Tales from my Doorstep

I’d like to take a brief moment to wish my fellow Canadians a belated Happy Canada Day (did you see the photos of our PM in the Toronto Gay Pride parade? He’s been going for years, but this was his first attendance as prime minister), those in the US a belated Happy 4th of July, and those in the UK….well…I’m not quite sure what to say. Congratulations of your Brexit vote? Maybe not….

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I spent Canada Day sitting at home with my beloved and the cats, doing very little. Any thoughts of heading out to see bands or fireworks were thoroughly dampened by the weather even though Mother Nature gave us a nice thunderstorm in lieu of fireworks. It was actually really nice to be home and not working. No laptop, no writing, no research…just chillin’

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Lazing around the house on Canada Day was a nice change from the everyday, even though I work from home. Most days find me slaving away either at my desk or in the kitchen, aided and abetted by my tech-savy cats.  Laundry, cleaning bathrooms, gardening and other mundane tasks are not sufficient to tempt me away from my desk – that’s what weekends and evenings are for. Phone calls (I have call display and an answer machine) probably won’t get answered except for some friends, my hubby or my kids. I love email and facebook messenger, both of which allow me to “chat” without either leaving my desk or having to actually have a conversation. And yes, I prefer to text rather than phone.

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The doorbell, however, is quite tantalising and can, on occasion, lure me away from my keyboard. Not every time mind you. If I’m not expecting anyone, haven’t ordered anything from Amazon, or it’s driveway-sealing-promo-season I’m less likely to budge. But sometimes that unexpected ding-dong (or a firm rap on the door) piques my interest. I’ve met some very interesting people on my front porch. Biggles usually checks them out through the window to make sure they’re OK.

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I think the most surprising porch-encounter happened during the last local election. The doorbell rang while I was washing strawberries, and since I had already left my desk to attend to this task I wandered over to the door to see who wanted to enliven my day. It was somebody from the Green Party – the only political figure who bothered to come a-calling. He told me something about his party’s manifesto and asked me if I was concerned about the environment. “Yes” I replied “I’m a vegan, so I’m well aware of the damage factory farming is doing to the environment.” His face contorted a little. “You’re a vegan???” “Yes” I smiled. “And you?” He looked around for inspiration and found none. “I can see you’re very busy” he stammered “So I’ll leave you to whatever you have to do. I hope we have your vote.” and with that, he fled over the lawn to find a safer place to canvas. I don’t know why the thought of talking to a harmless lettuce-eating veg-head would cause him to flee, and I returned to washing my strawberries feeling bewildered. Yes, I’m vegan…but I’m quite nice when you get to know me.

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A more amusing episode played out last week when a tall, muscular young man knocked on the door. He was holding a clipboard towards his chest and he gave me a big, confident smile. “Hi” he started “I’m Pat (made-up name to protect the innocent) and I’m doing your neighbour across the road.” I couldn’t help laughing out loud. “You’re doing my neighbour?” He nodded his confirmation. “Would you like me to do you too while I’m in the neighbourhood?”  I was trying not to snort at this point and I looked at him closely to see if he was being deliberately funny. Nope. No trace of humour intended. I took a deep breath to keep my voice steady. “I can’t see your clipboard. What exactly are you doing with my neighbour?” Realisation dawned on him and he showed me his clipboard, uncovering the badge on his t-shirt as he did so. “I’m from a lawn company. I’m doing her lawn.” He looked a bit flustered as he turned to look at my grass. “Er….do you do your own lawn maintenance?” We both looked at my lawn in silence for a while, and there was no point in denying the obvious truth. “Let’s just say that I do my own maintenance, but I  haven’t done any recently.” The 39’c days and lack of rain had taken their toll on my grass, and my reluctance to stand there with a hose pipe showed. Pat offered to maintain my lawn for me, for “a reasonable rate.” “I’m sorry” I said “but I’m really cheap. I can’t pay someone to do something I should be doing myself.” He asked if I’m Scottish. Some of his relatives are Scottish and they’re really cheap too “which makes me part Scottish” he continued “and I wouldn’t pay for someone to do my lawn either.” We both shrugged at the irony of his summer job before he set off to see if the Carolyn next door wanted “doing”.

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A couple of days ago I was tempted away from my desk by banging on the door near getting-up-to-make-dinner-time. A man from Disabled Veterans Support Canada was there, doing their yearly door-to-door campaign. We chatted for a while about the charity – they’ve increased funding for the suicide prevention phone line – and as he handed me a receipt he asked if I studied reiki. I shook my head. For those who, like me, have little idea of what reiki is (I’ve googled it now), it’s a Japanese relaxation and healing system which “channels life force energy.” He enthusiastically told me that he thought I studied reiki because I’m “obviously very grounded and spiritually open, and positive life force energy is flowing into me through wide paths”. I said nothing, wanting to neither encourage nor discourage him. He wanted to know what my secret is to being so grounded. I had to say something. “I’m vegan.” He smiled and said “That must be what it is. It’s very important to be in tune with what you eat and how you live.” “So you’re also a vegan?” I asked, thinking it was a fair question at this point. No. He’s trying to give up red meat, but he still eats fish and chickens and pigs. “It’s a good place to start” I told him. “Perhaps next year when you come back you’ll tell me you no longer eat any animals.” “I think you’re right” he replied. “I can see that happening. I thought I would always want to eat meat, but now I can see that giving it up would be the better way. It’s important to follow the positive paths we encounter in our life’s journey. Thank you.” And once this soap-opera-worthy speech had been delivered off he went, hopefully travelling not only towards my neighbour’s porch but also towards a greater connection to his food and a healthy, guilt-free, positive-energy diet.

By the following morning the “positive energy flowing into me” must have run out. I walked into the shower door. I ran over my foot with my office chair (don’t ask). The electronic doors at Canadian Tire wouldn’t open for me. A car nearly reversed into my (big shiny bright red) RAV4. The electronic measuring machine at the optometrists wouldn’t save my data. My environmentally-friendly water bottle flipped its lid and drenched my gym bag. My (thankfully almost empty) shampoo bottle leaked in my gym-bathroom-bag. My perfectly-ripe-avocado was black and soggy inside. My new spiralizer (hopefully more about that next week) arrived with the handle broken off and has to go back. I stepped on an unexpected pile of cat poop in the middle of my dark brown rug. And as for the blue hair dye debacle…..let’s not even go there!!!!! Poor Sparta finds all this negative energy quite exhausting.

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Life is strange. One day might be full of sunshine while the next one has more cat poo than one would like. But we’re always moving into the future, making choices as we go. Some, such as dropping the meat or eating more veggies, are good choices. Some (especially those involving blue dye) are perhaps not so good. But we’re all on a journey of some kind. If your journey brings you to my front porch feel free to ring the bell. You never know, I might actually answer the door. And if  you want to do a little free lawn maintenance while you wait, I won’t object…

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 🙂

 

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 🙂

The Herb Hunter

When winter finally fled from Ottawa a couple of months ago I braved the great outdoors and planted a herb garden (an herb garden for the purists out there), dotting tiny plants around the place and hoping they wouldn’t die. All I had to do was get one serving of herbs from each plant and they would have paid their way for the year. To my delight they’ve all grown beautifully, with the exception of one thyme which I really need to dig up and move to somewhere else. It’s too close to the drip-water-hose-thing and would prefer to be somewhere drier.Tomorrow. Or tomorrow’s tomorrow. I hate gardening. Maybe in the fall. It’s not dead yet.

I had romantically imagined myself skipping out to my herb garden, skirts wafting in the gentle summer breeze, wicker basket in hand, whenever the mood took me. I’d stop and smell the lavender and nip flower buds on some of the herbs before they bloomed. The weather would be pleasantly warm and I’d spend time sit among the plants reading a book while sipping on some hot lemon balm tea.

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What I’d neglected to take into account were the scorchingly hot Ottawa summer and the native wildlife, which combined to shatter my idealistic dreams. Mosquitoes shelter from the blazing sun in the herb garden, hiding under leaves and sitting on the mulch, waiting for an idle gardener to pass by. They’re a cross between an elephant and a stealth bomber – huge but silent and deadly. A quick run to grab some fresh leaves always left me covered in bites….until I discovered my secret weapon. Herb hunting camouflage clothing. It’s neither pretty nor romantic, but it keeps those blood suckers at bay while I snip a few leaves here and there. I laugh in their faces while they try to bite mine. I’m even hoping to take a trip down to the states to buy some mosquito spray for my clothes, which kills blood suckers when they land on it. No, it’s not very vegan of me, but I have my limits, and it will stop them hitching a ride into the house on the back of my bug jacket. Yesterday’s stow-away bit me four time last night while I sat minding my own business on the sofa. Git.

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Today’s herb-hunting netted me a fine catch. Curly parsley, lemon thyme, lemon balm, chives, chamomile (I’ll be making chamomile tea later), greek oregano, spicy oregano and marjoram. Some of these will end up in a herby lentil soup for dinner tomorrow, served with mushrooms in filo pastry.

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The parsley and mint (I had to go on a second hunt to grab my mints – spearmint and peppermint) have been added to bulgar wheat to make tabbouleh. I’ll be munching on this when I get back from dance class, along with some home-made hummus, olives, pita bread and some falafels which I picked up at the local grocery store. The air conditioning is turned on, but it’s too hot to think about cooking anyway. I might not like gardening, but I certainly enjoy eating the results 🙂

Karen

Herb-Hunting Tabbouleh

  • 1/2 cup medium grain bulghar wheat, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes then drained well
  • 1/2 cup bulghar wheat, unsoaked
  • 8 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 large bunch of parsley, about 1 cup, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 6 green onions, finely chopped
  • 4 tbsp oil – I like to use avocado oil, but olive oil would be fine too
  • 4 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper

Mix everything together, cover and pop it into the fridge for at least half an hour to let the flavours mingle before eating.

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Aquafabalous!

This week, after many months of deliberating and skeptically monitoring the activity in the Facebook group “Vegan Meringue – Hits and Misses” I decided to lose my Aquafaba virginity and try making an egg-free meringue. “Can’t be done” I hear you cry. “Aqua what?” you ask. “She’s finally gone bonkers” you say, shaking your head. “It can’t be done.” But wait! It CAN be done. Meringues without eggs, made with the water from a can of chickpeas (yes, that says “a can of chickpeas”) otherwise known as aquafaba. This protein-filled liquid can be whipped up in the same way as egg whites, with surprisingly delicious results.

Before you throw your hands in the air and call me a genius, let me be clear about this. The discovery of this weird and wacky way to use the liquid from a can of chickpeas was not my own. I’ve made other discoveries of considerably less worth during my time on this planet, but I would never, ever, have thought of saving bean-juice and whipping it up with some sugar with the intention of eating it. According to the official website at http://aquafaba.com/ the idea seems to have originated with a french gentleman called Joël Roessel, who “discovered through a systematic investigation into vegetable foams, that liquid from cooked chickpeas and hearts of palm can be whipped into a foam in the same way as flax mucilage. He tested the foam by making a vegan meringue and other desserts, and anonymously shared the results on his blog at revolutionvegetale.com.” This was followed independently by a video called Le Défi FUDA chickpea challenge, released in a few months after Joël’s discovery, in which they whipped chickpea liquid into a foam and added chocolate ganache. Over in the USA a chap called Goose Wohlt  was inspired by the French video and found that a stable vegan meringue could be made if the correct techniques were used. He shared his ideas in the Facebook group “What fat vegans eat”, and as a result the group Vegan Meringues – Hits and Misses! was created. And that’s where I come into the picture 🙂 I’ve been watching creative people whipping up edible treats from aquafaba, my eyebrows raised in disbelief, until the day arrived when I said “I’ve really got to try that!”

Chickpeas are eaten regularly in my home, so finding some aquafaba didn’t pose any problems. I searched recipes, tips and tricks, asked questions in the vegan meringue group, and when I thought I had all the conflicting advice I needed I put on my apron and headed off to the kitchen with an air of grim determination. Vegan meringue, here I come!

In my quest for information one thing aquafaba lovers all agreed on was that the bowl, measuring cup and whisk should all be squeaky clean with no traces of fat – wiping them down with vinegar on a piece of kitchen paper was recommended. Chilling the aquafaba also popped up in discussions frequently. But as for the actual how to make a meringue part – that was tricky. Add the sugar at the beginning. No, fold it in at the end. Add it in small amounts during the whipping. Use granulated sugar straight from the bag. Put your sugar in your food processor before using it. Use 1 cup of sugar. 1/4 cup of sugar. The same amount of sugar as aquafaba. Bake at 250’F. Bake at 195’F. Oh boy – I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the time I got out my whip. Whisk. I mean whisk. My electric hand whisk. Don’t try doing this unaided by the power of electricity…you’ll be there for weeks whipping away.

So, this is what I did. It might not be the best way. It might not be the right way. But the meringues were light and crispy, and broke with a sharp “crack” when I wanted to look inside.

Aquafaba Ultra-simple Meringues

Chickpea liquid from 1 can, about ¾ cup, chilled in a very clean mixing bowl
1 cup white sugar (look for a vegan brand such as Redpath)
An electric hand whisk or stand beater

Line 3 baking trays with parchment paper and heat the oven to 250’F / 130’C / Gas Mark ½. Take the chickpea water out of the fridge and start to beat, slowly adding the sugar in small quantities. Continue to beat for 15 – 20 minutes or until the mixture forms stiff peaks. Scoop the meringue and place the mounds on the baking sheets. and put in the oven for 90 minutes. Don’t open the oven door unless you really have to. When cooked the meringues should be hard to the touch. Let them sit for 10 minutes before serving. They’ll keep for up to 3 days in a tightly sealed container.

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So there you have it. This is only the beginning of my aquafaba journey, and I think it’s going to be a fun one. Why don’t you join me? Have a delicious chickpea curry for dinner and follow it with a meringue or two for a wonderful animal-cruelty-free dinner. It will be aquafabalous 🙂

Karen.

India: Coconut Chutney Challenge

Coconut Chutney, New Delhi Hotel Style

The best coconut chutney I’ve ever had was in our hotel in New Delhi. Perhaps it was because I was jet-lagged, or perhaps I was just happy to have some “real” food after traveling for over 30 hours, but the coconut chutney I ate with my first breakfast in India made an impression on my taste buds. Upon my return to Canada I was determined to re-create it and, after a lot of trial and error, I think this is it! Plain and simple. White and delicious, even though I have to make it with desiccated coconut rather than the grated fresh coconuts found in Delhi.

To get the maximum level of enjoyment from this chutney I recommend that you go on a long journey involving 3 flights and 8 hours in Frankfurt airport, then cover yourself with a thin layer of dust, deeply inhale some smog, have a cold shower and eat this with freshly steamed idli or dosa.

  • 1 tbsp split, skinned urad dhal (it should look white, not black)
  • 1 ½ cups grated fresh or desiccated coconut
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ½ tsp mustard seeds
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 – 1½ cups water, as needed

Preparation time: 5 minutes. Cooking time: 10 minutes. Makes about 1 cup. Best eaten on the day it’s prepared, but can be kept overnight in the fridge.

  1. Cook the urad dhal in a small frying pan over a medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes or until very lightly browned. Transfer to a small blender.
  2. Put the coconut oil in the pan over a medium heat and add the coconut, ginger, garlic, mustard seeds and salt. Stir for 1-2 minutes or until the coconut is warm and just a few pieces are slightly browned. Transfer to the blender.
  3. Add the water and process until well mixed but not completely smooth.

When Vegans Go Bad

A few weeks ago I saw a blog posted by someone who used to be vegan but has gone back to eating animals. I’m not going to mention her by name – she’s had way too much attention already – but she’s not the first person to make big announcements about her dietary flip, and she won’t be the last. It happens every day. Vegans start eating meat, omnivores stop eating meat, dairy and eggs. Hollywood superstars start a raw diet. Fred down the road goes paleo. Mary turns to the Atkins diet. Sandra gets her stomach stapled and lives on a liquid diet. A bunch of firefighters start eating a plant-based diet. People changing diets is nothing new. So why is there sometimes a big flurry on social media when someone who made a name for themselves by “being vegan” eats meat? Does it mean there is something wrong with the premise of an animal-free diet? Or that vegans everywhere should follow suit “for health reasons”? No. Of course not. Being vegan, when done sensibly, is a healthy way to live.

So why am I blogging about this topic? Honestly, it’s because some of the things I read in the ex-vegan’s blog made me laugh out loud – and I’m not just referring to her “Learn How to Attract Money and Miracles into Your Life Now” scheme. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not criticizing the lady for changing her diet – everyone has the right to make their own choices – but some of her reasoning made me wonder about her motives in doing this so publicly. And with so much anger. She refers to vegans as “dumb” and “brainwashed”. But honestly, this is coming from a woman who ate food she bought for her cats! Yes, it was cans of tuna, not Friskies or Wiskas, but really? She was so desperate for animal products that she ate her cat’s dinner? And even omnivores should be wincing when she describes eating a rare cheeseburger, ignoring the potential for food poisoning from ground, undercooked meat.

But the bit in her blog that really made me sit up and question her reasoning was this:

It is abundantly clear that it is NOT POSSIBLE for most humans to get the nutrition they need on a strict vegan diet. …Because even the most well-informed nutritionists have no idea about the unknown factors … what we don’t even understand yet about how combinations of nutrients lead to optimal performance in human beings.” What on earth is she talking about? Even the most well-informed nutritionists have no idea about the unknown factors? Er….OK. Whatever. But even more remarkable was this statement: ” There may be a few people on this planet who can maintain optimal health long-term on a vegan diet….And I am willing to bet a lot of money those people who can maintain optimal health on a vegan diet are few and far between.

Now here’s the thing. In America alone there are 7.3 million people following a vegetarian-based diet. Approximately 1 million of those are vegans. In addition 22.8 million people in the U.S. say they largely follow a vegetarian-inclined diet. That’s a lot of people.  http://www.vegetariantimes.com/article/vegetarianism-in-america/. I belong to a few vegan groups on social media, which have 8,000 members between them. There are lots of other vegan groups around, but I have a limited amount of time available for social media things. I started to wonder if, unknown to me, all the other vegans in these groups were taking the 25 or so supplements the angry ex-vegan-blogger had been taking, so I asked them. And the result? Most of us take B-12. Some take plant-based iron supplements. North Americans sometimes take vitamin D. A few people with special requirements due to ongoing non-vegan-related health issues take other supplements. But no-one who replied to my question was a pill-popping junkie. I know this proves nothing, but  it just shows that happy, healthy vegans exist.

Given that there are a million vegans in the U.S, why are the headlines not filled with articles such as “Vegan runners pass out at the start of the Boston Marathon due to lack of protein.” “Vegan mountain climber stops after 1 meter due to lack of energy.” “Brain-fog causes vegan bus drivers to get lost” ? There are many happy, healthy, not-famous, not angry, not pill-popping vegans quietly eating plant-based diets and living normal lives. We’re the ones who won’t be in the headlines or making our fame and fortune on social media.  We’re writers, home-makers, marathon runners, lawyers, dentists, sales associates, doctors, body builders, TV watchers, engineers, dancers, teachers, office workers ……. normal people going about our normal lives, without eating animals. One more angry ex-vegan doesn’t invalidate the vegan diet. It’s happened before, and it will happen again. But in the meantime more and more people are discovering how good it can be to eat a plant-based diet.

Want to know more? Check out these articles. They’re not all pro-vegan by the way 🙂 And no, I haven’t put a link to the angry ex-vegan who’s eating cat food and rare burgers.

Karen 🙂

Vegetarianism In America http://www.vegetariantimes.com/article/vegetarianism-in-america/

16 Million People in the US are Now Vegan or Vegetarian   http://news.therawfoodworld.com/16-million-people-us-now-vegan-vegetarian/

Vitamin B-12  http://www.vegan.com/b12/

New Study Reveals Surprising Benefits of a Vegan Diet  http://www.fitbie.com/2015/03/02/new-study-reveals-surprising-benefits-vegan-diet?cid=social_20150309_41754526&adbid=574940987794944000&adbpl=tw&adbpr=80033564

Do Ex-Vegans’ Stories Make the Case Against Vegan Diets?  http://www.theveganrd.com/2010/11/do-ex-vegans%E2%80%99-stories-make-the-case-against-vegan-diets.html

I’m not vegan anymore  http://alexandrajamieson.com/im-not-vegan-anymore/

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Sometimes I Hate Being Vegan

Sometimes I hate being a vegan. It can be a total pain in the ass way to live. It restricts where I can eat and what I can eat. It rules out huge sections of food in grocery stores and involves an awful lot of label-reading, doubly so if my gluten-free son is visiting. It causes confusion among my friends and an awful lot of eye-rolling in certain circles. I get mocked, teased and, on rare occasions, shouted at. So why on earth don’t I just give up and grab a chicken leg or munch on a steak sandwich?

Let me try that last sentence again. It’s not “grab a chicken leg.” It’s “grab a chicken’s leg”. Or munch on a bloody slice of a slaughtered cow. Ah. Now I’m beginning to remember why. But sometimes it just seems so damn hard!

Alan and I have just returned from a trip to Montreal, which is the reason for my heavy sighs. We went to see the UFC (ultimate fighting championships for those of you not well versed in such matters) on Saturday night, which required us to find meals in Quebec. French is the first language over the river from Ontario, but it’s not the European French I learned in school. It’s Quebec French, and I don’t understand a word of it. To make matters even more fun, Quebecois apparently can’t understand my French either. I kinda gave up years ago and now claim that I don’t speak French, period. My attitude towards this works fine most of the time, but the knock-on effect is that I can’t read much French anymore. Give me a German menu and I’ll have a good go at it. Give Alan and I something in Japanese and we’ll pour over the kanji, grinning happily every time we find one we know. But if you put me in a Quebec city where everything is written in French I get an instant headache, even if the English translation is written (in a government regulated smaller font) underneath.

Here I am getting a lecture about speaking French by a Montreal statue:  MontrealaskAVegan (Copy)Lunch time on Saturday found two hungry Ontarians wandering along Rue De St Catherine in the newer part of Montreal searching for food. We found many (and I mean “many”) diners boasting about their excellent Montreal smoked meat sandwiches. We found French-style restaurants with the words “cheese” and “cream” written so often that I think sometimes they overlapped. We found cheese panini, pulled pork and quiche. We were just starting to despair when I spotted a sign up a side street with the words “Resto Vego” on it. I accosted two people as they were descending a flight of stairs. “Is there a vegetarian restaurant up there?” Yes, there was!! So up we went. The food was buffet style, and wasn’t very hot, but there was a good selection and at least 4 of the dishes were vegan. Woo hoo! I had Indonesian tempeh, stir fried peppers, bean chilli, rice and a vegan cheezecake, and it was all good. Phew. Omni-Alan was equally happy with his vegan meal. Why can’t eating a plant-based diet always be this easy and tasty?

Fast-forward to dinner time, and we’re seated in a Korean restaurant which had assured me that providing a vegan meal would not be a problem for them. “Korean food is very adaptable” the server said. Alan’s dinner arrived first, and was piled high with thick udon noodles, crab pancake, stir fried beef, salad with an orange dressing, steamed rice, miso soup and kimchee. My dinner arrived shortly afterwards. It was a small bowl of plain rice topped with shredded vegetables and a few pieces of cold tofu straight out of the packet. Alan laughed. “This is why I’m happy to be vegan at home but an omnivore when I eat out.” I could see his point. Sometimes it totally sucks to be a vegan. Thank goodness there would be lager at the fighting later on!

On the morning after the night before, we decided to skip the $18 per person buffet at the hotel and find a diner for breakfast. We settled on one which was clean and friendly, with about 50 items on the menu. Of which I could eat……..three. My choices were dry cereal (they didn’t have soy milk) with a banana, a plate of fruit (for $12!!!!!!) or a BLT without the bacon. There were baked beans on the menu, but they contained pork 😦 I looked at Alan’s plate piled high with a variety of items, then at my meager meal of sliced tomato on toast and understood why people might be reluctant to give up being an omnivore.

montrealBreakfast (Copy)

And as for Sunday’s lunch…..don’t even go there. Old Montreal is a very pretty place to wander around, but totally sucks as far as vegan food is concerned. Maybe locals and frequent visitors know the secret vegan haunts, but as a tourist I found no joy there. We got in the car and left, munching on a bag of chips as we drove, heading for the well-stocked vegan fridge back in the comfort of our home. Being vegan is sometimes a total pain in the ass.

But all is not doom and gloom in vegan-land. Today, back in my old stomping grounds of Ottawa, I headed out to Strawberry Blonde Bakery to buy some vegan, gluten-free, nut free cupcakes for my son’s 21st birthday. They’re delicious, nicely priced, and make being vegan sooooooo easy. Then I walked across the road to “the Herb and Spice Shop” to pick up some vegan “chicken” bites and veggie bacon for Alan to have for breakfasts with tofu scramble. They’re tasty, healthy and cruelty free, and cook in minutes. My next job is to book a table at the Taj restaurant for dinner tonight, happy knowing that they serve vegan and gluten free items and everyone will have a good meal.

ChrisCupcakes (Copy)

The next time someone tells me they can’t be vegan because they can’t give up meat  I’ll remember my meals in Montreal, and maybe have a bit of sympathy for them. But then I’ll recall how easy it is to buy and cook vegan meals at home and my level of sympathy will go down considerably. Yes, sometimes it sucks to be a vegan. But most of the time it’s a great way to live. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and grab a cupcake and a cup of tea. Right now being a vegan doesn’t suck at all!!

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.

Supplements?

I’m not posting a blog today. Instead I’m posing a question to my followers (I’d appreciate comments) and folks in my social media networks. What dietary supplements do you take? And what diet do you identify with most – omnivore, vegetarian, vegan, raw food, paeleo or something else? I’m looking to get answers from “regular” folks, not mountain climbers, body builders or marathon runners, who have very specialised needs.

So peeps, what pills are you popping?

Answers will help me write a pill-popping blog in the very near future, so watch this space!

Karen 🙂

To fu or not to fu? That is the question…..

I don’t usually get involved in discussions about eating GMO foods, the rights and wrongs of pesticides vs organic farming or get into fights about the dangers of estrogen in soy products. But while working at the Kathy Smart expo recently a lady told me she couldn’t be vegan because she would have to eat tofu and she couldn’t do that because of – you know – all the problems with estrogen. I looked at her blankly, with no idea where she was going with her comments. “You know….estrogens in tofu. It’s supposed to be really dangerous? It gives you breast cancer?” I asked her for more information, but that’s all she knew. Someone, somewhere, had told her that soy products would give her cancer. Personally I would be more worried about arsenic in chicken, heavy metals in fish and salmonella in eggs if I were her, but hey, what do I know? Not very much apparently.

In all fairness, I knew less about the potential dangers of eating soy products than the lady who was using them as an excuse for not being vegan. So to redress the balance, I’ve now spent some hours investigating the matter, and I’ve come up with some interesting stuff. Please bear in mind that I used to be a medical research scientist, so I find it really annoying when people make sweeping statements without adding citations to back them up. Or quote statistics without quantifying the size of the study or qualifying what the control group was. A study of 5 people is very different to a study with 5,000 subjects, and a study group of 15 white male college students is going to give different results to one involving 100 people of different ethnic backgrounds, ages and gender. It seems that health and nutrition pseudo-science readily ignores the realities of actual science in order to sell more books. I’ve avoided putting links to Dr. Oz shows, popular magazines or anecdotal stories. Let’s try to find some actual facts!

So, is eating tofu as an adult (I’m not getting into the murky waters of breast feeding vs soymilk baby formula today!) likely to give you cancer?

These are some of my findings, based on recent research:

Consumption of soy foods is associated with a reduction in prostate cancer risk in men. This protection may be associated with the type and quantity of soy foods consumed.
http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/89/4/1155.long

Soy isoflavone intake could lower the risk of breast cancer for both pre- and post-menopausal women in Asian countries. However, for women in Western countries, pre- or post-menopausal, there is no evidence to suggest an association between intake of soy isoflavone and breast cancer.
http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0089288

Animal study shows why long-time consumption of soyfoods reduces breast cancer recurrence
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150419193910.htm

The most recent studies support the idea that eating soy is a good thing as far as cancer is concerned. There are some low-key papers commenting on the benefits of eating fermented soy products rather than unfermented ones, but the actual data to support the claims is thin on the ground.  However, it seems to make sense that eating tofu or tempeh is a better choice than munching on heavily processed faux-meat soy based products.

The flip side of the coin is that some studies indicate that eating soy may reduce the efficiency of thyroid medications. This abstract (written in 2006 – I can’t locate the full article) suggests that soy foods, by inhibiting absorption, may increase the dose of thyroid hormone required by hypothyroid patients. However, hypothyroid adults need not avoid soy foods. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16571087.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of research on this issue, even though it featured in some chatty magazine articles from a few years ago.

Talking of chatty articles: If facts and figure’s aren’t your thing, check out this light-weight article written by some guy called Mark Hyman. I’m not endorsing him or his ideas in any way shape or form, I just thought this article was pretty good.  http://drhyman.com/blog/2010/08/06/how-soy-can-kill-you-and-save-your-life/#close

Sorry if this blog reads as if it was produced by the soy marketing board, but I’m just reporting what I found. Of course, as an ex-scientist I know that anyone can find research to support whatever theory they wish to propose. The biggest forms of deceit are lies, damn lies, and statistics lol.  I’d love to get feedback from you if you have an opposing view about soy with, of course, current research to back up your claims.

I know that once the Pandora’s box of eating tofu has been opened, topics such as “The dangers of GMOs” will pop out, but they can wait for another day….I don’t think my brain can handle any more scientific research papers today! I’m going to stop writing and cook myself some lunch. Yes, it’s got tofu in it 🙂

Tomato Miso Soup

If you want to turn this soup into a meal, double the amount of tofu and ladle the soup over two bowls of freshly cooked noodles.

  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 1 leek, thinly sliced
  • 1 large king oyster mushroom, thinly sliced OR 8 fresh shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 5 cups dashi or stock (Make sure your dashi is vegan! Look for konbu instant dashi with no bonito)
  • 1 cup (about 225g / 8oz) silken tofu, cut into small cubes
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp red miso
  • 2 green onions, finely chopped

Preparation time: 5 minutes. Cooking time: 10 minutes. Serves 4.

Heat the oil in a medium pan and fry the tomatoes, leek and mushrooms for 3 minutes, or until softened. Add the dashi, tofu and soy sauce. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Mix the miso with a small amount of the stock from the pan and add to the soup. Allow to simmer gently for 1 minute – do not let it come to a full boil. Divide the soup between four bowls and top with green onions. Stir gently before drinking because the miso will separate out while the soup is sitting in the bowl.

tomatomisosoupRepeat

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.