A Vegan Travels to Madagascar

The scenery in Madagascar was one of the key reasons I chose this destination.

One question I am regularly asked when traveling abroad is ‘How do you manage to maintain a vegan diet?’ In some countries, like Ghana, I ate well every day. In some regions of the world, like SE Asia, or Latin America, it’s been very easy. In other places,, like East Asia, it’s a bit harder because I don’t care for seaweed and so many dishes seem to include fish or fish-based sauces. Madagascar has turned out to be one of the more challenging places to eat, especially since I also opt for a low-carbohydrate vegan regimen.

Madagascar was colonized by the French, who left an indelible mark on country. The European cultural influence is apparent beyond French as the official language, vehicles with the steering wheel on the left (i.e., proper) side, and the colonial infrastructure, which is in disrepair.

A scenic array of mountains, rice paddies, and vineyards in central Madagascar.

The French-style baguette bread is served at every meal. Capers are commonly served with fish. Wine is a readily available beverage, imported from the more developed economies of South Africa and Chile. The French attempted to establish vineyards in a central provincial area in Madagascar where the climate resembles that of the French wine-making country. We saw the vineyards, but the last winery recently burnt down, so we weren’t able to visit and sample it (though our guide said Westerners often grimaced in response to the very vinegary taste). The French Iove of miel- honey- is also apparent in the rural areas that harvest the honey from the bees that eat the nectar of the Australian-imported eucalyptus trees. People also make a variety of jams from local fruits.

As a vegan traveling in Madagascar, I have opted out of the traditional boiled chicken served with white rice and a broth of rice water, a variety of zebu (tropical bovine) dishes, and duck, which is abundant. In rice paddies, ducks are used to keep insects from eating the rice seeds. Due to the increase in flow of tourists to Madagascar, restaurants consistently offer at least one vegetarian option on the menu, if not more.

Hiking in the canyon of Isalo National Park

As a vegan, it’s more limiting, as many of these dishes include cheese. As a low-carbohydrate vegan, I’m even more limited. For meals, I stick with vegetables, all of which are locally grown, out of necessity as opposed to some local farm support movement. Much of the population is reliant on agriculture, so produce is readily available. Neither the transportation system nor the economy is well-developed, so the farther the producer is from one of the few cities, highly perishable produce will not make it from the rural areas. Plus, very little processing happens in the country, with most canned and packaged goods imported, so produce isn’t grown for large-scale production. Instead, people from the villages sell their produce from roadside stands and take their produce to the weekly market in the nearest trading town to earn money to buy the stuff they don’t grow or make.

The usual vegetable combination I received, though this one was in a Malagasy curry sauce.

The vegetables on my plate were consistently green beans, zucchini, and carrots. On one occasion, I also got broccoli, while on another, I got some cauliflower. One place served most excellent eggplant served with herbs they grew in the kitchen garden. Most often, the vegetables were sautéed in oil with garlic, and a few times with ginger. In one place I got vegetables in a Madagascar curry spice blend, which were quite good. Though beans are commonly eaten by the local population, they are less commonly available at restaurants, which seems odd to me (and our guide, as well). They always prepare them from the dried beans, so at one place I was able to get them the second night of our stay (we almost exclusively ate at restaurants attached to the hotels or camps) after asking for them on the first night.

Out of necessity I ate more grains (most often in the form of white bread) and potatoes than I would at home; otherwise I wouldn’t have been eating a whole lot. It was strange to eat bread at least once or twice a day, whereas at home, if I eat bread, it’s the high-protein bread that I make. I definitely noticed that going back to a more carbohydrate-centric regimen that I was hungrier sooner.

An ex-pat owns the hotel where we stayed in the capital city, which has an amazing Italian restaurant, serving up this bread basket.

I do, however, tend to eat less when I travel. I don’t think it’s because I have fewer grazing options, especially on this trip because we spent so many hours riding in a vehicle. While the scenery is quite captivating, many hours of riding in the vehicle can get a bit monotonous, which could have led to munching, but didn’t (maybe this is progress for me?). I took this time (while we were covering more than 1300 miles) to write my posts when the roads were ‘soft’ (as our guide referred to the paved, less windy and potholed roads).

I first found these Mrs. H.S. Ball’s Chutney potato chips a few years ago when I visited South Africa. I was happy to find them again because of their unique sort of barbecue-Worcestershire sauce flavor.

My main source of calories was from peanut butter and peanuts. At some meals I’d have peanut butter (which I bought at a supermarket and is imported from South Africa) on bread to supplement the plate of vegetables I’d get.

A peanut butter sandwich lunch break during one of our ‘picnic’ lunch stops.

Other times, I’d just have peanuts, which are widely grown throughout the country, to round out the vegetable plate. As a special treat, in the capital, I was able to get some locally-produced cashews, which were quite a nice change.

The best of the chili pastes: Green chili with ginger

My favorite culinary experience was trying the chili sauces that differed from place to place. While they were not always available, they were a really nice flavor addition. The first sauce I had was a basic chopped fresh chili relish. Another time it was a mortar and pestle-ground red chili paste that I was able to stir into my couscous with black beans and vegetables. The most interesting flavor composition was a much lighter colored, thinner paste that was green chili ground with ginger. The one thing they did have in common, though, was the heat. Just a tiny spoonful packed a lot of chili power, which for me, was delightful.

A tiny chili paste pot and spoon

As a poorer country, Madagascar manufactures very few processed foods. As with the peanut butter, many packaged goods, like the Simba potato chips I found, are imported from neighboring, relatively wealthier South Africa. Similarly, the Nice coconut cookies I bought to satisfy my occasional desire for a bit of vegan dessert are imported from India. While there are still many people living in poverty in India, its economy is much more diversified, with a much better distribution of wealth that supports a growing middle class. Most Madagascans, on the other hand, remain subsistence farmers, growing rice in very scenic rice paddies, sugar cane, corn, legumes, and fresh produce. One region also produced cotton, introduced by French colonists.

While the French did influence Madagascan culture, they didn’t manage to export their gourmet dishes that drive foodies to France. Even though Madagascar is not a place to go for a culinary experience, it is an excellent destination for its unique, scenic, and diverse topography, flora, and fauna, and its very friendly people. So if someone who opts for a low-carbohydrate vegan regimen has no problem getting daily nourishment, most people who don’t visit with any grand foodie expectations should have a most rewarding experience.

One of more than a dozen different varieties of lemurs I saw in Madagascar.

A Smoothie for the Soul


I’m not a fan of smoothies, by my spouse, Michael, sure is. And when I take a big trip, I’m pretty sure he mostly survives on a liquid diet. You have him to thank for this Peanut Butter Cup Smoothie.  This smoothie is a satisfying alternative to the sugar-packed ones you’ll find at the local joint, not to mention a lot less expensive. So for a healthier, wealthier you, check out this recipe.

Michael and I scored when my mom got us the Magic Bullet as a Christmas gift a few years ago. While I use it to make cashew creams and sauces, it gets the biggest work-outs from making smoothies. It’s the perfect size for one or two servings (if you’re so inclined to share with someone). But that’s not the best part: Clean-up is super easy. The mixing cup comes has an attachable handle, so voila!, it doubles as the drinking cup.

Peanut Butter Cup Smoothie Recipe

Put all of these ingredients, in this order, into a Magic Bullet or blender and blend until it’s the consistency of a thick milkshake. For the Magic Bullet, blend about 40 seconds, scrape down, and blend another 20 seconds. Blending time will vary by appliance.

For the right consistency, you’ll need to freeze almond milk into ice cubes before making this smoothie. I make a tray full and stick the rest in a zip-lock bag for later use.

6 almond milk cubes (150 grams)
½ c. frozen raspberries (70 grams)
12 oz. unsweetened almond milk (350 grams)
½ T. hemp hearts
½ t. stevia
1 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground dried ginger
½ t. vanilla extract
1 T. cocoa powder, like Equal Exchange cocoa baking powder
½ avocado
2 T. creamy natural peanut butter, like Santa Cruz or Krema
Serves: 1-2
Prep time: 10 minutes
Accommodates: Omnivores, Vegetarians, Vegans, low-carbohydrate, keto, and paleo regimens
Nutritional info: 522 calories, 26 gr. carbohydrates (3.7 gr. of sugar), 40 gr. fat, 15 gr. protein
Without raspberries: 489 calories, 19 gr. carbohydrates (1.2 gr. of sugar), 39.5 gr. fat, 14.25 gr. protein

A Work in Progress

Maybe it’s not a coincidence that I wrote this post around the same time as My Enemy: The Scale. A few months ago I’d been feeling kind of full at the end of the day. I think it was more the result of making sure I have enough protein in my diet, which has been a bit more challenging since I cut back on beans with the low-carbohydrate regiment. I had to integrate more tofu, tempeh, and analog meat to match what I’d gotten in a low-fat diet, but those are my less-favorite food choices. (I wish I liked smoothies so I could just add protein powder.) Instead, I’m quite content with my scrappy little Boca burger (with 13 grams of protein and only 70 calories!) and vegetable soup for lunch,  with a salad and huge plate of vegetables for dinner. But alas, our bodies need protein for loads of functions, ranging from reduced healing time to growing healthy nails.

Happily, my favorite Peanut Butter Cup Bars have 9 grams of protein each (based on 16 squares per recipe).

On the one hand, protein is great because it is very filling and has a longer digestion time. On the other hand, those same qualities make me feel too full, even though I haven’t ingested more calories. I’d much rather eat the roasted artichoke hearts and shirataki noodles on my plate than faux meatballs. They were usually what was left after I finished the ‘good’ stuff and I felt satisfied, so I ended up feeling like I was eating more than I needed.

As a result, upping the non-bean protein content in my diet left me feeling fuller after dinner. I hated it because sometimes I like dessert, I definitely need two or three squares of chocolate ‘for my health’, and I really look forward to having an evening snack, usually tiny bowls of 11 Newman’s protein pretzels and about ½- ¾ ounce of Wise potato chips (the best potato chips ever!).

My go to chocolate: It’s fair trade, inexpensive, readily available, and it’s even got protein!

I realized that while I was aware of how I was feeling, I ignored it just so I could have dessert and/or an evening snack. The problem was that I went to bed feeling more full than usual and woke up not really feeling hungry. For me, that’s a recipe for disaster, tempting me to skip breakfast because I’m not hungry, potentially setting me up for eating more throughout the rest of the day since I didn’t eat those breakfast calories. (Meanwhile, I would eat twice as much, thinking I was only making up for breakfast.)

As I recently mentioned in To Eat or Not to Eat Breakfast, it’s psychologically important for me to know I have the option of eating an evening treat. Feeling like I have to forgo it makes me feel resentful and is more likely to lead to unchecked late-night binging. To cope with this, I’ve worked on integrating more protein into earlier meals, and even my afternoon snack, so I feel less full from that protein hit at dinner. I also cut back on my evening snack so that while I continue to give myself that option, I try to eat only as much as I think will satisfy me instead of what I’ve come to think of as my ‘allotted’ amount. These small changes have left me feeling much better in the morning, waking up hungry and wanting breakfast.

My lifestyle change continues to be a work in progress. I didn’t really consider the effects of changing out beans for other plant-based proteins. Instead, I was operating under an outdated regimen. Once I realized this, I was able to tweak it to feel better. I need to remind myself to not get stuck in a rut because a lifestyle change is not a one-off thing.

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Time to Break out the Cookie Jar: Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Of course I had to make cookies today, since it’s December 18th, National Bake Cookies Day. Here is a cookie recipe I created that combines two of my favorite dessert ingredients: Chocolate and peanut butter. I love to bake cookies, as I mentioned in Is it *Really* Worth It? One of the biggest challenges I faced when moving to a low-carbohydrate diet was finding palatable cookie recipes. I came up with this recipe after trying out a few different types of cookies, then checking out the basics to put together the ingredients I wanted to use.

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