Lettuce Eat

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about the massacre of my edible plants by  cute, furry, long-eared,twitchy-nosed, brown eyed gits. I solved the problem, for some of my edibles at least, by locking them away in a rabbit-proof cage next to my herb garden.

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This has proved to be so effective that I’ve become a victim of my own success. I’m drowning in lettuce. Never one to eat a salad by choice when dining out I now have to find creative ways to munch through unbeleafable quantities of the stuff without turning into a rabbit myself. Fortunately my long-suffering other half likes a lettuce leaf or two and isn’t yet rebelling against the greenness of his dinner day after day.

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I admit he raised his eyebrows at my raw garlic mushroom salad arranged in a retro lettuce-lined bowl, but who can complain when it’s been freshly picked? Me, actually – but not about the lettuce. I tried somebody’s recipe for the salad, and it was….unusual. Kinda slimy. Way too much garlic. But the lettuce was good.

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A slightly more creative dinner was chilli wrapped in lettuce leaves served with a steaming bowl of rice.

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Below is my collection of greenery for tonight’s dinner. Curly lettuce, flat-leaf lettuce, a bit of radicchio, some frilly little leaves (yes, I know all the correct names lol) and a random snip or two of french tarragon, lemon thyme, rosemary and chives. “What? No parsley?” I hear you ask. No……not until the ones now hiding in my cage have grown big enough to harvest. My garden ones got severely munched. My next door neighbour has also lost all his parsley, so I’ll give him a pot of mine if the plants do well.

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I’ve made a dressing to go on tonight’s rabbit food, shaking together 2 Tbsp avocado oil, 1 Tbsp lemon juice, 1/4 tsp coarse salt and 1 crushed garlic clove. I mixed in 1 tsp fresh tarragon, 1 tsp lemon thyme, 1 tsp rosemary and a few chives, all finely chopped. No, that’s not the only thing we’re having…I’ll be knocking up a black bean, red pepper, corn, Italian veg-sausage and rice dish (no recipe, I’m currently on strike til I get my book back from my editor) to go with it.

The strange thing about eating all this lettuce is that other people can sense it, and feel the need to add greenery to my meals. On Saturday Alan and I popped downtown to the flea market and decided to grab lunch in a thai restaurant before heading home. “Which dishes can be made vegan?” I asked our server. She thought for a while. “The shrimp and mango salad can be made vegan, and I’ll ask the chef to add some lettuce instead of the shrimp.” I looked at Alan to check I’d heard correctly. He looked amused. “We can make the vegetarian vermicelli vegan by replacing the fish sauce with a peanut one. That dish already has lettuce in it, but we can add more if you like.”  I swear, I’m not making this up! I have a witness who will confirm the offers of more lettuce. I’m still laughing.

Now that my bunny vs lettuce battle has been won  I can turn my attention to other pressing matters. We have bird feeders in the garden, protected by a “squirrel baffler” to stop the feeders from being emptied by our resident long-tailed fluffy rodents within an hour of being filled. The baffler is a hollow tube which is too wide for a squirrel to hold on to, and blocked off at the top to stop them from climbing up inside. It worked great last year, but this year we have a huge black squirrel who refuses to be baffled. I don’t know how she does it, but she’s emptying our bird feeders at an amazing rate, tossing seeds down to her baffled family and while sitting on top of the squirrel-proof tube to eat her own lunch.

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I’m not sure how we’re going to fix this problem, especially since I can’t put the feeders inside a cage, but she’s emptying them daily so something has to be done. Perhaps I could bribe her with some lettuce?

I’ve just looked out of the window and there’s a groundhog munching on the dandelions in my lawn. I hope she doesn’t like sweet things – I’ve just planted some stevia in the garden. I’ll keep you posted!

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Karen 🙂


Curried Out.

In 2014 (yes, it really was that long ago) Alan and I made a once-in-a-lifetime trip to India, travelling around Rajasthan and also calling in at the Taj Mahal and Delhi. It wasn’t “once in a lifetime” because it was expensive and luxurious with palatial suites in grand hotels and gourmet food coated in edible gold leaf (it wasn’t any of these things) but rather because we’re never going back. Like, never. Ask me in 20 years if I’d like to go to southern India and I might, possibly, say “maybe” but as far as Alan is concerned visiting India once is quite enough.

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We’re both glad we went, but…..the smog, dirt and open sewers were pretty much as expected, but being hounded at every step by locals wanting a photo with us or touts selling fridge magnets all became a bit too much after a while. At the Taj Mahal we were harassed so much that a security guard intervened and told people to leave us alone. So much for peace, tranquility and romance!

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If you’re curious, you can read all about our travels in Tall Travel Tales – India. Delhi, Agra, Rajasthan and Rats, available in both paperback and e-book versions. Check out artandsoulinteriors.com for details on where to buy it 🙂

Given that many moons have passed since our return (we’ve been to Jamaica, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and made a return trip to Japan since then) why am I bringing it up now? Curries. That’s why. Curries, curries and more bleedin’ curries. If I see one more spiced lentil / bean / faux meat / tofu / tempeh / seitan / nut  / vegetable I’m likely to do someone an injury. It was all fine and dandy eating curries for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks while in India, but here in Canada I’ve become aware that sometimes Alan and I smell a bit too spicy for comfort. Fortunately I go swimming in a chlorinated pool most days so that helps to disguise the aroma of cumin being emitted by my pores.

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Why am I eating so many curries? Since returning from India I’ve been working, seemingly night and day, on my latest cookbook – HELP! There’s a VEGAN Coming for Dinner – Indian Style. Cooking, tasting, modifying, re-cooking, force-feeding taste-testers with, writing about and photographing curries. I offer my sincerest thanks to my taste-testers without whom I wouldn’t be where I am today.

And where am I? Done. That’s where I am. Done. Almost. Sort of. I’ve drop-boxed the book to my editor for a second time, and hopefully this time there will be more “I like this photo” comments and fewer “did you really add this amount?” “missing ingredient” and “perhaps you should explain what this is in the pantry-items section” comments. Oh….damn……I’ve just realised I forgot to put the page numbers on the contents page. That will earn me a sarcastic comment or two lol.

So, given that the book is off my desk for now at least, what are we having for dinner tonight? Well…..actually we’re having naan bread, tandoori faux chicken and fried spiced vegetable rice.

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I know, I know, but I wanted to do one final check of those recipes before hanging up my spice tin for a while. Besides, I’ve harvested a load of lettuce from my rabbit-proof cage and it will make a nice bed for the tandoori faux chicken. And tomorrow? I’m mulling over the idea of roasted tomato soup with red lentils and tarragon, fresh hot-from-the-oven bread with a marinated mushroom, garlic and parsley salad and fresh corn. I’m drooling on my keyboard. 🙂

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Scratch the parsley in the mushroom salad. I just popped out to the herb garden and the rascally rabbit has eaten it.

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Karen 🙂


Can You Spot the Fish?

Last week I told the happy, if not 100% successful as it turned out, tale of my vegan munch-fest in Toronto, Canada. This week you get to join me on a brief flash-back tour of Japan, from where Alan and I recently returned. It’s quite a different story!

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I’ve been to Japan before and am aware that they seem to have an obsession with dashi – a traditional stock made from dried bonito or sardines along with seaweed. At home I make this without the fish, but in Japan it’s fishy, it’s popular, and it’s in just about everything. I made the choice to ignore the presence of dashi in my food in favour of eating in restaurants while in Japan, especially since I wanted to eat Japanese food rather than spend my holiday dragging Alan to out-of-the-way vegan restaurants serving raw food, Indian curries, or macrobiotic vegan dishes. Happy Cow (as great resource if you’re looking for vegan places to eat) lists about 10 vegan / vegetarian places to eat in the huge city of Osaka, none of which serve Japanese food or happened to be close to where Alan and I found ourselves at mealtimes. Some of the cities we visited had no listings at all. Fortunately I like the challenge of trying to find something to eat wherever we are at mealtimes rather than planning my day around the location of veggie restaurants anyway.

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So, having decided to ignore the dashi it should have been easy for me to eat like an almost-vegan in Japan, right? Wrong. Here’s a little test to get you started. This is a breakfast tray I put together in Okayama for the sake of a photo. No, I didn’t eat all the items on it. Can you spot the fish? I’ll give you a hint – it’s not in the small covered pot. That contains natto (fermented, sticky soybeans), which is a bit of an acquired taste. As a second challenge, can you the dashi-free foods?

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The fish are the small dark brown things in the white dish next to the rice. The rice, pickled radish (yellow), natto, chilled tofu and white slimy yuka puree (top left) are vegan. Probably. 

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Our first day in Japan was spent in Osaka, where we were lucky enough to arrive on the opening day of the cherry blossom viewing at the mint. We, along with “a few” other people , were treated to a spectacular show put on by the various types of cherry blossom trees. It was really beautiful (in an very crowded, hot, sweaty kind of way).

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We emerged from the viewing area and headed down to the market stalls by the river looking for something to eat. To my delight one (and only one) of the stalls had tofu, konnyaku and vegetables simmering away in stock (probably dashi), served with a blob of mustard. I’m not saying it was tasty (it wasn’t), and I’m not saying it was good (I didn’t eat the flavourless, glutinous, squidgy konnyaku), but it was the only almost-vegan food around so I was grateful.

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We were surrounded by stalls selling meat or seafood on BBQ grills or being steamed in large pots, but I was still a bit surprised when we came across a stall with a shallow tank containing small, live, goldfish. What appeared to be serving bowls sat next to the tank with a list of prices. “Do you eat these?” I asked the guy manning the stall. He looked at me in astonishment then began to laugh. And laugh and laugh. I know my Japanese is bad, but I didn’t think it was that bad. He wiped tears from his eyes before replying. “No, we don’t eat these. It’s a game for the children. They try to catch the lucky fish.” He’s probably still telling his friends about the hilarious foreign woman who thought his goldfish were food, and laughing every time.

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But, really, why weren’t they food? I’ve lost count of the number of fishy meals I had in Japan after specifically ordering something with no meat and no fish. Chilled tofu with ginger, coated in a thick layer of shaved bonito. Vegetarian noodle soups with a pile of shaved dried fish sitting in the middle. A “romantically lit” restaurant in Kyoto served me a vegetarian meal of tofu, salad and rice. It wasn’t until I ate a mouthful that I discovered the tiny white fish coating the surface of the rice. Oh for goodness sake! Fortunately I’ve mastered the art of spitting food into a tissue.

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It wasn’t all fishy doom and gloom however. On Mount Shosha, where parts of the Tom Cruise movie “the Last Samurai” were filmed, I had a very seaweedy vegan soup, which was lovely. As a bonus Alan might have visited the very same toilet at the top of the mountain which Tom Cruise himself used! It even had a heated seat! Although, as some party-pooper pointed out, Tom probably had his own trailer and never used the public washroom.

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In Okayama we found a cafe serving Japanese style curry suitable for vegetarians! It was fabulous. So much so that when we found a restaurant by the same chain in Takamatsu we went in for dinner. I ordered the exact same curry, but when it came it looked…different. I poked it with my chopstick. “Is this meat?” I asked the server. “Yes, of course” she replied. I showed her the menu. “But I ordered this one. This is vegetarian?” “Yes.” she answered. “But this is meat?” I poked it again. “Yes.” she replied. “But I’m vegetarian. I don’t eat meat.” At last she understood the problem. “Ah. I’ll get the chef.” He came over and looked at the dish. “Shall I make you the vegetarian one without the meat?” “Yes please. Thank you.” And when it came, it was fabulous.

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I learned from this experience, and when I saw a restaurant in Osaka advertising a 12-vegetable curry I asked the server if it contained meat before heading to a table. “It’s vegetarian” she said. “It has 12 vegetables. It’s very good.” “But does it contain meat?” I asked. “Yes, of course.” she replied. We headed back into the rainy streets of the Dotonburi area where I had vegetables on a stick. With no fish. Although, in retrospect, there might have been both dashi and egg in the batter.

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がんばりました. Hey ho. I tried. 私は試した. 

Karen 🙂




Does my Butt Look Big in This?

I’m writing this in sunny Toronto (pronounced trono if you’re linguistically lazy), where I’ve watched my younger son graduate from university with a specialisation in psychology and a minor in biology. As you can see from the photo, he’s matured significantly as a result of spending the last four years surrounded by academics. He makes his parents very proud.

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Hubby and I are staying in our favourite B&B place, which in reality is just the bed without the breakfast. We have access to a shared kitchen, allowing me to bring my own food for breakfast and circumventing the sometimes frustrating B&B conversations about what I do or do not eat, ending up with a bowl of fruit (if I’m lucky). I like to start my day with almond milk on home-made granola so damn healthy it almost makes me want to wear yoga pants or go for a jolly good jog. Almost. I actually only wear yoga pants when I do yoga, which doesn’t happen often, and jogging is something which happens to other people. Alan is happy here too, cooking his oatmeal in the microwave and putting veggie-bacon on his toast just like he does at home.

Yesterday we shared the breakfast table with two Germans, who looked as bewildered by our breakfasts as we were by theirs. Pickled onions, olives, stinky cheeses, thinly sliced meaty things and brick-like bread, served with multiple cups of thick black coffee. A Danish lady has just moved in upstairs, and judging from the contents of the fridge she’ll be having strawberries and cream cheese on bagels for breakfast tomorrow. Different people like different things.

I’ve been on a bit of a mission here in Trono, going to different types of eateries and trying to answer a question people have been asking me. “Now that veganism is becoming trendy is it easier to find restaurants which serve vegan food?” Is being vegan becoming trendy? It would be nice to think so, and I obviously hope that not eating animals will become much more mainstream, but time will tell. At a writers’ workshop recently someone said “Isn’t it great that it’s still socially acceptable to make fun of vegans, now that we can’t tease people because of their race or religion?” What????????? I’m not sure what kind of look I gave her, but I probably looked pretty stunned. Vegans have feelings too.

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No, her comments didn’t drive me to drink. I just needed a spot to insert a photo of some rather…unusual…cocktails hubby and I had recently.

Anyhow, back to the plot. Is it getting easier to eat out as a vegan? In a big city like Toronto, yes it is. I started my munch-fest at a random Vietnamese restaurant at the bidding of a young lady standing on the street waving the menu at passers-by. “I’m vegan” I said. “No problem!” she replied, so hubby and I went in. She took the waitress aside and spoke to her before going back outside to drum up more trade. The waitress came over. “You need meals with no animal in it? Try this…or this….or this…” We selected ma po tofu (with no meat) and soy sauce eggplant, peppers and potatoes along with steamed rice. It was inexpensive, and it was excellent. Well that was easy!

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For dinner I decided to try something more up-market, reserving a table at the R&D restaurant co-owned by one of the winners Masterchef Canada. He works as a sous-chef in the kitchen of this trendy, bustling eatery so I was expecting great things. I made a note on the reservation form that I was vegan, and mentioned it again when we were seated. “Not a problem” I was assured. There wasn’t much on the menu which could be veganised, but I started my meal with brussel sprouts in black bean sauce, minus the Chinese sausage. It was a bit unusual, but I ate enough of it to give myself a nasty case of gas, which is a recommendation of sorts. I followed it up with the bimibap rice bowl, minus the egg, topped with fresh tofu instead of tofu which had been deep fried in the same oil as chicken. Well done to the wait-staff for being aware of that.  The bimibap was nice enough, but not something to write home about. But the point is, it was an expensive, trendy restaurant and I had a stress-free vegan meal there.

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Lunch the following day was at Ryus ramen house, which was recommended to me by someone in the Toronto vegetarian association. It was easy to get something to eat – there were vegan options sitting right there in the menu. Hurray! One bowl of ramen in shitake broth topped with veggies and tofu later I was happy and full. It looked so good that my omnivorous lunch date ordered the same and declared it to be good, although he would have liked some seaweed in it.

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(Edit – I’ve just been informed by someone else in the Toronto veg group that these noodles might contain powdered egg! I’ve contacted the restaurant and they do indeed contain egg. Obviously I should have asked while I was there 😦 Sometimes when something looks too good to be true it actually isn’t true at all.)

Dinner was a family affair at a place called Hogtown Vegan. Between us we demolished not-chicken-wings (sorry – I was a bit too late taking the photo, but they were delicious), burgers, fries with mushroom gravy, pulled not-pork, not-beef stew, gluten-free mac n’ cheese, ice cream cookies and deep fried oreos. Yes, it sucks to be vegan lol.

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Lunch today was a mango bubble tea to give my body some time off before the next onslaught. This came in the form of delicious food at a place called Vegetarian Haven which, despite the name, is a 100% vegan restaurant. As we were seated I heard the guy at the next table talking to the waitress. “I only came here because my girlfriend (who was in the washroom at the time) is vegan and she wanted to come. I can’t believe how good the food was! I’m going to come back and try some of the other dishes. It was just…well….really good….!” And was it good? Damn right it was! My dinning partner for the evening is gluten free, but he was more than happy with the choices he had on the menu. We settled for a bowl of tomato and veg soup, faux shrimp and mushroom tempura (which was so good I have to admit we ordered a second one), veggie California rolls (meh) and the chef’s special of sweet potato stuffed tofu skins with rice noodles and a broccoli salad. I didn’t eat my salad. Afterwards we shared a slice of amazing blueberry cheesecake (yes, it was both vegan and gluten free) then wobbled off on our separate ways feeling very satisfied.

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So, all-in-all, this was a very successful adventure. Cheap, expensive, Vietnamese, ramen, comfort food, gluten free dishes….. I was made to feel comfortable in all the places I ate regardless of whether they were exclusively vegan restaurants or ones which served meat dishes, and I was able to have tasty vegan food in all of them. Happy days.

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Actually, that’s not quite true. I also visited a place called Kupfert and Kim, and I wasn’t at all comfortable or happy. But not because I’m vegan. This meatless, wheatless café serves salad bowls, minimally processed foods, smoothies and healthy gluten free vegan treats, but….it’s not the most comfortable place for curvy middle aged women with wide hips. The chairs were built for people who eat a lot of salad. And, judging from the other diners, wear yoga pants to dinner. Two strikes and I’m out. As I lowered myself into the chair I had to ask hubby the time-honoured question “Does my butt look big in this?” I know that in some cultures the answer “yes” is a compliment, and in others “no” is the socially acceptable reply, but in Kupfert and Kim’s there was no questioning it. My butt looked big.

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I was afraid that when I stood up to leave I would be stuck in the chair and Alan would have to pull it off my behind, to loud laughter from the audience. So I ate my (tasty) buckwheat waffles sitting sideways on the edge of my seat to prevent my wide child-bearing hips from wedging themselves in between the bars. Unless I lose a ton of weight (which I don’t need to or want to) or my hip bones magically shrink, I won’t be going back there. Not all vegans are slim, salad-eating, yoga-pant-wearing young people who actually go for jogs. I’ll stick to places where I “fit in” both metaphorically and literally lol.

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But what’s the moral of today’s story? It’s that vegan food can be totally yummy, and it looks like more restaurants, in Toronto at least, are realising that there’s a market for it. And that’s a good thing for the planet, for the animals and, of course, for me. Why not see what delicious non-animal meals your local restaurants are serving?

I loved the ease with which I could dine in Toronto, especially after my recent experiences in Japan. Tune in next week to find out what happened when I said “ベジタリアン です。魚 や 肉 が 食べません.” in Kyoto, Takamatsu, Kotohira, Himeji and other places. But I’m warning you – there was something a bit fishy going on.

Karen 🙂