Macaroni and Cheese with Portabella and Peas

A lot of people mistakenly think I’m vegan, and that No Meat Athlete is a vegan website.  Maybe that’s because most of the recipes I’ve posted recently are from vegan cookbooks.

But I absolutely do not want potential vegetarians to be scared off, thinking it’s gotta be vegan or nothing.  By most people’s definition, you can be a perfect vegetarian and still enjoy milk, cheese, butter, and eggs.

Why I’m Not Vegan (Yet)

You’ll likely find that as you become accustomed to eating less meat, animal products as a whole become less appealing.  And that’s why I (and many others) have started out vegetarian and tended towards veganism.  But I’m not there yet, and I don’t want to make it a rule that I can’t eat any animal products.

If not eating meat were strictly about health for me, I wouldn’t need to call myself vegetarian.  I’d eat meat maybe once a month as a special treat, about the frequency with which I eat any other unhealthy food.  But it’s not just about health—it started out that way, but the act of eating less meat made me aware of the fact that on those occasions when I did eat fish, I was actually eating an animal.  Once it became about that, I became completely vegetarian.

Veganism, right now, is still about health to me.  I recognize that milk and cheese are pretty sucky for my body.  And I rarely eat them, for that reason.  Dairy and eggs don’t yet seem gross to me the way meat does; I don’t feel the same guilt eating a bite of cheese as I do eating the meat of what was once a living animal.  And that’s why I’m not quite vegan yet.

I’m moving that way though.  I blame Earthlings.

Gloriously Gluten-Free

If you haven’t guessed it yet, the purpose of that prelude was to introduce the first non-vegan meal I’ve posted in a while: Portabella and Pea Macaroni and Cheese.  (Vegans, you are dismissed early today; check out Mac n’ Chard, an unbelievably good vegan mac n’ cheese recipe.)

This recipe comes from a new book Wiley Publishing sent me to test-drive, The Gloriously Gluten-Free Cookbook.  But wait a minute: It’s not vegetarian, I’m not celiac, so why am I cooking from it?

Well, it has an index of vegetarian recipes, and there are quite a few of them.  And Brendan Brazier argues in Thrive that gluten slows a lot of us down, not just those with a recongized allergy to gluten.  So I’m interested to learn a bit about gluten-free cooking.

The macaroni and cheese turned out pretty well.  I loved the concept, with the portabellas and peas in there.  And for the amount of dairy in the recipe, the sauce turned out really nice and light, with a fresh flavor from the white wine.  My biggest problem with it was that there were lots of white specks in the cheese sauce.  When in doubt, blame the potato starch.

And I forgot the paprika.  Dammit.

Here’s the recipe.  Again, it’s from The Gloriously Gluten-Free Cookbook, by Vanessa Maltin, published by Wiley, 2010.

Portabella and Pea Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and Cheese with Portabella and Peas
Serves: 4 Servings
  • One 1-pound package gluten-free elbow macaroni
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 2 cups thickly sliced portabella mushrooms
  • 1 cup frozen green peas, thawed
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon potato starch
  • 2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • Salt
  1. In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Drain and set aside.
  2. In a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and peas and cook, stirring, until lightly browned. Set aside.
  3. In a medium saucepan, combine the milk and wine. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. In a small bowl, mix the potato starch with 1 tablespoon of water to make a paste. Pour the paste into the milk and wine mixture and cook, stirring rapidly, until the sauce thickens.
  4. Slowly stir in the cheeses and cook, stirring, until they are fully melted, about 2 minutes. Stir in the paprika.
  5. In a large serving bowl, combine the pasta, cheese sauce, and vegetables. Add salt to taste.


When You Need to Welcome Unwelcome Criticism

This is a guest post by Susan, a vegetarian marathoner and 2010 Ironman hopeful. She wrote her first guest post, The No-Meat Newbie, shortly after completing her first marathon.

The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.  Norman Vincent Peale

Endurance athletes, as a general rule, are stubborn people. After all, who else would actually push their bodies to keep running when the brain says “This is a dumb idea. You should be eating cupcakes”? Who would willingly submit themselves to the rigors of daily training when the results, often, are very slow to reveal themselves? It takes a stubborn mind to do so.

Vegetarians and vegans, too, have their own special resolve. In a society where we’re bombarded by fast-food ads exalting the joys of juicy burgers, vegetarians often have to be comfortable being the only one at the party asking for salad when everyone else is eating filet mignon. Only a particular type of person has that persistence. Because of this, tenacity actually works in our favor.

Sometimes, though, stubbornness causes us to ignore advice that truly can help us. We get so caught up in how good we feel about ourselves and our choices that we sometimes turn a blind eye to the potential downfalls. When people give us suggestions, we gasp. How DARE they tell us what to do? What could THEY possibly know?

The Criticism We’ve All Heard

When you take on a lifestyle change of any sort, you’ll quickly learn that everyone has advice to dispense on the subject, whether they have actually been through the change or not.

“Running will destroy your knees!” they’ll say as they sit on the couch, mid-way through a Law & Order marathon.

“If you’re going to be a vegetarian, you will be weak from the lack of protein!” they’ll tell you between bites of their fried pork chops.

“You’re training all wrong! You need to be running faster/more miles/wearing weights like that guy in the infomercial/book/magazine!” they’ll advise.

Everyone’s an armchair quarterback. At times, it can be overwhelming trying to sort out all the advice and separate the valid from the hooey. No matter how stubborn we are, sometimes we feel criticized, vulnerable, and doubtful of the choices we’ve made.

Believe it or not, these comments are almost always a good thing. Rarely will someone give you information with the deliberate intent to sabotage you. Even when a “pearl of wisdom” is ill-informed, it’s likely the person dispensing the information is truly trying to help you. Take it as a sign of support, smile, and thank them for their suggestion.

When to Pay Attention

Even when we may not like it, there are times we need to pay attention. When Mom expresses concern that you aren’t getting enough nutrients with your vegetarian lifestyle, make sure her concern isn’t based on something she’s directly observed – perhaps you have been acting differently or exhibiting symptoms of fatigue. When your training partner tells you he thinks you’re putting in too many miles, maybe he’s seeing the grimace on your face when you’re struggling to finish a workout.

As stubborn creatures, we each hate to admit we don’t know it all. What we can, do, however, is listen to those who do. Surround yourself with people you trust and listen to their feedback. Use what works, and dispose of what doesn’t. You aren’t the first athlete, the first vegetarian, the first person who’s quit smoking, or whatever your case may be. There are people who have blazed a trail before you – might as well try their path. It could very well make things easier for you.

I’m slowly but surely learning this the hard way. When I decided to train for Ironman (with the added “challenge” of doing so as a vegetarian athlete), I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tips received from friends, family, books, trainers, nutritionists, doctors, coaches, workout buddies, classes, and websites. Rarely did two sources agree with each other, and of course, every source thought they were the best one. In my stubbornness, I shunned almost all help, deciding I would show them all in the end.

Valiant, right?

No. Idiotic could possibly be a more appropriate term, though I’m not sure it does my situation justice. After experiencing burnout, frustrating myself, and alienating people I genuinely care about, I had to eat a big fat slice of humble pie.

I’m lucky to have people in my life who are willing to forgive my stubbornness and help me rebuild to get back on track with my training. I’m certain that if I get stubborn again, they’ll remind me of what happens when I don’t listen to those around me. That reality check will be invaluable. I now realize that even though I’m the one crossing the finish line at Ironman, the journey to that point is not one I need to make alone.

No matter what your goal is, just remember – save the tenacity for when it really matters. Being humble and listening to the advice of others isn’t a sign of weakness. In fact, it just might make you stronger.