The Write Stuff: Authors are Awesome!

For those of you who are expecting a blog about vegan stuff, this one might come as a bit of a surprise. Please say “Hello” to my alter-ego…..the writer! I’m still planning on posting vegany blogs once or twice a week, but Tuesdays (or maybe Wednesdays) will be allocated to  “The Write Stuff” in the hope that it will help me to work on my novel and travel books from time to time.

I really admire people who write books. “The Magus” (I’m still not sure how to pronounce it!!!) by John Fowles is one of the  books on my “awesome” list, although “Daniel Martin” by the same author bored me to tears. “The Lord of the Rings”, despite the really, really tedious parts, is incredible.  “The Mists of Avalon” by Marion Zimmer Bradleand is good from start to finish, while the equally lengthy tomes “The Map of Time”  by Felix J. Palma and “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern seem to go a bit mad near the end.  I’m awestruck by writers who can create a novel of that length, and get it published. Back in the days before self-publishing, when a writer had few alternatives besides approaching publishers to get his or her book out there into the world, it was much harder to become an author than it is today. How many fabulous manuscripts were lost to us because a publisher didn’t like them? How many great writers threw down their pens in despair and gave up trying to catch the attention of a publishing house? How things have changed.

The advent of self-publishing has been a mixed blessing as far as I can see. Writers can become self-published authors almost at the flick of a switch. Or, in some cases, the cock of a head. There’s a fabulous review written by “David” on Amazon about a particular book, saying “He cocked his head. One time, this is used three times on the same page. If he cocked his head anymore, it would snap off.”

E-books allow readers to sample books for free before deciding whether or not to purchase them. Box sets can be bought for just a couple of bucks, showcasing the works of a number of authors. Anyone and everyone can see their manuscript in print if that’s what they desire, and there are more and more books being released every day. This is a good thing, but it’s also a bad thing. I’ve read some excellent self-published e-books, but I’ve also read seemingly endless piles of absolute and utter crap. I want to phone the author and scream “Get an editor! Use spellchecker! For fuck’s sake learn where to put your apostrophes!” OMG – it drives me mad. There have been some books which my hubby took away from me after hearing one rant too many. “Wasabi doesn’t burn your chest – it comes down your nose!” “There are six apostrophes in this paragraph alone, and none of them should be there!” “I’ve just read a sentence which went on for eight lines! Eight lines! How can that happen?” Most of these books have been deleted (had they been paperbacks I might have shredded them before tossing them into a fire) but I’ve kept a few “really special” ones for when I need encouragement in my writing endeavors. I open them up, read a few pages and tell myself “If this person can put his / her work out there for the world to see, so can I.” Then I close my i-pad, return to my desk, kick a cat or two off my chair and continue where I left off. If I need further encouragement I go to Amazon, read the one-star reviews for “50 Shades of Grey”, laugh myself stupid and start writing.

Despite my innumerable encounters with written diarrhea, I’m still in awe of novel writers. To be able to construct a story from beginning to end, even if they start writing in the middle and work in both directions until it’s finished, is an incredible achievement deserving cries of “Bravo! Bravo!” But it shouldn’t end there. Beta readers and editors are essential ingredients for dishing up a “good” book. I look forward to the day when my novel takes its first steps from being my baby towards adulthood under the loving care of somebody else. It’s not going to happen any day soon, especially since my lead character seems reluctant to follow the path I’ve laid out for her, but someday. Someday. I have to start focusing on my novel instead of stop procrastinating by writing blogs, cooking up tasty dishes and working on my next cookbook.

My eldest son gave me a great gift recently. It’s “The Writing Life” by “Annie Dillard”, published way back in 1989, and it’s proving to be a real eye-opener for me as I expand my writing boundaries beyond cookbooks and blogs. I’m still fairly close to the start of the book, because I have to keep putting it down and thinking about the points Annie makes in each chapter. I have to admit that I don’t like what I’m reading, but I’ve plowed my way through enough nose-bleedingly bad novels to know that the advice I’m seeing in this book is worth taking. I’m not particularly concerned about my spelling, grammar and sentence structure (although perhaps I should be?), even if some of them might be a tad long. After starting to read “The Writing Life”, however, I’m worried that the bits of my novel which I consider to be my crowning achievements will have to be deleted. That my favourite plot points will prove to be my weakest links. That by the time I reach the end of my novel the beginning will no longer make sense. That my characters may stray so far from the intended path that I’ll have no hope of ever getting them back on track. That I’ll never have the courage to say “This is utter shite, but will you please read it and give me some advice?” to my editor of a son. And that he’ll bill me by the hour….. and all this before I’ve even reached page 15 in her book! By the time I get to the end I may never write again lol.

I truly believe that writers (if not necessarily their finished work) are AWESOME. I hope that one day someone will read a novel written by yours truly and, at the very least say “It’s not very good, but at least she got it written. Bravo! Bravo!”

Karen 🙂

If you would like to follow my blog (and I really hope you will), look for the small “Follow” icon in the bottom right hand corner of your screen. Or in the toolbar at the top. It’s going to be around somewhere! Click on follow, add your email address, and all my pontifications will appear in your email, without you having to put in any effort at all. You can, of course, unsubscribe at any time.

If you would like to follow my blog (and I really hope you will), look for the small “Follow” icon in the bottom right hand corner of your screen. Or in the toolbar at the top. It’s going to be around somewhere! Click on follow, add your email address, and all my pontifications will appear in your email, without you having to put in any effort at all. You can, of course, unsubscribe at any time.

Strange Things Heard at the Expo

Last weekend I had the pleasure of working at the Kathy Smart “Living the Smart Way” expo here in Ottawa. Kathy is a local-girl-gone-big, with a book, TV show and goodness knows what else under her wing. She promotes healthy living but, in all honesty, I can’t recommend Kathy’s book – the vast majority of the recipes contain eggs, dairy, meat or fish. She has a lot of gluten-free recipes, which makes her of interest to me as my youngest son has a severe gluten intolerance, but in my opinion she make some pretty big claims which I have trouble swallowing, such as flushing out belly fat using cranberries. I do agree with her on one thing. She makes a very good point when she says “Only you can take control of your health. No one can do that for you.”

I love working at large events, meeting a huge array of interesting people from a variety of backgrounds. I participated (as a vendor) in a large number of indoor and outdoor art shows when my kids were small, but since they grew up and left home I’ve let this slip out of my life. Sometimes I miss it, and sometimes it’s a relief to not have to stand there for long hours waiting, hoping, dreaming of the next sale. Wondering if the next person I speak to will be friendly, or rude and smug. People attending art and artisan shows can be quite brutal in their comments, seemingly forgetting that they are talking to someone who has invested many, many, many hours of work into each piece of their art or craft, and for whom it has often taken a huge act of courage to participate in a show. I’ve seen an artist quietly crying behind her booth after someone told her  that her artwork was utter crap “and my 4-year old could do better”. I’ve seen another fabulous artist answer the question of “How long did that piece take for you to make? It’s really overpriced..” with the cost of an art degree, the price of supplementary night-school classes, and the number of years it had taken her to get her art to where it is today.  Art is very subjective – one person could love a piece while someone else sees no merit in it. But creating art takes time, patience and passion, and artists should be treated with the respect they deserve.

But I digress! I was happy to work at a large event last weekend without the stresses and strains of being a vendor. On Saturday I helped people sign up for Kathy Smart’s on-line community group, and on Sunday I had the joy of telling people about the up-coming veg-fest in June while manning (personing?) the table for our local vegetarian association. When I asked people if they were vegetarian-ish I got a huge range of answers. The ones which made me happiest, of course, were “Actually, I’m vegan.” Fist-bump time 🙂 Others (mostly men) guffawed and said they might sometimes have a piece of lettuce with their steak. But everyone (apart from the guy who might have had a puff of something earlier) was friendly and receptive to the idea of attending an event showcasing plant-based, cruelty-free products. I saw none of the self-righteous anger I’ve sometimes seen exhibited by omnivores when talking to a vegan. The times, they are a-changing.

One of the fun things about talking to happy-non-confrontational-omnivores was hearing some of the reasons why they “could never be vegan”. There were the obvious comments of “I could never give up meat, it tastes too good.” “Come to Veg Fest and try some meat alternatives! You never know, you might like them :)” and “I just love cheese too much. I couldn’t live without it”. “Have you tried the Zengarry cashew “cheezes” on the far isle? They’re really good!“. Later, while wandering around after my shift at the table ended, I saw some of the people I’d talked to carrying Zengarry cheeze products which they’d purchased. One of them waved at me. “They’re really good!” she yelled. Happy days indeed. Strangely enough, my hubby doesn’t like Zengarry cheeze. He says it tastes too cheesy. Sometimes you just can’t win lol.

I think the strangest conversation I had was with a lady who owns a holistic / nutritional consultation business and had a booth at the show. She’d tried being vegetarian for a couple of weeks but realised that she couldn’t do it because of her blood type. She asked me mine – I’m O+. “But you’re not a vegetarian?” she asked. “Yes I am. I’m also dairy free and egg free.” She was starting to look worried. “But you’ve not been doing it for very long, have you?” “Getting on for 30 years….” It transpired that she also has O type blood, and “that’s why she can’t give up meat”. She had one last attempt at supporting her comments. “Do you find that you’re really tired and sluggish all the time?” I laughed. “Do I look tired and sluggish?” She had to admit that I did not. With a big confused frown on her face she picked up leaflets on how to eat a healthy plant-based diet, took the info card on veg fest and went back to her booth. Hopefully to reconsider her views on blood type based diets and to think about the health benefits of eating a balanced vegan diet.

The eating-for-your-blood-type diet was very popular a few years ago, and the book sold millions of copies. It was debunked in 2014 when a scientific researchers found that the theory behind the diet is not valid.
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140115172246.htm
Theory behind popular blood-type diet debunked Source: University of Toronto.

There are many, many diets and supplements claiming to be the only way to loose weight, get fit, build muscle, gain energy, detoxify, cleanse, rejuvenate, fight aging and live forever while looking like a 20 year old. I’ve got some bad news for you. We’re all going to get older on a day-to-day basis, and we’re all going to die of something. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to spend my life chasing a rainbow looking for a pot of eternal-youth at the end of it. I’d rather eat a healthy, balanced, easy, stress-free diet of fruits, veggies, whole grains and plant-based proteins and wash it all down with a glass or two of wine every now and again. Why don’t you join me? It’s a nice way to live. It’s not the “Kathy-Smart” way, but I think it’s the smartest way 🙂 Eating “the vegan way” is healthy and delicious, and here’s a nice little soup to prove it:

Zucchini and Basil Soup

  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 3 medium zucchini, cut into bite-size pieces (about 3-4 cups)
  • 1 leek, cut into thin slices
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stick, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 3 cups vegan stock
  • Salt if needed
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
  • 3 green onions to garnish

Heat the oil in a pan and fry the zucchini, leek, garlic and celery over a medium high heat for 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Stir in the coconut milk and stock. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat, cover and simmer gently for 15 minutes or until everything is tender. Process half the soup using a hand or countertop blender until smooth then mix with the remaining chunky portion of soup. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Stir in the basil and serve topped with green onions.

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Karen 🙂

If you would like to follow my blog (and I really hope you will), look for the small “Follow” icon in the bottom right hand corner of your screen. Or in the toolbar at the top. It’s going to be around somewhere! Click on follow, add your email address, and all my pontifications will appear in your email, without you having to put in any effort at all. You can, of course, unsubscribe at any time.

Jumping on the Pulled-Pork(less) Bandwagon

Pulled pork, I’m sure, didn’t exist in my pre-veg#n days. Growing up in England I never encountered the stuff, so obviously never tasted it. When I moved to Canada it popped up regularly at pot-lucks, alongside the ubiquitous slow-cooker meatballs in barbeque sauce – which I’ve also never had. I never gave the matter much thought until recently. About 6 months ago I started getting posts in my facebook feed about “pulled jackfruit”. It seemed that anyone who was “someone” was riding the pulled jackfruit bandwagon, posting recipes on this latest, greatest vegan food, sometimes as if they had personally invented the dish. I know somebody, somewhere, had the idea first, and I really wish I knew who it was.

Anyway, the bandwagon rolled along merrily for a while in Canada and the States and then slowed down somewhat. I didn’t buy jackfruit, and I didn’t make pulled-anything. Buth this week I’ve started getting posts from people over the pond in the UK about pulled jackfruit, and I thought “If it’s good enough for the Britts I’ll give it a go too.” So, one trip to the international isle of a grocery store later I was ready to cook. I’ve looked at many recipes, from very complicated multi-ingredient ones to “open a jar of BBQ sauce and cook the jackfruit in it” ones, and hummed and haa-ed. I based my attempt on a recipe found at moreveganblog.com, but I tweaked it to make it more husband-friendly. I don’t remember ever eating anything cooked in BBQ sauce, but I do know that my hubby (the fussy eater featured in a previous blog) doesn’t like the taste of it meatballs cooked in it. He doesn’t like anything acidic, or anything which tastes of tomatoes. So I’ve improvised a bit to create something which hopefully resembles BBQ pulled “pork” without being too authentic. Although, as I said, I’ve never had it so I don’t know what it tastes like! Wish me luck!

Husband-Friendly Slow-Cooker Pulled-Jackfruit Bandwagon Recipe

I made this in the slow cooker so that if it didn’t turn out well I hadn’t wasted a lot of time and effort on it! If you prefer, toss it all in a pan and simmer it on the stove for 30 minutes or until tender.

  • 2 20oz cans of jackfruit in brine or water, not in syrup
  • 1/2 meduim onion, cut into thin strips
  • 1 yellow pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp crushed dried red chilies
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp liquid smoke
  • 1 cup vegan stock
  • 1/2 cup BBQ sauce
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • salt to taste (if needed)
  • 4 fresh bread rolls to serve (mine were made with pumpkin so they’re a bit yellow)

Drain and rinse the jackfruit then cut off the hard central core and remove the seeds. Put everything except the salt and bread rolls into a slow cooker, turn it on and leave it for 4-5 hours on high or 7-8 hours on low. Taste and add a little salt if needed. Take the jackfruit out, pull it apart using two forks and return it to the slow cooker for 5 minutes. Serve on sliced fresh bread rolls and hope that the hubby will like it!

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And the verdict is in. He liked it! It reminded him of BBQ ribs (yuk) and previous encounters he’s had with pulled pork. It wasn’t too acidic for him and he went back for seconds! So that’s it – I’m now officially on the pulled-jackfruit bandwagon! And for my next trick….Chinese-style BBQ jackfruit on steamed rice. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Karen 🙂

If you would like to follow my blog (and I really hope you will), look for the small “Follow” icon in the bottom right hand corner of your screen. Or in the toolbar at the top. It’s going to be around somewhere! Click on follow, add your email address, and all my pontifications will appear in your email, without you having to put in any effort at all. You can, of course, unsubscribe at any time.

The Vegan Stoner

As mentioned in a blog last week (you’ve read it, of course) I spent my birthday this year sitting in Jamaica with a drink or two in my hand. It was fabulous 🙂 I sampled a whole load of cocktails I’ve never had before, but since they had names like “Bob Marley” or “Shane’s Special” I have little hope of recreating them at home. Admittedly by midweek I was adding the word “virgin” at the beginning of my requests for a drink (that means “without alcohol” for those of you even less well educated on the matter than me), but I certainly had some flavourful good experiences. I might buy my youngest son a cocktail shaker for his birthday (spoiler alert!) so he can make me something exotic when I go to visit him in Toronto….although he’s a poor student so I might have to take my own ingredients with me. Or maybe I should just buy myself one and get him and his friend Crackers to teach me the art of bartending next time he comes back for a visit…

This is a Bob Marley 🙂

bobMarley (Copy)Alcohol wasn’t the only recreational drug available at the resort in Jamaica, but it was the only legal one. Every now and again a herby aroma wafted over the beach or pool deck, which could usually be traced back to a group of 4 older-than-me Americans chilling out nearby. They were very friendly and chatty, and one was extremely sun burnt. I suspect he’d had a puff or two before putting on his suntan cream and then just forgot about it. The source of their herbal products (taken for medicinal purposes perhaps? I bet that sunburn hurt!) was easy to find (and hard to avoid!). The resort beach was fairly short, and at the end of the beach was a wire fence, through which we could see numerous locals miming smoking and waving at us to go check out their wares.

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If you’re now waiting for a tale of how much weed I bought and how much it cost, I’m afraid you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Yes, I was born in the 60’s (OMG!), and yes, I was a vegan hippy type in the 80’s, but I’ve not really done the drug-and-alcohol-thing. I didn’t have my first alcoholic drink until I was in my 20’s, and my doctor has me labelled as a non-drinker even though I do actually have a drink now and again. Being drunk has never appealed to me (I tried it and really didn’t like it), and the whole “doing drugs” thing just isn’t my cup of tea. I tried weed once, fell asleep and woke up 11 hours later, and haven’t touched the stuff since. “So what’s the point of this stoner blog?” I hear you cry. Read on! All will become clear!

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Shortly after I got home I received a lovely birthday gift from someone who shall remain nameless so that I publicly call him a bit of a stoner. And a bit of a vegan. It’s a book (not written by him) called “The Vegan Stoner Cookbook” by Sarah Cornique and Graham I Haynes. It’s small, it’s simple, and it has lots of hand-drawn cartoon pictures of the ingredients for each recipe – and there’s never of lot of ingredients. It’s full of very simple recipes for “beginners and slackers”, and it made me smile. I’m not a stoner, a beginner or a slacker, but I just LOVE cookbooks 🙂 There are some recipes in there which looked interesting, so I decided to knock up a batch of the fresh baked granola bars and see how it worked out. I’ve tried lots of recipes for such things, and not all of them were successful. Some refused to stick together, others flatly refused to get out of the baking pan and others tasty kinda funky. But these stoner-vegan bars looked fairly simple, and the ingredients had enough sticky stuff to make me believe they just might work. So, I got stoned (joke! it’s a joke!), carefully measured everything out and popped it in the oven.

Fresh Baked Granola Bars
(from “The Vegan Stoner Cookbook” by Sarah Cornique and Graham I Haynes)

  • 1/2 cup peanut butter (I used crunchy)
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup (I used 1/4 cup maple syrup and 1/4 cup molasses)
  • 1/4 cup applesauce
  • 3 cups oats (I used 1 minute oats)
  • 1 cup trail mix (I used a mixture of pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds and chia seeds)

Melt the peanut butter and maple syrup then mix in the applesauce, oats and trail mix. Press into a greased baking pan (mine is square) and bake at 350’F for 30 minutes or until golden.

And the result? Well…….they stuck together AND they came out of my well-greased pan without complaining. They were tasty and crunchy and chewy….and kinda dry. I’ll be crumbling them up and using them as a topping for fruit crisp later on in the week. I think I made a mistake when I just used seeds instead of a trail mix, which usually contains dried fruit. When I make it again I’ll be tossing in some raisins and finely chopped dried almonds, or maybe a chopped fresh date or two.

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The book is a quirky addition to my rather extensive cookbook collection, and I’ll be knocking up some chocolate peanut butter squares next time I have some chocolate in the house. The mochi sandwiches and monkey bread look like they’ll be quick and easy sweet treats for feeding to visitors. There’s also an egg-free quiche which I suspect maybe the subject of a later blog – but I’ll have to find someone to feed it to first. The last time I tried quiche was over 30 years ago so I have no idea what it’s supposed to taste like!

If you’re looking for a gift for a vegan student (regardless of whether or not they’re a stoner) or someone who wants to be vegan but is a bit timid in the kitchen, check out “The Vegan Stoner”. It might be just what they need.

Karen 🙂

A Totally Corny Blog

April in Ottawa. It sucks. Like, really sucks man! Facebook friends (who won’t be friends for much longer if they don’t stop gloating) are sharing recipes for strawberry shortcake using fruit from their local strawberry festival, and picking fresh mangoes off their backyard trees. They’re posting annoyingly perky comments with pictures of salads and chilled soups. Meanwhile, outside my window, the snow falls in gentle, beautiful flakes, (I’m trying to be positive – work with me!) blowing prettily in the wintery air, making my garden look like a fairy tale wonderland. The leafless trees cast slim shadows on the fallen crystals, creating a magical landscape of light and darkness. I sit here at my desk, gazing out at the wondrous scenery, thinking “Why the heck did we move here of all places? Feck, feck, feck.”

For those of you living in sensible locations, let me explain about winters in Canada. The season is divided up into 7 stages as follows:

1. Shock. This takes place in October when the little trick or treaters wear snow suits over their costumes, or have extra-large costumes which they can wear over their snow suits. Yes, we often have snow as a Halloween treat 😦
2. Pain. Get out those snow shovels, and make appointments with the chiropractor, physiotherapist and massage therapist. And, if you slip on the ice and break something, you might want to take a trip to ER while you’ve got your snow suit on.
3. Anger. The season of good will and peace on earth? I don’t think so – especially when the relatives back in England talk about the lovely walk they had after their Christmas dinner. We don’t usually take an after dinner stroll when it’s -35’c with a windchill. Bah humbug.
4. Denial. Friends pack their bags and fly away to Cuba / Jamaica / Mexico / Anywhere-but-here, pretending winter won’t still be happening when they get back. Meanwhile the hubby goes to work when it’s pitch black outside, and comes home in the dark. We might as well live in a cupboard under the stairs with the lights turned off.
5. Depression. Will it never end? There’s no point in doing anything. Taking a bath starts to look like a viable alternative to driving to the pool at the gym. Ottawa holds “Winterlude” with ice sculptures – as if that makes things better!
6. Acceptance.  Winter. Will. Never. End. Might as well get used to it and go skiing once before the hills close after March break.
7. April. Yes, it’s still feckin’ snowing. And then it rains. And then it snows. And I hate everyone who mentions picking fresh strawberries in their garden.

To combat all the happy posts about fresh fruits and salads, I’m sharing what we had for dinner last night. It’s thick and hot and slightly spicy. It’s the kind of food to eat in April in the land of never-ending-winter. But I know that someday, suddenly, summer will arrive. I’ll just have time to go to a “how to make a herb garden” seminar, take a brief trip to Germany, buy a few herbs, then watch them shrivel and die in the frost a few weeks later. Ottawa. Gotta love it.

Corn and Veggie Chowder

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 celery stick, thinly sliced
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 4 cups corn (I used frozen)
  • 5 – 6 small potatoes, cut into 1/2″ pieces (about 2 cups)
  • 3 cups vegan stock
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp crushed dried red chilies (or cayenne powder)
  • 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch mixed to a paste with 3 tbsp water
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced, to garnish

Heat the oil in a large pan and cook the celery, carrot, onion and garlic over a medium high heat for 10 minutes or until soft and lightly browned. Add the corn, potatoes, stock, coconut milk, paprika, chilies, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer gently for 15 – 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Stir in the cornstarch mixture and boil for 5 minutes, stirring, until thickened slightly. Using a hand blender or a countertop blender process half the chowder until smooth. Leave the other half chunky. Serve topped with green onions.

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It’s just what I needed on a cold, snowy April day. And to those of you who live in sunnier climes…I’m trying not to hate you right now 😉

Karen 🙂

If you would like to follow my blog (and I really hope you will), look for the small “Follow” icon in the bottom right hand corner of your screen. Or in the toolbar at the top. It’s going to be around somewhere! Click on follow, add your email address, and all my pontifications will appear in your email, without you having to put in any effort at all. You can, of course, unsubscribe at any time.

Fabulous and Fifty!

Last week there were some blogs missing from my usual Tuesday / Friday schedule. And the reason? I was busy sitting on a beach in Jamaica, drink in hand, turning 50. Fifty. The big Five-Oh. How the heck did that happen? It seems like only yesterday I was in my forties! If I live to be 100, I’m half way there. If I live to be 82 I’ve already lived half of my adult life. If I make it to 73 I’ll have lasted longer than my dad. I’ve already lived 41 years longer than my niece was given. And if I don’t make it to 51 I’ll spend eternity full of gratitude for the time I’ve had, the experiences and adventures I’ve somehow managed to pack in, the amazing kids who popped out of me, grew up and left home, and the amazing quirky man I’ve been married to for half my life. I’m now closer to the end than to the beginning of my life, and that’s OK. They say that with age comes wisdom, but I think it also comes with a greater appreciation for what life can offer us, and what we can offer back. Middle aged is a good place to be.

This is me. These are drinks. Yeah Mon!

jamaica-blog (Copy)  I didn’t enjoy being young. So many worries about trying to fit in, so much pressure to “do well”, so many hormonal ups and downs. Feeling insecure about the way I looked and trying not to show my family how much their stupid nick-names hurt me. Whoever said school days are the best days of your life could not have been more wrong! By the age of 18 I felt I had nothing to offer the world. At the age of 21, and again at 22, I gave serious consideration to opting out in a terminal manner. Depression is a nasty beast. Somehow I stuck with it, and here I am. Fifty years old. Contented. Sitting in front of a laptop, looking at my (ever so slight) suntan, blogging.

This is another drink.

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So what major mysteries of the universe did I unravel during my week of sitting on a beach, drinking cocktails and thinking about life? None at all 🙂 I sat there in my bikini, which is something I would never have worn in my insecure younger, fitter and considerably slimmer days, soaking up the sun (when it bothered to show up). I chatted with strangers – also something my younger self would have shied away from –  and ordered drinks I’ve never had before. Not even torrential rain and a tummy bug (thanks Jamaica!) could dampen my feelings of contentment. It’s been quite an uphill battle getting here, but I’ve finally reached a point where I like myself, I accept my shape, and I really don’t give a flying fig if somebody else has a problem with that. We get one shot at this, and I’ve finally realised that I should make the most of whatever time I have.

Jamaican rain. At least it wasn’t snow!

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Life is precious, and I don’t just mean my life. Or human life. I try to avoid preaching veganism – I’d rather lead by example – but I don’t believe it is necessary, in the culture I live in, to kill an animal in order to eat. I love having the choice to not have “a slab of death” on my plate at mealtimes. This posed a few difficulties in Jamaica at the resort where we stayed – they put meat or seafood in most of the salads – and if it hadn’t been for the made-to-order cheese free veggie pizzas I might have been quite hungry. But for me the choice is an easy one. I’d rather go hungry for a while than eat an animal. I’d rather have limited veggie choices in a resort than eat unlimited meat and seafood. Eating humanely makes me happier than a chicken’s leg ever could. Even if it has jerk spices on it.

Every now and again I see posts about how many animals a year a vegan saves by not eating meat. I find this concept a bit odd to be honest. It’s not as if every few years I get a cow delivered to my door with a note attached saying “Congratulations! You have now saved one cow! Please look after her well.” If that really were the case my backyard would now contain over 6,000 animals, according to the 2008 meat-eating statistics used by the folks at vegetariancalculator.com. It would be fewer based on PETA’s latest 2015 calculations (Americans are now eating a lot less meat but a lot more seafood than they did in 2008), but my yard would still be quite full. It would have:
1,300 shellfish,
1,200 fish,
1,040 chickens,
30 turkeys,
15 pigs
and a mere 3 cows.

Where on earth would I put all those animals??? I’m really not sure my cats would be happy….

But no matter how you calculate it, eating a plant based diet makes me happy. Despite the “lets mock a vegan” phone calls I get every Christmas. Despite the horrified looks I get from waiters in restaurants. Despite the plates of iceberg lettuce which appear in front of me from time to time (oh! the horror of it!). And despite the people who feel they have to ask silly questions like “but don’t you kill bugs when you wash your vegetables?”. And yes, if a mosquito lands on my arm I’ll kill it – just so we’re clear here.

If you’re not already eating a plant-based diet, why not try going meat-free one or two days a week? You never know….you might like it! And maybe, just maybe, one day you’ll find yourself blogging about how good you feel eating a plant based diet…..

Karen 🙂

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Whatever NeXT?

Last week the hubby and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. That’s twenty five years, two kids (both now in Toronto), two countries (goodbye England, hello Canada), two graduate degrees (Masters for him, PhD for me), two college diplomas (both me), 5 houses plus an in-between rental, 5 different places of employment for him, 6 and counting for me (I’m now self-employed), and the start of our adventures to see the world, checking off Alaska, the UK (I LOVE Stonehenge!), Europe, Japan, India and more. We’ve been richer and poorer (mostly the latter, thanks to the kids), had better and worse, and stuck together in sickness and health.  It’s been quite a ride! We’ve both changed a lot in the 27 years we’ve known each other, but somehow, despite the divorce statistics, we’re still married and loving it. And, of course, each other.

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Despite the changes, there are some things which have stayed the same. When our paths first crossed I was vegetarian (I’m now as-vegan-as-I-can-be-in-any-given-situation) and he was an omnivore with vegetarian habits. He introduced me to the best veggie burgers in the world, sold by a food truck up a side street in Nottingham, England. He was happy to have lunch in veggie cafes and eat meat-free meals which I cooked. And now, many years later, he’s still happy to be vegan at home (he’s finishing up a breakfast of marinated tofu on toast as I type) and sometimes, but not always, chooses meat dishes when we eat out. We’ve both always respected the other person’s right to choose what they eat. He never makes fun of my vegan nature, and I never tell him he can’t choose a meat dish. Respect is important in a long-term relationship.

Another thing which has remained the same is that friends and family believe I am hard to feed, while firmly believing that because hubby is an omnivore he’s not a problem at the dinner table. The truth of the matter is the reverse. Give me a meal without animal parts in it and I’m as happy as a clam sitting on a rock. Spicy, mild, fruity, salty, green, red, whatever – I’m grateful and happy. Unless it tastes “cheesy” – there are too many bad memories of internal “upsets” associated with cheesy products! But hubby…..well – that’s a different story. He’s difficult, and quite vocal about it. The first meal I cooked him early in our relationship was sweet and sour tofu. “I don’t like cooked pineapple.” he said.  A friend invited us for dinner shortly afterwards. Hubby looked at his dish. “I don’t like tomato soup” he grumbled as he put down his spoon. I quickly realised that his list of “don’t likes” was extensive. Broccoli, cauliflower, onions-chopped-too-big, tomato chunks, peas, sprouts, cabbage, okra (bhindi), jalapenos, avocados, pears, strawberries and all other berries, cherries, bananas, mangoes, any type of salad dressing, jam, butter and margarine, and that’s just the ones I can remember off the top of my head! He has a great loathing for cooked cheese, mayonnaise, cream sauces and anything cooked in butter., but he loves ice cream and puts milk in his coffee. I’m telling you – I’m not the fussy eater in this relationship!

Eating out has always posed problems for us, but for our anniversary we decided to dress up and go somewhere “nice”. I spent ages googling and asking facebook groups for recommendations, and stumbled upon a place called NeXT about 20 minutes away from our home – on Hazeldean Rd just past Stittsville for you local folks. I’d been told they could do vegan food, but the menu on-line was meat-meat-meat. I phoned up to check and was told that “they often provide meals for vegans and it wouldn’t be a problem.” Great! So on our anniversary hubby and I headed off to NeXT.

Our coats were taken at the door by our waiter for the evening and we were shown to our table by the fireplace in a nicely decorated room with an open-concept kitchen. It’s probably really noisy on a busy night, but mid-week it wasn’t too bad. The waiter brought us the menus and then the fun started. “I phoned ahead to let the restaurant know that I’m vegan. I hope that’s still OK.” The waiter’s face was one of poorly disguised horror. “But our menu – it’s on-line- you can see it’s all meat!” “Yes, that’s why I phoned ahead.” “So you don’t eat no meat, no eggs, no dairy, no nothing?”  I won’t go into details of the conversation which followed, but the poor guy was a bit flustered. He eventually went to talk to the chef, and returned happier. “If you will let our chef chose your dinner for you, he will create a 3 course meal without any meat. Will that be alright?” “Yes, that would be lovely. Thank you.” Huge sighs of relief all round. He turned to Hubby. “And for Sir?”  The husbando placed his order, specifying that he didn’t want any cheese or mayo on his food, and he didn’t like cream sauces or butter. Once again the waiter looked a bit concerned. “You don’t want anything cooked in butter?” “Well, it can be cooked in butter, but it mustn’t taste like it was.” Oh heck.

A shared appetizer of papaya salad arrived, and it was enjoyed by both the vegan and the hard-to-please omnivore. Next I had garlic mushrooms on toast (there’s probably a posh name for it) and hubby had fried fish on small rounds of flatbread. And there, sitting under the fish, was a creamy sauce. Arrrgghhhh! My years of training must have worked on him, because instead of throwing his hands up in horror and sending it back the hubby deconstructed his dish, scraped off the offending mayo, and stuck it all back together. Hurray! Our main courses were fried chicken on rice for him, and udon noodles with mushrooms and eggplant in a miso sauce for me, which was really nice. Our waiter came back, pleased to find that his “difficult vegan customer” was happy and said that if we wanted desserts “the chef would be delighted to create one for me.”  Woo hoo! One fresh fruit, nut and sorbet dessert later I was stuffed.

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As we sat drinking our coffee and tea (they had no soy milk or non-dairy creamer, and I don’t like black coffee) a lady came to check if I had enjoyed my meal. She’s vegetarian and it was important to her that a vegan customer left happy. And was I happy? Yes. The food brought to the table was delicious. But……if a restaurant wants vegan customers, and wants them to have a good experience, why does it have to be such a performance? I felt like I was in the spotlight for most of the evening – the waiter talked to the chef about me (I could see them both looking at me as they discussed my eating habits) and the end-of-meal-interview was a bit uncomfortable. It would have been so much nicer if this high-end restaurant had actually had some vegan-friendly dishes on the menu and non-dairy creamer for coffee. If I hadn’t been told by someone that NeXT was able to do meat-free meals I would never have gone there based on their on-line menu, which almost screams “What do you mean, you don’t eat no meat?” So would I recommend this place to local veg#ns? Well…yes, and no. Was the food good? Yes. Could I chose my own dishes from the menu and ask for them to be made vegan? No. It’s a place full of contradictions – they say they’re happy to feed vegans, and have catered vegan / vegetarian weddings, but they’re not what I would call vegan-friendly.

I would love to hear your stories about eating-out as a vegan. Is it easier in some places than in others? I remember it as being much easier in England than it is here in Ottawa, but maybe things have changed. Do you find that being veg#n automatically labels you as “difficult”? Let me know!

So here I am. Married for 25 years to the same man. Turning 50 any day now. The kids have grown up and left home. It’s just the hubby and me (and a whole bunch of cats). I wonder where life will take us NeXT?

Karen 🙂

If you would like to follow my blog (and I really hope you will), look for the small “Follow” icon in the bottom right hand corner of your screen. Or in the toolbar at the top. It’s going to be around somewhere! Click on follow, add your email address, and all my pontifications will appear in your email, without you having to put in any effort at all. You can, of course, unsubscribe at any time.