine. Figure out what to order in advance by perusing a restaurant’s online menu. Having a plan in place before you get there will increase your chances of making a healthy choice and decrease your chances of overindulging.

 

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If you want to run for the border: Grilled Salmon, Local Lime

A punch of citrus, a hint of spice, a tangle of mango-papaya salsa and all those oh-so-good-for-you Omega-3s—we promise you won’t miss those five-cheese enchiladas for a second. (Little Rock; locallimetaco.com)

If you’re Atkins-ing (or paleo-ing, or keto-ing): Robata, Kemuri

Protein fiends will find plenty of carb-free options on Kemuri’s robata menu, which pays homage to rustic Japanese grilling, and is sublime in its simplicity. Scallops with wasabi shiso, anyone? (Little Rock; kemurirestaurant.com)

If you’re craving pasta: Local Butternut Squash & Sage Orzotto, Greenhouse Grille

A plate of goodness—War Eagle Mill pearled barley, leeks, toasted pumpkin seeds, local squash—that eats like its more splurge-worthy cousin, risotto? Yes, please. (Fayetteville; greenhousegrille.com)

If you need to eat your veggies: Vegetais Assados, Cafe Bossa Nova

With zucchini, squash, roasted peppers, hearts of palm and fresh herbs, this flavorful dish packs a wallop of wellness with its spectrum-spanning trove of vitamins. (Such a wallop, in fact, that we’re sure it cancels out any damage incurred by, say, sneaking a piece of Rosalia’s decadent cheese bread.) (Little Rock; cafebossanova.com)

If you’re into that whole farm-to-table thing: Naked Neck Chicken, The Hive

Chef Matt McClure is the kind of guy who really—really—cares where his food comes from, which may explain why his take on Southern soul food, such as his naked-neck chicken with savoy cabbage, oats, pears, parsnips and kumquats, feels more saintly than sinful. (Bentonville; thehivebentonville.com)

If you just can’t say no to bread: Hungry, Hungry Hippie, Little Bread Co.

We get it. Lunch just isn’t lunch without a sandwich. If you’re going to go down that road, make it count by choosing this veggie-packed concoction piled high with sprouts, tomatoes, carrots and sunflower seeds on homemade five-grain. (Fayetteville; littlebread.com)

If small plates are your jam: Beet Carpaccio and Ceviche Rosada, The Fold

It’s easy to look past the flaming queso on your neighbor’s table when you’ve got dishes such as The Fold’s beet carpaccio—hello, jalapeno crema!—and a bright, tangy ceviche to hold your attention. (Little Rock; thefoldlr.com)

If it’s date night: Broiled Sea Bass with Tomato Relish, One Eleven at the Capital

This dish is elegant and refined—just like its environs. Start with an order of yellowfin tartare, and you’ll still be able to share that splurge-worthy dessert. (Little Rock; oneelevenatthecapital.com)

 

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A Perfect Circle

Ah, the refrigerator—a temptress most foul during late-night forays to the kitchen (or, perhaps most fowl, if fried chicken is involved). But yet, when it comes to making healthy choices compatible with the recently rebooted USDA food pyramid—erm, plate—there’s no reason to fear, if the proper approaches are taken. For some guidance on that front, we turned to local chef Donnie Ferneau of the health-savvy Good Food eatery in North Little Rock for some locally inspired dishes using refrigerator staples—with an eye on the waistline, of course.

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