The Wizards of Oz

On Monday night the hubby and I headed off to Oz Kafe in Ottawa to support  a chef’s tasting dinner featuring vegan dishes. The restaurant was cozy, arty and comfy, with white tablecloths and small candles on each table. The servers were attentive (perhaps a bit too attentive, in fact) and very nice. We were shown to our table at the rear of the restaurant in the “table for two” section, and it was lovely.The menu was for evening was presented to us, and we were asked if we had any allergies, or if we were vegan. The only non-vegan item on the list was egg, so removing it for us posed no problem. It all looked very interesting. I ordered a nice hot cup of tea to go with it (although, sadly, it wasn’t very hot) and Alan ordered a beer. He loves it when I say I’ll be the designated driver when we go out for dinner. Another couple sat down 2 tables away and were given the menu for the evening. The woman looked at it, turned it over and looked on the back, obviously searching for something extra. She looked at the front again. “Where’s the meat?” she asked the server. “I don’t see any meat on here. But it all comes with meat, doesn’t it?”. The waitress shook her head and looked surprised. “No, it’s a vegetarian tasting dinner, but it can be made vegan if you prefer.” The woman did NOT prefer vegan. She told her partner to get up – they had to leave. “I can’t stay here and eat a dinner with no meat!” she cried. “I didn’t know there was NO MEAT!. We have to go.” And they left. OzMEnu (Copy) I know some people feel uncomfortable when they go out for dinner and have to become “that person”. You know the one I mean. The one who can’t eat this and can’t eat that. The one who draws attention even though they would rather be hiding under the table. They’re usually vegan, vegetarian, allergic to something or intolerant to gluten. Some restaurants are happy to be accommodating – after all, it’s their job to feed customers. Some restaurants are rude and unpleasant, making the  customer feel like they are being a problem. Having watched the meat-lady in action yesterday, I want to encourage everyone who has strayed from the standard diet to hold your head up high when you go out for dinner. She wasn’t ashamed to declare “I love to eat slaughtered animals” in a restaurant full of veg#ns. Why should those of us who have chosen, or have had restrictions forced on us by our bodies, a different diet be made to feel embarrassed about it in public? I know it drives my son mad when he asks for a gluten free menu and is immediately asked “Are you celiac?”. It’s nobody’s business but his own why he can’t eat gluten. My personal beef (play on words here) is with servers who roll their eyes when I ask for something without meat products, egg or dairy. There are so many things I want to say (mostly “Did you just roll your eyes at me??”) but don’t. I admit I get a bit cheesed off (or should that be non-dairy-cheezed off?) when I’m assured that something is vegan, but it turns out to be a gluten free item stuffed with dairy. Sigh. Anyway – back to the land of Oz. The appetizer was a fabulous piece of mushroom on top of shaved sweet potato (?) arranged on a baked gluten-free flat bread. It was crunchy, and it was chewy. It was a good start! Next came the salad which was, to be honest, disappointing. The kimchee didn’t have that “very fermented” taste and smell which makes it…kimchee. The white radish was watery, and everything tasted pretty much the same. It took Alan a surprisingly long time to work out that he was eating bits of cauliflower, and he hates cauliflower with a passion. There were a few slices of Granny Smith apple tucked away amongst the veggies, adding a bit of contrast, but otherwise it was kinda meh.

OzStarter (Copy)     OzSalad (Copy)   OzMain (Copy)

The main course was forbidden rice with soy 3 ways, although technically it was 4 ways. Tofu, fried yuba, cold edamame and miso dressing. Miso is made from soy. It was nicely presented, but neither of us liked the texture of the forbidden rice and left most of it sitting in the dish. It was all covered in the dressing making it taste a bit flat – it felt like there was something missing – as indeed there was. The vegetarian option had a poached egg on top, which probably gave the dish a bit more depth. Dessert arrived next. As mentioned in previous blogs, I’m not a dessert person. So it must mean something when I ate all of the sweet potato pie and declared it to be good. It was sugar free, so maybe that was why I liked it. Perhaps “dessert” people didn’t enjoy it as much? Both Alan and I scraped off the coconut cream, since neither of us particularly like coconut. OzDessert (Copy) Tonight will be another soy dinner, but cooked at home and eaten in front of the TV – Tofu with Bok Choy. I’ll be serving it with steamed short grain rice instead of forbidden rice. And there won’t be any dessert.

Tofu with Bok Choy

Shiitake mushrooms are fabulously earthy and chewy. Soak in warm water for 30 minutes before using.

  • 6 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 4 tbsp sesame oil
  • 800g / 1 ¾ lb firm tofu, cubed
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 8 baby bok choy, broken into individual stalks
  • 225g / 8 oz / 1 can sliced water chestnuts, drained
  • ¼ cup soya sauce
  • 2 tsp sugar

Sauce:

  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • ½ tsp crushed dried red chilli flakes
  • ¼ cup crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 2 tbsp hoisin sauce (check the ingredients and make sure it’s vegan)
  • 1 tbsp soya sauce
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar

Serves 4

  1.  To make the sauce, heat the oil in a small pan and add the garlic and chillies. Cook over a medium heat for 2 minutes then stir in the peanut butter, coconut milk, hoisin sauce, soya sauce and brown sugar. Cover and leave over a very low heat while you cook the vegetables.
  2. To make the tofu: Squeeze the water out of the mushrooms, cut into thin slices and pat dry.
  3. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and add the tofu. Fry over a high heat for 3 minutes or until light golden brown. Remove the tofu and drain on kitchen paper.
  4. Add the onion to the pan and cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes or until golden brown, adding more oil if needed. Stir in the water chestnuts, mushrooms, soya sauce and sugar.
  5. Cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the bok choy to the sauce. Cover and cook over a low heat for 5 minutes or until the bok choy is soft. Serve with rice or noodles.

TOFUWITHBOKCHOY (Copy)I’m really happy that Alan and I went to support the vegan event. Chefs should be encouraged to push their boundaries and cook up tasty food for non-meat diners. I enjoyed the experience at Oz Kafe, and I enjoyed the food despite my grumblings. But, to be completely honest, I know I’ll enjoy tonight’s dinner more. But I like going out, and I like trying new things, so if Oz Kafe has another vegan night I’ll go back. But next time I’ll be the one with the beer.

Karen 🙂

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A Taste of the Homeland

Traveling home from our Argentine Tango class on Sunday, I was deep in thought about what we had learnt that week. My mind was assessing the subtle nuances of tango music, the variations in decorations performed by ladies during an ocho block, and  pondering the intricacies of the molinete. Nah – I’m kidding you. I actually had the “everything is awesome” song from the Lego movie playing in a loop in my head. Alan was also very quiet while he drove, obviously deep in thought about something profound. In an attempt to escape from the song in my head I asked him to share his thoughts. Apparantly we had been passed by a van advertising “British Meat Pies and Pasties” and he was thinking about how much he would like a pasty. Gosh, we sure are one deep couple! Any time you’re looking for profound thoughts, we’re the people to contact.

Pies and pasties seem to have been an important part of Alan’s youth. He speaks fondly of Clark’s pies with their thick crusts and strangely coloured gravy. He also has a love of Cornish and Devon pasties. When we went back to the UK for my sister’s fabulous wedding  we got off the plane in Gatwick, took a train to London and bought pasties while we waited for a connection to take us up north. I was very happy to see that they sold cheese-free vegetarian pasties alongside the cheese and onion or meat varieties. I have to admit that the smell of cheese and onion pasties gives me mixed feelings. When I was small my Great Auntie Nellie (lovely woman – one of the nicest people I ever met) cooked cheese and onion pie when my parents took us to visit, followed, always, by jello and a can of evaporated milk. I loved Auntie Nellie, and I enjoyed seeing her, but afterwards I always felt sad and ill. It wasn’t until years later that a connection was made. Cheese and other dairy products disagree with me. The so-called “stress headaches” during my university years were actually cheese-induced migraines (that explains the red spots before my eyes!!) and the upset tummies were not psychosomatic – I couldn’t tolerate milk! Now when I smell cheese and onion my heart is warmed by memories of Auntie Nellie while my stomach churns at the thought of eating dairy products.

chester1 (Copy)                            chester2 (Copy)

Whenever we visit my mom we go into the lovely historic town of Chester to wander around the shops, usually stopping in a coffee shop mid morning then grabbing a pasty for lunch. They’re so easy to eat while wandering around the streets, looking in shop windows and exclaiming “HOW much?!” in our hybrid English-Canadian accents. Somehow they don’t seem to have made it across the pond to the land of beaver tails, poutine and tortiere (you’ll have to look those up if you’re not Canadian). So, the next day I took pity on my poor husband and made some pasties for him. I used wholewheat flour for a healthy, hearty crust, and veggie mince instead of the ground-up animal of his childhood.

Vegan Cornish Pasty

Pastry:

  • 2 cups wholewheat flour, plus extra for rolling
  • 1 tbsp flour mixed with 2 tbsp water to make the glue
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup vegan margarine, well chilled
  • 6 – 12 tbsp ice water, as needed

Filling:

  • 1 cup celery, finely chopped or, if you’re a true Britt, 1 cup swede, finely chopped
  • 1 cup potato, finely chopped
  • 225g veggie grounds / mince, thawed if frozen
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 vegan “beef” stock cube, crumbled
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp soy milk

To make the pastry: Put the flour and salt into a large bowl. Add the margarine and cut it into small pieces. Use your fingertips to rub the margarine into the flour until it forms breadcrumbs. Handle it as little as possible. Add the water a tablespoon at a time and mix with a knife until it starts to form a dough. Don’t make it wet – you want something you can roll out later. Use your hands to form it into a ball then cut it into 6 pieces. Form each piece into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Put in the fridge for 15 – 30 minutes.

To make the filling, mix together the celery, potato, veggie grounds, parsley, thyme, stock cube, salt and pepper. Make sure none of the veggies are in chunks larger than your thumb nail.

Take the pastry out of the fridge and roll into circles about 6″ across. I put a large bowl on top and trim them into a nice round shape. Divide the filling between the 6 circles of pastry, placing it on one half of the circle. Use your finger to apply the flour-glue to the edges then fold the pastry over the filling to create a half-moon. Press the edges together then fold them up to make a secure packet. Cut 2 small slits in the top and brush lightly with soy milk.

Heat the oven to 425’F / 220’C / Gas 7. Put the pasties on a baking tray and cook for 45 minutes until golden. Eat hot or cold, sitting down or wandering around.

cornishPasty (Copy)And what was Alan’s  reaction to the labors of his wife? “Wow! These are really good! Are they actually vegan?”. I rolled my eyes. I love him too much to fill his body with saturated fat. He thought they were so good that he ate one before we went out to a restaurant for a vegan dinner on Monday, “just in case he didn’t like the food”. And I had one when we got back home afterwards.

Karen 🙂

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Happy Chinese New Year!

Yes, I know the Chinese New Year was last week and this blog is a little late, but I have a ton of excuses. Really. But I’m sure you don’t want to hear them – they’re really not very creative, unlike some of the explanations I’ve been given in restaurants when I’ve found bits of animal in my food. One of my favourite comments is “You asked for vegetarian. There are vegetables in it”, closely followed by my second favourite of “But if you pick the meat out it will be vegetarian”. Sigh. I recently stopped in the doorway of a noodle house and asked “Do you have anything vegan on the menu?. The answer was a resounding “Yes!” so my lunch-date and I went in and sat down. I asked the waitress to show me the vegan items as I was having problems finding them. She looked at me in surprise and said “Oh – we don’t have any. I didn’t think you were vegan!” Sometimes I just don’t know what to say!

Occasionally when I get a non-vegan meal the fault appears to be mine, such as when I ordered lunch in a very Chinese restaurant on the outskirts of Toronto.  They had a “vegetarian” section, so I selected a dish of tofu with vegetables. I checked that there was no meat, no meat stock, no chicken, no eggs, just vegetables and tofu (Yes – it’s vegetables. Tofu. No meat.), completely forgetting to say that I didn’t want an entire shoal of deep-fried tiny fish mixed in with the veggies.That’s a mistake I won’t be repeating!

The funniest, although accidental, animal-in-my-dinner incident occurred not long after Alan and I emigrated to Canada. We were in a Chinese restaurant and I was enjoying a steaming bowl of vegetarian hot sour soup. I was about half way through when I discovered, sitting in the middle of my spoon, an unusually large cooked fly. It had obviously been in there for a while. I called the waiter over and felt like I was acting out a scene from a really bad play when I declared “Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup.” He looked at it in horror, then declared “It just flew in! Right now!” miming a dive-bombing fly as he spoke. I shook my head. “SH#T!” he exclaimed. “Sh#t Sh#t sh#t!!!!”. Other customers turned to look at him while I just sat there in astonishment. He pulled himself together and said “Would you like another one?” Unsure whether he was offering me another bowl of soup or another fly, I declined.

Despite the drowned fly incident, one of my all time favourite Chinese dishes has always been hot and sour soup. Sadly many restaurants don’t make a vegan version, serving only one made from beef stock and sliced animal bits. It’s nice that vegan versions are appearing more often, but I’ve had some which have been a bit unusual. I had a bowl of soup in a local (now closed) vegan restaurant which I couldn’t eat – and it’s unusual for me to reject anything vegan. It was so acidic I’m sure it stripped the enamel off my teeth. A non-Chinese, non-vegan restaurant gave me a bowl of peppery cabbage soup claiming that it was authentic meat-free hot sour soup, leading me to suspect that they had no idea what hot sour soup should really taste like. A “fusion” restaurant served me what appeared to be tomato soup with dried mushrooms in it. Still, I’ll give them some credit for at least trying to keep a vegan happy.

Hot and Sour Leek Soup

Dried black fungus, also known as cloud ear wood fungus, can be found in most Asian grocery stores. I usually buy it already shredded, cutting down on the preparation time just a fraction.

  • BLACKFUNGUS2 (Copy)2 tsp vegetable oil (or use water if you cook oil-free)
  • 1 large leek, cleaned and cut into shreds
  • 3 cups stock – I use a “beef flavour” vegan stock cube
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper, or to taste
  • 1 cup (about half a 450g packet) semi-firm tofu, cut into small cubes
  • 5 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked for 30 minutes in warm water, rinsed and thinly sliced
  • ½ cup shredded black fungus, (optional) soaked for 30 minutes in warm water then drained
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 4 tbsp white vinegar
  1. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan and fry the leek over a medium-high heat for 5 minutes or until lightly browned in places.
  2. Stir in the stock (be careful – it might splash), soy sauce, black pepper, tofu, mushrooms and fungus. Hmm, fungus. It’s yummier than it sounds!
  3. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes.
  4. Add the water and vinegar to the cornstarch and mix well. Pour into the soup, allow to thicken for 1 minute while stirring, sprinkle with green peppers and serve immediately.

HOTSOURLEEKSOUP (Copy)

My recipe keeps it simple and it tastes like the hot and sour soup of my childhood memories back in England.  Feel free to add whatever you expect to find in your soup bowl, such as sliced bamboo shoots, a splash of sesame oil, some dried red chillies, fresh bean sprouts…or whatever you like. And if you have a hardened omnivore coming for dinner, you know which bowl to put the fly in, should one accidentally end up in your pan 😉

Karen 🙂

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Can Your Food Be TOO Healthy?

I’ve read a few posts recently about people who have been diagnosed with orthorexia nervosa, which literally means “fixation on righteous eating.”  It starts out as genuine attempt to eat healthy food, but sufferers become obsessed with healthy eating to the point that it detrimentally affects their social lives and mental health. Although this is a “health food” obsession and not specifically a “vegan” issue, some people feel that the existence of such an eating disorder gives them free reign to insult people who belong to vegan / plant based groups. We, in return, make jokes such as “I like organic kale, so I must be crazy!”, but it’s no laughing matter. Eating disorders are no joke, and if you battle with one you have my heartfelt sympathy.

Those of us who eat plant-based diets generally give a lot more thought to what goes on our plates than omnivores. It’s not an obsession – it’s our way of making sure that we feed ourselves and our loved ones a healthy diet. We’re not crazy when we say “no” to antibiotic-filled beef, arsenic-loaded chicken, polluted seafood and lead-filled fish. We’re not being self-obsessed when we refuse to eat  animals which didn’t want nor need to be slaughtered to fill our plates. I worry more about the mental health of people who write things like “I raise my calves by hand and call them my babies, and I kiss them on the nose when they leave”……to have a bullet put in their head so she can eat them. I have a problem with that.

If somebody wants to start eating a healthier diet, where is a good place to start? I belong to a number of groups which support people as they transition from the “standard American diet” to a plant-based diet, usually for health reasons. I applaud these people – making such a big change can be very daunting, and sometimes they turn to “experts” for advice. I watched a day-time TV show yesterday, which is highly unusual behaviour for me. I was on the treadmill at the gym, listening to loud music on my i-pod, but the TV screen wouldn’t turn off on the machine I was using so I had to watch it. They were doing a “meal make-over” for a lady, hopefully to give her healthy options and not as a weight-loss program because she looked great! They showed what she would normally eat and drink, including tons of coffee, coke, a cream egg, a Bounty bar, a muffin, scrambled egg on toast, and a burger with fries. The “dietician / nutritionist” took away her coffee and replaced it with water-with-freshly-squeezed-lemon-juice. Instead of a coke, muffin and a cream egg for lunch she got a green smoothie. Her Bounty bar was swapped for a cup of cherries and a handful of nuts. I can’t honestly remember the specifics of her dinner (remember, I was running on a treadmill at the time!), but it seemed to be rather lacking in both carbs and substance. I remember thinking “OMG – she’s going to starve!”. The new meals were so far removed from her original diet that I seriously doubt she would keep it up for long.

I know that transitioning to a healthier eating plan happens differently for everyone – some embrace green smoothies and handfuls of nuts from the word “go”, but for others the transition is slower. My eldest son – who claims to be a hardened omnivore but cooks himself veggie meals frequently because  beans are cheaper than meat – would rather starve than drink a green smoothie. When he’s home we eat food which looks like his idea of a “good” meal, only it’s also “good” for him. I’ve fed him on tofu-scramble on toast, sprinkled with a little black salt to give it a sulphur-eggy smell. We’ve had not-chicken pot pie. We ate a vegetable and cashew nut stir fry. And dinner tonight is something I would challenge any omnivore not to enjoy. Burgers (yes, they’re vegan) on fresh wholewheat kaiser buns with roasted tomatoes, portabello mushroom caps, baby spinach, sliced avocado, caramelized red onion and organic ketchup, with a side of potato slices baked with a little stock and seasoned with crushed garlic and herbs. To top it off, there’s fresh corn sprinkled with a little salt. It’s healthy, it’s tasty, it’s easy, and it doesn’t contain any dead animals. What could be better than that?

burger (Copy)I know today’s blog was a bit heavier than usual, but every now and again I have to wave my “being vegan is really good for you!” flag, in the hope that the omnivores reading this will be tempted to take a break from the meat from time to time. Try something vegan tonight – you might like it! I know my visiting omnivore did.

BONUS! This morning Pamela from Plant Kind posted an article on some of the current confusion surrounding vegan eating! Check it out at http://plantkind.ca/2015/02/20/simplifying-veganism-the-5-trends-that-simply-arent-required-eating/

Karen 🙂

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Stop and Eat the Roses

Valentine’s Day. Love it or hate it, it comes around at this time every year. I was raised in a family which ignored Valentine’s Day. “We don’t have to buy into the commercialism of a specified day to show that we love each other” and all that jazz. They didn’t “do” mother’s day for the same reason. “I can buy your mother flowers any time of the year” intoned my father. Mind you, I have very few recollections of him buying flowers, whatever the day. He loved my mom, but spontaneous acts of a floral nature were not in his romantic vocabulary. He occasionally turned up with fresh fish flapping around in a bag, but that’s a (not romantic and really yucky) story for another day.

I always had an uneasy feeling as Valentine’s Day approached. Part of me wanted to believe what my parents said about commercialism, but part of me wanted to be romanced on a specified day, knowing that a large number of other ladies were being wined, dined and showered with flowers. When I met the love of my life, it was obvious that he had also been raised in a “no-Valentine’s Day, no mother’s day” environment, and I continued to have conflicted feelings about both. And then, one year, Alan was away on Valentine’s day, working in San Jose’s sunshine while I sat here in the frozen north with two small children. He dined out every night, spent time with his cousin, and had a really nice time. I reported meals of beans on toast, screaming toddlers and cold snowy days. On February the 14th he sent me flowers. It was totally unexpected and very, very much appreciated. Every year since then he’s gone out before breakfast and returned bearing roses. And I love it. He says it’s easier to buy flowers on Valentine’s Day – they’re in all the grocery stores and can even be found at gas stations, making it simple for a guy to get something nice for the person he loves.

roses (Copy)Roses seem to be the universal symbol of undying love. But what do you do with them when Valentine’s Day is over? Do you keep topping up the water in the vase while the symbols of true love wither and die? In the classic (but rather peculiar) Mexican movie “Like Water for Chocolate”, Tita is given roses by the love of her life, Pedro. She makes them into a rose petal sauce, infused with all the forbidden passion she feels for Pedro, who is married to Tita’s sister. The dinner guests feel the love as they eat their meal, and get rather hot and excited. I can’t promise my interpretation of her dish will bring out your romantic side, but it looks pretty and tastes fabulous. You can eat the extra rose petals if you want (they’re surprisingly bitter), but really they’re there for decoration.

Rose Petal Faux Chicken

If you’re not a fan of faux chicken, use firm tofu instead. Take it out of the box, drain it and wrap it in multiple layers of kitchen paper (or a clean tea towel). Put a plate and a heavy can on top and press the liquid out for 30 minutes before using the tofu in the recipe.

This dish is best if marinated overnight, so plan ahead. It’s not the best meal for a sudden, spontaneous outpouring of your love.

  • 16 red or pink rose petals
  • 1/2 cup rose water
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil (or, if you’re oil-free, use water)
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal (not cornstarch)
  • 6 tbsp ground fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 4 vegan “chicken breasts”, or 1 pack (450g) extra firm tofu, pressed (see note above)
  • Rose petals for decoration

Put the rose petals, rose water, garlic, olive oil, maple syrup, cornmeal, fennel, salt and pepper into a small blender and blend well. Rub the marinade over the chicken thighs and place in a resealable plastic bag along with any extra paste. Pop in the fridge and leave overnight. Heat the oven to 375’F / 190’C / Gas Mark 5. Remove the faux chicken from the marinade and bake for 20 minutes, or as instructed on the packet they came in. Transfer the marinade to a small pan and heat gently. Pour over the faux chicken and serve decorated with rose petals.

Do you want to guess who forgot to pour the heated marinade on the dish before taking the photo?

rosepetalFauxChicken (Copy)You don’t have to be in a romantic relationship to enjoy this dish. Ladies, gentlemen, go out and buy yourselves some flowers any time you want to brighten your life. Then make yourself a lovely fragrant dinner, crack open a bottle of wine and put your feet up on the coffee table. Put a copy of “Like Water for Chocolate” in the DVD player and enjoy the experience. Then sprinkle the rest of the rose petals into a hot bath and say “I’m totally worth this”.

Karen 🙂

Footnote: Some people have expressed concern about pesticides on store bought roses. If your roses are not organic and you are concerned about pesticides it might be best to wait until summer and grab some from your garden to try this recipe.

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Dessert, don’t desert me now!

Anyone who has ever been invited to my home for dinner will know that I’m not a dessert person. There might be cookies. Brownies on a good day. Occasionally a cake. But I’m unlikely to eat them. When dining out I get asked how I can be “so virtuous” and I say no to the sweet stuff. “I wish I had your will power” people say sadly. I’ve even had a restaurant owner come to my table and ask why I’m putting a dessert into a box to take home instead of eating it all. “Was there something wrong with it?” they asked in a hushed worried voice. But the truth is that I simply don’t enjoy desserts. Offer me a plate of something spicy or salty and I’m yours for the night. But desserts? They’re not going to get you anywhere.

Tonight, however, I decided to make an effort. A lovely friend joined us for dinner, and I know she likes the sweet stuff. My eldest son is also visiting for the week, and he needs all the calories he can get if we want to be able to see him when he turns sideways. But what to make? One guest likes fruit, the other likes chocolate, but neither likes both. I did some googling to see what the veg#ns are munching on after dinner, and cashew cheesecake kept popping up. It seems like every vegan or raw blogger in the world has jumped on the cheesecake bandwagon, with very little variation in the recipe. I’d love to know who the first person was to make a cashew cheesecake – they deserve a big round of applause! Everyone seems to be making essentially the same thing, but it must have started somewhere. Anyway, I decided to follow the crowd and see where I ended up, aiming for a two-in-one cheesecake, half of which would be blueberry while the other half would be chocolate.

One thing everyone agrees on is the need for a high power blender to make anything cheezey out of cashew nuts. Ms. Bigglesworth wishes this were not the case, and retreats into her hiding hole whenever she hears the questions “Will it blend?”.

bigglesHole (Copy) Now I know this seems like an odd thing to say, but the recipes I found on the internet all seemed a bit too healthy for what I was looking for. I wanted to make something as a treat for my guests, and I believe that a bit of something naughty doesn’t do any harm once in a while. I also wanted something which might tempt my omni friends away from their dairy products once in a while, without scaring them away with weird vegan ingredients. So I ditched the virtuous looking crushed-nut-and-date bases littered over the internet and subbed in a traditional cookie crumb one. The cookies I used were the “Enjoy Life!” brand, which are vegan and gluten free. They cost more than some other cookies, but they were on sale at my local store this week. Oreos are usually vegan (always check the packet first) and would make an interesting sticky base. To make crumbs, put your cookies in a resealable plastic bag and bash them with a rolling pin. It’s very therapeutic!

The internet recipes all suggested using coconut oil, which is supposedly a healthier choice than vegan margarine. But fat is still fat. I don’t regard either as being a “healthy” choice, so I threw caution to the wind and used “Earth Balance” margarine instead of coconut oil , especially since one of my guests really doesn’t like things which taste of coconut. Gosh – this is getting even less healthy by the minute! It is, however, turning into something my family and friends can maybe make at home in their Standard-American-Diet kitchens, which are devoid of things like coconut oil but might, just might, contain a dairy-free margarine.

Two-in-One Blueberry Chocolate Cheezecake

You need a good blender to make a perfect cashew cheesecake. I recently purchased a Vitamix, which, while it hasn’t “transformed my life” it’s certainly made it easier! If you have a standard blender, your cashew cheese will have some texture to it rather than being perfectly smooth.

Base:

  • 1 ½ cups cookie crumbs
  • 3 tbsp vegan margarine, melted
  • Tiny pinch of salt

Cheezecake:

  • 2 ½ cups raw cashews, soaked overnight in plenty of cold water in the fridge
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • ¼ cup vegan margarine or coconut oil, melted
  • 4 – 6 tbsp water to aid with blending
  • If you like it tangy, add 2 tsp – ¼ cup lemon juice to taste

Blueberry Half:

  • 1 cup blueberries (thawed if frozen)

Chocolate Half:

  • ½ cup cocoa powder

Topping:

  • Sprinkles of your choice such as chocolate chips, walnut pieces or sliced fruit

To make the base, mix together the melted margarine and cookie crumbs. Press into the bottom of 4 serving dishes or one 8” x 8” pan. If you’re using a pan and want a thicker base, double the recipe.

To make the cheesecake, drain, rinse and pat dry the cashews. Put into a mega-power blender along with the vanilla, maple syrup, melted fat and water. Process for 5 -7 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides from time to time, until completely smooth. If you want to add lemon juice pour it in at the end, process until blended, taste and add more as desired.

Tip half of the cheesecake into a bowl and fold in the blueberries. Transfer to 2 small dishes or pour into one side of the larger pan. To the remaining half, add the cocoa powder and process until blended. Pour it into the remaining dishes or the second half of the large pan. Cover and pop in the fridge for at least 2 hours to firm up. Dress it up in whatever way takes your fancy and serve.

cheezecake (Copy)

And the omnivores have spoken! The desserts are delicious but too big. Exactly half the size would have been better – meaning this recipe serves 8. They would have liked more base, so if you’re into bases I suggest you make double. They also questioned the use of the word “cheezecake”, suggesting that perhaps vegans have forgotten what a cheesecake tastes like. I was no help – I’ve not had one for probably 30 years. Next time I make them I’ll call them “puddings” instead of cheesecakes so that the poor omnivores don’t get confused 😉 Or maybe, if I’m feeling brave, I’ll play with the recipe and add some nutritional yeast to give it a more cheesy flavour. Or maybe not!

Let’s be honest folks – this isn’t health food, regardless of what type of base or oil you use. There’s probably more fat in a serving of cheesecake than I would normally eat in a year. But the omnivores said it was yummy, took left-overs and would happily eat it again. I just hope my dinner guests don’t start expecting this sort of treat every time they come round, or they might be in for a bit of a disappointment. But here’s a thought – now that I’ve posted the recipe they can make it themselves and bring their own dessert!

Karen 🙂

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It’s All Going To Pot!

It’s all gone to Pot? As in weed? Hash? Marijuana? Nah – today’s post isn’t about Justin Trudeau’s plan to legalise pot if he comes into power. But it is about pot pie, which is almost as exciting if less controversial.

I love my veggie diet. Healthy, tasty, and (usually) enjoyed by people who come round for dinner. However, this week my eldest son is home for a visit during reading week, and he’s not a huge fan of non-meat meals. He’s also rather on the skinny side, requiring lots of calories to maintain what little body weight he has. So, in an attempt to please everyone, the faux-meats are coming out of the freezer and onto the plate for a few meals.

Vegan “meat replacements” are peculiar things. They look like meat, chicken, or even shrimp, but I’m told that the taste and texture is usually very different to the slaughtered kind. Some vegans love them while others hate the very thought of eating something which resembles an animal product. I personally think they’re a useful addition to a plant-based diet but try not to use them too often. They’re highly refined products, some of the beefy or lamby ones can be quite greasy, and some of the seafood ones don’t have much protein. No, that is NOT an invitation to bombard me with questions about where vegans get their proteins from, which annoys plant-eaters on a universal scale and is often countered with the question “Where do omnivores get their fibre from?”.

Just a side note for those of you living in the states or the UK – quorn is a non-meat protein found in the freezers of some of your grocery stores. It’s a microprotein made from mushroomy things. Please check the ingredients of quorn products carefully before buying them for a vegan – they often contain egg. I don’t have to worry about the contents of quorn up here in the frozen north – our backwards food regulatory bodies don’t recognise quorn as being “food” so it can’t be sold here. They’ve also recently banned some vegan “sausages” because, obviously, if it doesn’t contain ground-up animal it’s not really a sausage. Sigh.

Anyway….dinner tonight is not-chicken-pot-pie. I rather cunningly boiled the vegetables at the same time same cooking some for a Japanese vegetable and tofu curry, about which I’ll be blogging sometime soon. If you’re eating a diet without refined oils, cook the veggies in water or stock instead of oil, stirring frequently to make sure they don’t stick and burn. Replace the pastry with cooked, mashed potatoes.

Adjust the seasoning according to how well flavoured your vegan stock is. I like the McCormicks brand.

Not-Chicken Pot Pie

  • 2 tbsp olive oil (see note above)
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 leeks, cleaned and chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, scrubbed and thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 4 vegan “chicken” breasts
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled if you want, cut into ¼-inch chunks
  • 2 tbsp dried parsley
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp dried basil
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp vegan margarine
  • 4 cups vegan “chicken” stock
  • 2 tbsp corn starch mixed with 2 tbsp water
  • 200g frozen puff pastry, thawed at room temperature for 2 hours (check the ingredients)
  1. Heat the oven to 375’F /190’C / Gas Mark 5 – you will need it to be ready 45 minutes after you start cooking the filling.
  2. Heat the oil in a medium sized pan and fry the onion, leeks, carrots and garlic for about 5 minutes or until slightly softened.
  3. Add the not-chicken, potatoes, parsley, oregano, basil, salt, pepper and stock. Bring to a boil then reduce to a low simmer, cover and cook for 30 – 40 minutes or until everything is tender.
  4. If you don’t want “chicken” chunks, remove the “chicken” and shred into pieces. Using a spoon with holes in it, transfer the potatoes and vegetables to an oven-proof dish. Add the not-chicken.
  5. Transfer 2 cups of the cooking liquid into a small pan along with 1 tbsp vegan margarine. Add the corn starch and water and, stirring constantly, bring to the boil. Continue to stir until it thickens, about 1 – 2 minutes, then pour over the chicken and potatoes.
  6. Roll out the pastry to just larger than the dish and place on top of the stew. Trim the edges and cut 3 small slits in the top for venting. Place the dish on a tray to catch drips and bake for 40 – 50 minutes or until the pasty is golden brown and you can see gravy bubbling through the vent slits.
  7. Allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving with vegetables of your choice.

FAUXCHICKENPOTPIE (Copy)I first made this dish after I did a quick survey of what meat-eating friends would serve if they had someone for dinner. Sue (a Canadian who emigrated from England) said “chicken pot pie”. I would never have thought of serving this but decided to give it a go. When I served it to the family for supper we were suspicious at first (we eat a lot of curries, chillies and Asian food) but it was so fabulous that we all went back for more. And now, when I have meaty people visiting it keeps them happy.

Karen 🙂

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Sweetcorn for my Sweetheart

Those of you raised outside of the UK will need a slight vocabulary lesson in order to understand today’s blog. It’s about corn, or sweetcorn as it’s known to us ex-pats. When I was young my parents sometimes took me and my siblings on holiday to Ashford in Kent: a long, long, long drive from northern England for 3 kids in the days before i-pods, i-pads and in-car movies. Or rear seat belts, if you want some idea of how old I am. We sat on pillows and wedged ourselves in with the bags which wouldn’t fit in the trunk (or boot, if you prefer) and played games like “I saw a red car and you didn’t so ya boo to you!” and “Get your head off my shoulder! If you want to sleep then lean the other way onto your brother, not onto me!” and other such fun stuff. Oh, the good old days. Every now and again one of us (usually me) would beg our father to turn on the radio, hoping for the Top 10 on Radio 1, but if he turned it on at all he would tune it into the Radio 4 shipping forecast, just to annoy us I assume. We were miles from the coast and had no reason to know that the summary for the day was “Low Shannon 988 expected Wight 1000 by midday tomorrow, low just west of Bailey 991 losing its identity”. It was a long, long drive for all of us.

Here’s a link to a shipping forecast if you want to really annoy someone you love: http://www.bbc.com/weather/coast_and_sea/shipping_forecast

While in Ashford we stayed in an apple-pickers’ hut in the middle of an orchard, with a sloping metal roof, horse-hair mattresses and no fridge. The “bathroom” was a shed next to the hut, containing a large garbage can with a toilet seat on it. Ah, luxury. The orchard itself was home to numerous sheep and geese, who would happily wander into the hut if we left the bottom half of the door open, invariably going native on the floor before leaving. It was fabulous. We had some good times there and were sorry when the owner modernised the buildings and sold them to people as permanent homes.

Anyway, back to the vocabulary lesson. When we were in Ashford we often walked down to the river, trudging through CORN fields as we went. By “corn” I mean wheat, not the tall corn plants with ears of yellow seeds found in the US and Canada. We call that SWEETcorn. Which is why the title of this blog is “Sweetcorn for my Sweatheart”, not “Corn for my Companion”, which, honestly, just doesn’t sound as good. Got it? Hurray!

It was Valentine’s Day on Saturday, and I wanted to make something nice for my hubby for lunch. Nothing says “I love you” more than a meal which doesn’t contain animal fats, processed sugar or other things which might shorten his life. I served him a steaming hot bowl of sweetcorn soup, steamed brown rice and home-made tofu (the recipe for this will appear at some point!) along with a card telling him how totally fab he is.

Japanese Sweetcorn Soup

Fresh corn, when you can get it, makes the best soup. Frozen corn is also good. In a pinch you can use canned corn (not the pre-creamed variety), drained and well rinsed.

  • 1 tbsp canola oil (or use water if you don’t like refined oils)
  • 6 green onions, thinly sliced
  • ½ red pepper, finely chopped
  • 5 large ears of corn, simmered in water for 5 minutes (or about 2 cups kernels)
  • 1 cup soy milk
  • 1 cup vegan dashi or water
  • 1 vegan chicken flavour stock cube
  • Garnish:
  • 2 tbsp fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
  • Japanese 7 spice powder (shichimi toragashi) to taste – you can find it in Asian stores and some major grocery stores

Heat the oil in a medium size pan and fry the green onions and red pepper over a medium heat until softened, about 3 minutes. Cut the corn kernels off the ears then put the corn, soy milk and dashi into a blender and process until smooth. A bit of texture is OK, but you don’t want any lumps. Add to the red pepper and green onions and add the stock cube. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Stir in the finely chopped parsley and divide between 4 soup bowls. Serve topped with seven spice powder to taste.

CORNSOUP (Copy)So, that’s your vocabulary and cooking lesson for today. If only someone would explain to me about British turnips and Canadian turnips….or are they rutabagas? Or is a British swede a rutabaga? I really have no clue! Obviously I don’t cook a lot of turnips or I might have worked it out for myself by now.

Karen 🙂

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Chillin’ Out!

Winter up here in the frozen north goes on and on and on and on. So much so that even I get sick of hearing myself complain about it. “Why don’t you go out and do fun activities in the snow?” people ask, usually while drinking hot chocolate in front of a roaring fire, or from the comfort of a warmer climate in another country. Do they really think I’d never thought of that, after being here for over 20 years? “Wow!” I cry “Why didn’t I think of that before? I could spend the winter outside!!!!!!!”. OK – let’s get real here people. Today it’s a balmy -15’C, but it’s going back down to -25’C in a couple of days, plus a wind chill. I’m not going out there “for fun”. Not anymore. Perhaps I should sit outside on my swing and ponder the situation? snowchair (Copy) When the kids were small we all learnt to skate, and it didn’t take long for 3 out of the 4 of us to realise we really didn’t like it. We tried skating in arenas, hoping to avoid being knocked over by speed-skating small children. We tried skating on outdoor rinks in the local parks, competing for ice space with hockey players. We even tried skating on the canal (Ottawa’s canal is the world’s longest ice skating rink) but didn’t enjoy being tripped up by hot dogs and beaver tails frozen on the lumpy ice. So we hung up our skates and moved on.

We took skiing lessons for a number of years, going to the slopes every single frozen Sunday for months on end, whatever the weather. Alan got icicles in his beard. Our eyelashes froze. Our faces went numb. Oh yes, we had fun (that’s sarcasm, in case you missed it). Alan genuinely enjoyed skiing, and still does it once a year with a friend. My eldest son continued to ski until he ended up on crutches after an incident with a patch of ice, some frozen shrubs and a snow-filled ditch. My youngest son hung up his snow board when he broke his right arm a year after he broke his left arm at the same place on the same hill. As for me – I had a private ski instructor for years, and while I mastered the art of skiing I never mastered the art of enjoying it. When Chris hung up his snowboard I hung up my skis right there next to it. I don’t know who was more relieved, me or my instructor.

This photo documents the last time I voluntarily went wandering around in the snow. Alan and I are at Station 5 on Mount Fuji, standing in a sunbeam with the peak of the volcano behind us. Just as a weird side-note – you can buy Mount Fuji toilet paper in a shop at Station 5. Just in case you ever want some.

fujiMe (Copy)                fujiPaper (Copy)

In a desperate attempt to find something fun to do in the snow, inspired by my happy memories of Japan, I’ve made the popular Japanese summer dish of chilled udon noodles, but instead of cooling it in the fridge I’ve popped it into a snow pile. Pretty eh?

Chilled Cucumber Noodles

  • 4 bundles (about 800g total) udon noodles
  • 1 unpeeled cucumber, thinly sliced
  • 4 cups dashi
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sake

Dipping sauce:

  • 1 cup dashi or stock
  • 5 tbsp soy sauce
  • 5 tbsp mirin

To serve:

  • ½ cup daikon, peeled and grated
  • 1 tsp dried crushed red chillies
  • 2 green onions, finely chopped
  • Ice cubes (optional)

Put the dashi, salt, soy sauce and sake into a small pan. Bring to a simmer then remove from the heat. Allow to cool slightly then put into the fridge until well chilled. To make the dipping sauce, put the dashi, soy sauce and mirin into a small pan. Bring to the boil then allow to cool slightly before putting into the fridge to chill. Mix the grated daikon with the chillies and put into the fridge to keep cool. Bring a large pan of water to a boil and cook the noodles for 4 minutes, or as instructed on the packet. Drain and rinse well with cold water then drain again. Divide the noodles between 4 small bowls and top with the chilled stock. Toss in some ice cubes if you want and float cucumber slices on top. Serve with dipping sauce on the side into which daikon, chillies and green onions can be added to taste.

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I’m now going to take the noodles back inside, think about heating them up in the microwave, and serve them with some lovely hot tofu and veggies.

Have a great weekend, whatever you chose to do. Hurray for winter!

Karen 🙂

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Salad Samurai? Not Me …

I’ve been a plant eater for many, many years, but I’ve never had a very good relationship with salads. Perhaps it’s the fault of the servers in restaurants, who when asked if they have anything vegan simply shrug and say “I could bring you a salad…”, invariably returning with a bowl of iceberg lettuce, a few halved cherry tomatoes and a disheveled slice of cucumber. Groan. I hate the very thought of a restaurant-vegan-salad. I’ve suspected for a long time that my prejudice against all things salady is (probably) unreasonable, so for Christmas I requested a copy of “Salad Samurai” by Terry Hope Romero. She claims that I can become a salad samurai, master of my salad making domain. I sat down with a nice hot cup of tea and a cat or two and read the book, looking carefully at the recipes and scowling every time the word “salad” appeared. They’re “main dish” salads which can be eaten for dinner – or, as a salad hater would say instead of dinner. Most of the recipes have a fair number of ingredients, a lot of prep work and many have recipes within recipes. If I’m using numerous ingredients and putting in notable effort, I want something more than a salad in my bowl at the end of it! Romero gives tips on how to prepare some things beforehand, and how to use some dressings and salad toppings interchangeably within recipes, but this requires planning ahead. If you’re a salad lover, buy the book – I’m sure you’ll enjoy her recipes. Be a salad samurai! But if you’re not a salad fan it’s probably not the book for you.

Popcorn is still wondering if perhaps he could be a Salad Samurai. Sparta, however, would rather eat a boot than a raw vegetable.

samuraiSaladCat (Copy)                  shoe2

I’m more of a salad sumo. I’m happy to do a stomp or two in a small space, make some threatening gestures towards my vegetable opponents, then one quick shove and I’m bowled over. If I’m going to make a salad to have with my dinner, it has to take very little effort on my part and it all has to be over very quickly.

I served this savory fruit salad with a chick pea curry (yes, I’m stepping away from the Japanese theme here!!), mainly because I didn’t have any veggies on hand to add to the curry itself. Imagine the horror when I opened the fridge and saw…..no spinach! No kale! No dandelions! (Although the lack of dandelion leaves shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone.) Quick – improvise! Time for the salad sumo to get to work.

Spiced Fruit Salad

  • 1 – 2 apples, washed and cut into small pieces (peeled if they’re not organic)
  • 1 cup matchstick carrots (it will take longer if you have to peel and cut a carrot yourself)
  • ½ English cucumber, thinly sliced
  • 1 mango (ideally ripe, but still on the firm side), peeled and cut into small pieces
  • 1 orange, peeled and cut into small pieces
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp orange (or use an extra tsp of lemon juice)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp mango powder (amchoor)
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp salt, or to taste
  • ¼ cup fresh coriander, chopped

Mix everything together, cover and chill for 30 minutes.

SpicedFruitSalad (Copy)Now that’s my idea of a sumo salad! Quick and easy, no fancy dressing, no wilted lettuce, and no pre-prepped toppings. And you can eat as much as you want without feeling guilty. As the sumo wrestler Gagamaru once said: “I’m on a diet, so I had only five extra helpings.” I just hope that Alan won’t feel like he has to change into a mawashi (sumo loin cloth) to eat  his salad……..

Karen 🙂