Mary's Adventures in Wonderland

Everyone loves to make fun of LA food faddists.

Sometimes that’s justified. I will submit that the “bread-free bánh mì” I recently saw offered by Veggie Grill, a Southern California vegetarian restaurant chain, is one of the most ridiculous things ever, especially since the literal meaning of “bánh mì” in Vietnamese is “bread.”

I recently attended a baking class at Sur la Table in the Los Angeles Farmers Market, to learn how to make croissants. Croissants consist of large quantities of delicious butter, barely held together by paper-thin layers of yeast dough. And love.

Well, as soon as the class began, one of the students announced that she is vegan, which means she doesn’t eat butter. She then proceeded to ask at every step, “how can you make this vegan?”

If I had been the instructor, I would have said, “You can’t. Get out of my class.”

Yet for the last three weeks, I’ve been subscribing to a vegan meal delivery service called Vegin’ Out, and I have really enjoyed the food. In fact (spoiler alert) Mike is now here in California with me. He loves meat, and when it comes to tofu, I believe he is on record as hating it with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. But he likes Vegin’ Out too.

So what is the food like? I would describe it as “clean.” It’s flavorful, with a nice spice and salt level, and it is mostly low-fat, minimally processed and healthy, with lots of veggies and plenty of high-quality protein. It’s basically what we all know we should eat, but made by someone with skills and much more patience than most of us can manage.

For a single person, each week you get three generous servings of three entrées, for a total of nine entrée servings. Generally there has been a whole grain pasta entrée, something based on beans or lentils, and a tofu or seitan (meaty textured wheat gluten) item. You also get a three-serving container of soup. The soups have all been hearty and high-protein, so I consider them entrées as well.

You also get four side dishes, each containing three servings, so that’s twelve servings of sides. There are usually two sides that are mainly vegetables – like a kale salad and a roasted veggie salad – and two heartier sides that are based on whole-grain starches, such as bulgur, quinoa or brown rice.

There is a paper bag in every week’s delivery that contains five vegan cookies. I’m not a huge fan of the cookies and would rather get my dessert calories from something really decadent, preferably containing butter and chocolate. I guess the up side is, I have no issues with being tempted to snarf down the whole bag in one sitting. Not that I would ever do that with cookies, of course…

I learned about Vegin’ Out from a LivingSocial deal that worked out to two weeks’ worth of food for one person, delivered to my door in Santa Monica, for about half the regular price (which for LA delivery is $127.99 per week). They will also ship overnight to other areas of the US at a higher cost.

After the first two weeks, I liked the food and convenience so much that I ordered another week using a coupon they sent me, since as you know, I love coupons. Even at full price or close to full price, I think it’s an amazing value. Also, I love that you’re not locked into anything. You order by Friday at 5:00 pm if you want the next week’s delivery, and don’t order if you don’t want it. The delivery arrives in an insulated cooler bag with a large ice pack.

At first I thought it was kind of odd to have such a random number of servings (9 entrées, 12 sides, 3 soups), and I was a little puzzled about how that would translate into actual meals. However, it seems to work really well for me, because I can mix and match depending on my hunger level and mood.

For dinner I might eat an entrée serving of lentil loaf and a side serving of Mexican bulgur salad. At lunch, maybe I’ll have a bowl of the split pea soup with the kale salad, or two servings of side dishes, such as Mediterranean roasted veggies and “Festive Quinoa” with walnuts, pomegranate seeds and dried cranberries.

The food is filling, even for Mike. Neither of us has been able to eat more than two servings (entrée + side, or soup + side, or side + side) in one meal. In fact, I’ve sometimes gotten an additional serving out of each container, because they really pack the food in there. The kale salad in particular reminds me of a clown car: every time you think “that’s it,” it turns out there’s more. I’ve ended up with a few entrée and soup servings left over each week, which I froze.

Since I’m not normally vegan, I haven’t been a purist about eating only food from Vegin’ Out. I’ve been eating in restaurants several times a week – always at non-vegan places – and I have sometimes supplemented the Vegin’ Out meals with extra salad, fruit and an occasional non-vegan snack, like a piece of cheese or a hard-boiled egg. But for the past two and a half weeks, all of my lunches and dinners at home have been the Vegin’ Out food.

The whole experience with Vegin’ Out has been a pleasant surprise. Having a fridge full of delicious and healthy vegan food, ready to eat after 2 minutes in the microwave, has helped me to lose a few pounds painlessly.

But I will still eat croissants, because they taste like butter and happiness.