Inspired Inspirilisation

I’ve been “doing the veggie thing” for many, many years now, but I’ve always felt like I was missing something. Some secret. Some trick. Something that would make me, a long-time plant-eater, into a lover of raw vegetables. You know – salady stuff. Yes, I’m still munching my way through more lettuce than even a salad-lover would like (see the lettuce eat blog from a couple of weeks ago) but it’s more of a duty than a delight. And then it struck me. What I needed to get inspired was a spiraliser!

Last year I tried following recipes in a book called “Raw, Quick and Delicious”, and found that I disagreed with 2 out of those three claims. The recipes were definitely raw, but the quick and delicious components somehow evaded me. Yes, I was severely handicapped by my dislike of salads, and I quickly loose interest in nuts, but I was also hampered by my lack of a magical spiralising machine (and juicer and dehydrator and, at the time, a decent blender).

I bought a really cheap hand-held spiraliser after failing to stick to a raw diet for 36 hours, but succeeded in spiralising my finger and very little else. So, at the recommendation of some of my FB friends, I’ve now bought something more substantial. It came with 3 different blades. It came with suction cups to stop it from moving. It came with a piece broken off. I decided to give it a test drive to see if I wanted a refund or a replacement, and started to play.

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Did you ever see the you-tube “will it blend?” videos? They’re a lot of fun (but don’t try it at home). Anyway, my kitchen turned into a spiralised version of this. Zucchini, yellow beet, carrot, onion, potato, tomato (I think mine was too soft to be successful), apple, pepper…..will it spiralise? Yes it will! I’ve had soooooo much fun that I’ve requested a replacement rather than a refund.

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This is one of my early attempts at a salad. Beet, zucchini, chopped green onion, chopped fresh basil, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and raw corn, all tossed together with a splash of avocado oil, a pinch of salt and lashings of black pepper. I ate the whole dish, even returning to it after a mid-munch phone call. I think I might be on to some thing here.

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An enhanced version of the salad materialized at dinner time, with the addition of spiralised red pepper and carrot. I served it with spiralised potatoes tossed with a drop of olive oil and baked at 425’f for 20 minutes. I thought they would go crispy, but I think being spiralised damaged the cell walls too much and they were soft. Tasty, but not quite what I expected. The fish-patty like object sitting on the plate is a Sophie’s fishless fillet, which really isn’t like fish in any way, shape or form. Gardein makes fishless “fish” in batter which is, in stark contrast, a bit too fishy for me!

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I’m looking forward to playing with my food over the next few weeks – although this may be hampered by my impending trip back to the UK, the return of my Indian book from my editor (no doubt there will be comments that some of my sentences are too long…again), and my current self-imposed challenge to veganise some of my great Aunt’s 1922 recipes AND make them gluten free. Watch this space for all the fun as it unfolds!

Karen 🙂

When Doves Cry

For a while now hubby and I have had bird feeders hanging in our yard, supplying our friendly squirrels, rabbits and chipmunks with tasty nuts and seeds scattered around by the birds. We regularly see blue jays, red cardinals, sparrows, crows, a really pretty bright yellow bird or two, starlings and, until yesterday, a pair of doves.
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Our cats sit with their noses pressed against the screens of our porch watching the antics of the wee beasties outside, while the pretty silver grey cat from down the road hides under my patio chair, tail twitching. She likes to watch, but I’ve never seen her try to catch anything. I’m not saying she doesn’t try, just that she never does it while I’m around.

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But yesterday something changed. I looked out of the window during a pause in the torrential rain and saw a bird of prey standing on my lawn. She was beautiful, with flecked feathers, bright eyes and a small, curved beak. She caught my movement out of the corner of her eye and turned her head to look at me before deciding I was harmless and returning to the task in hand. It was then that I realised why she was in my garden. She was standing on the lifeless body of one of the doves, ripping out his feathers and tossing them aside.

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I was totally conflicted. The vegan part of me wanted to run out there, waving my arms (underarms flapping wildly like the arms of old folks tend to do) and yelling “Don’t eat my dove, you murderous beast!” while the other part of me analysed the situation calmly, aided by the engineer standing at my side. “If you take the dove away from her she’ll just kill something else for her dinner. The dove’s already dead, so she might as well keep it.” The falcon (?) decided she didn’t like being watched, picked up her prey and flew off to finish preparing it for supper somewhere quieter. The rain started to fall again, washing blood into the soil and making a soggy mess of the plucked feathers. I need to go out there and remove them at some point. I don’t want a daily reminder of the harsh realities of nature.

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But here’s the thing. The bird of prey was only doing what comes naturally to her. She’s a carnivore. She eats other animals. She has no choice in the matter. The dove was in the wrong place at the wrong time and ended up as dinner. It’s a natural cycle of life and death. Some folks argue that eating animals is also natural, and therefore right, for humans. We, however, have choice. Eating meat isn’t a necessity for humans, it’s a choice. Taking calves away from their mothers so people can drink cow-milk isn’t natural or necessary. It’s a choice. Raising chickens in huge barns where they never see the light of day, then hanging them upside down and electrocuting them isn’t right or necessary. It’s a choice. Putting a bolt into the head of a terrified cow to make into steak for the barbecue isn’t necessary. It’s a choice. Slaughtering dogs and serving them at a festival isn’t necessary – it’s a choice. Killing pigs in the name of bacon…no, it’s not necessary. It’s a choice. Boiling a lobster alive…do you see where I’m going here? Humans aren’t carnivores. We’re omnivores….with a choice.

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Today a lone dove came down to forage for food, and I was sad. Do doves mourn? I don’t know. But this is what is sounds like when doves cry

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Karen.

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 🙂

Help! There’s a Vegan in the Garden!

Yes, I know it’s been 6 month since my last post, but I’m back 🙂 Where have I been? Oh, you know, here and there. Recently got back from Japan (yes, I have some tales to tell) in fact. And what have I been doing? This and that. You know. Stuff. But, the point is, I’m blogging again. Once a week (or more if something really profound happens), starting today. Hurray?

You’ve probably spotted the blog title by now. The vegan I refer to isn’t me – it’s a really cute, speckled, furry, bouncy, adorable bunny, hereafter referred to as “that damn rabbit.”  I’d post a picture of the beastie if she didn’t keep running away at lightning speed whenever I point a lens at her. Boy can that bunny move! Sometimes she moves so fast that it looks like there’s more than one rabbit in my garden….. Fortunately Biggles let me photoshop her slightly to show you what the damn rabbit looks like. You can barely tell the difference!

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Last year, as some of you may recall, I planted an herb garden (please note the correct use of “an”) at the side of the house. This year I decided to embrace the whole vegan-hippy-gardener thing and added some new crops. Alan’s got garlic growing (which is kinda odd since he didn’t plant any this year) alongside his leeks and carrots. I really pushed out the boat and bought 3 broccoli plants and 4 brussel sprouts. There should have been 4 of each, but one was MIA so I got a discount, saving me a whole 20 cents!!!!! Bargain! Anyhoo, I diligently planted these in the garden, watered them well and went to bed after asking our resident gnomes to keep an eye on them.

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The next morning someone had eaten most of the leaves on my broccoli plant. The small round pellets nearby gave me some clue as to the perpetrator of the crime. It was that damn rabbit. The one who ate my cucumber plant last year within a day of it arriving, and may or may not have also demolished my basil plants. I frowned at the destruction then went inside to have a fortifying cup of tea. When I came back out my sprouts had all been nibbled. Grrrrrrrrr. Something needed to be done. I’m not running a restaurant for feckin’ bunnies, no matter how cute their twitchy noses are.

And then I had a fabulous (?) idea. Alan and I spent a very hot, humid Saturday putting together the heavy metal den our cats enjoyed at our previous home. Our current home has a screened porch with carpet and comfy chairs and a fab view of the bird feeders, so they don’t need their den. We put up a few of the original wood shelves, added some plastic shelving I found lying around in the shed et viola! A rabbit-proof pot house, so called because we put pots in it. I might be turning into a hippy vegan, but the only weed I have here is the type you pull up and dispose of 🙂

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In a fit of madness I rushed off and bought enough lettuce plants to feed a family of 20 for a year, some baby eggplant plants, green beans for growing in a pot and bok choy (spellcheck wants to change that to bonk soy for some reason) along with some kohl rabbi and white radish to plant in the garden where my broccoli and sprouts used to be. Rabbits don’t like kohl rabbi, do they? I’ll go check. Be right back. Phew – so far so good!

I’d like to see those bunnies trash my veggies now! Although, of course, they might bully the squirrels into climbing up the cage and ripping leaves off from them to much on. In which case I’ll have to cover the whole thing in fine mesh chicken wire and ponder the cost of growing veggies when I could have gone to the farmer’s market and just bought some instead….

And what am I going to do with all that delicious lettuce when it grows big enough to harvest? Make a meal or two and probably feed the rest to the rabbits. I’m not a big fan of salad lol.

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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Eat a Cow to Save a Cat

I’m back from my blogging break! I’ve been a bit under the weather for a couple of weeks courtesy of a virus which just kept going and going and going, making my life miserable, my throat sore and my eyes pink. I’m starting to bounce back and am now (hopefully) capable of writing something which isn’t a self-pity party. Today is warm and sunny (although it’s going to get mega hot again this afternoon), the birds are popping down to eat from the feeders, two of the cats are lying around me snoring gently, and I haven’t coughed for over an hour. Life is good 🙂

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While sitting around, with only my virus for company most of the time, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about “loving animals”. No, not in the x-rated sense of the word, more in a “Julie Andrews” kind of way. Warm and fussy feelings, cuddles, twitchy noses, that kind of stuff.  Facebook is full of videos of  cute kittens, loyal dogs, goats bouncing on trampolines and little piggies doing piggy-like things. These all have thousands of “likes” and get shared over and over again. “I love animals” people say. But what does that mean? Can someone who watches a cute cat video while munching on a chicken sandwich still claim to love animals?

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I love animals too, up to a point. The point where I stop loving them is when they stalk me, waiting to catch me off guard so they can suck my blood, giving me itchy lumps and potentially nasty diseases in return. I don’t love biting insects, and if a mosquito tries to bite me, I’m going to kill her. If that makes me less of a vegan, so be it. I hate labels anyway. But the question is, where do other “animal lovers” draw their lines?

Over the past few months (yes, it really has been that long and has required an awful lot of thought) I’ve been searching for a charity to volunteer with on a regular basis. I’ve thought about cat rescues, but was concerned that I might bring something home which would infect my cats. Dog rescues are out – hubby is horribly allergic to dogs and the mere thought of dog-hair-covered-clothing makes his eyes puff up. The parrot sanctuary sounded good, but it’s too far away and I know I wouldn’t drive the distance in the winter months. A hot contender was an animal sanctuary about a 45 minute drive from where I live. I’ve been there a few times over the years and they seem to care about the farm and companion animals they have there.  But then it came to my attention that the owners eat meat…including, of course, farm animals. My enthusiasm declined somewhat. Why rescue one pig and eat another? Why spend so much time, effort and money on improving the life of one animal while eating its cousin for lunch? That seems…odd. Not all sanctuaries are like that, I know, but it made me stop and think.

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A couple of  weekends ago was big-ticket-price garden party fundraiser for the Ottawa humane society, which is a shelter for dogs, cats and small pets. The local vegetarian and vegan group had a table at the event stocked with baked treats free from animal products, but the rest of the restaurants and vendors showcasing their goodies were serving meat. People attend such events to raise money to save animals, and happily wander around with a piece of animal on a plate in order to do so. They’ll eat a cow to save a dog. Eat a pig to save a bunny. Eat a fish to save a hamster, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they claim to “love animals” while coating one in barbecue sauce and eating  her with a side of vegetables.

Surely I can’t be the only person who finds this a bit odd?

Next time you find yourself rubbing the head of a dog or stroking a cat, why not ask yourself how far your love for animals really goes. Where’s your “love stops here” line? And while you’re thinking about animals, why not cook yourself up some good, tasty food which doesn’t involve munching on Bessy-the-Cow or Babe-the-Pig? An easy way to start is by replacing ground meat with veggie grounds or TVP (textured vegetable protein). The recipe below is fast, cheap and delicious. No bull.

Karen 🙂

Edit: I wrote this the day before Cecil the lion was killed. Check out this blog by the Mindful Mavens about it. She is also asking the question “Why do we value some animals and not others?”.  http://themindfulmavens.com/2015/07/29/on-cecil-the-lion-and-extending-our-circle-of-compassion/

Simple Chilli with Cornbread Muffins

Chilli:

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 4 tbsp good quality chili powder mix
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 225g / 8 oz veggie grounds
  • 1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 can / 2 cups cooked black beans

Muffins:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped red pepper
  • 1 cup organic flour
  • 1 cup corn meal
  • 2 tbsp raw unrefined sugar
  • 2 ½ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 4 tbsp unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 cup soy milk

 Makes 12 standard or 6 jumbo muffins

  1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and cook the onions and garlic over a medium heat for 5 minutes, then add the chilli powder and cumin. Stir for 1 minute then add the veggie grounds and mix well.
  2. Add the tomatoes, oregano, salt, black pepper and tomato paste. Mix well, bring to the boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer gently for 40 minutes. Check the seasoning half way through and add more chilli powder if needed. Too hot? Add 1 tsp sugar.
  3. Stir in the beans and continue to cook for another 10 minutes and serve with tortilla chips, rice or vegan cornbread muffins.
  4. To make the muffins, heat the oven to 400’F / 200’C / Gas Mark 6.
  5. In a small frying pan, heat the oil and fry the peppers over a medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until soft. Alternatively, put in the microwave for 3 minutes. Allow to cool.
  6. Lightly grease a muffin tray or line with paper cases.
  7. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, corn meal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  8. Stir in the applesauce and soy milk, then stir in the red pepper with its juices and remaining oil. Mix until just blended. Put into the muffin tray and bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  9. Allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes before serving.

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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: Bean there, done that!

Last year the hubby and I took a trip to India with a small adventure travel company, touring mainly around Rajasthan. We ate some meals in local homes, visited artist co-operatives and saw more palaces, forts and temples than you can imagine. In Jaipur we saw elephants being used to transport tourists up the long, steep, winding stone path leading to the Amber Fort. Our group made the journey on foot – and it was hard work – stopping from time to time to get our breath back under the pretense of admiring the view. Someone asked our guide why we were walking when there were elephants available. I really liked his answer. “Elephants are not supposed to walk on stones up to forts. These elephants are not treated well. They are worked hard and hit with a stick if they are too tired and want to stop. Our tour company does not support such cruelty”. Everyone agreed, and on we went, wiping the sweat off our brows with our Indian shawls.

amber (Copy)Two days later we found ourselves in a camp not far from the border with Pakistan. Every now and again fighter jets flew over, shattering the otherwise total stillness of the desert. We rested for a while on our camp beds, sweating in the afternoon heat, then headed out to meet our guides for a camel safari out into the desert. With thoughts of the Jaipur elephants in my head, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The camels, all chewing in what appeared to be a contented manner, were lined up waiting for us. They looked strong and healthy, obviously well cared for and well fed. Our guides ranged from small boys to wizened old men, and they were among the few we met in India who didn’t speak much English. They’d spent their entire lives living in the desert plains, and now made a living catering to tourists. I know that some people will frown deeply and cry “animal exploitation!” at this point, but I climbed on a camel and headed off into the desert to watch the sun set over the dunes. We journeyed for about half an hour before stopping somewhere in the dunes and dismounted. The camels sat down and relaxed while our guides  lounged around and chatted amongst themselves. Our group held an impromptu sand-dune race while waiting for the sun to set, with one representative from each of our countries – India, England, Northern Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. We all expected our local rep to win, but our police lady from Australia beat them all. We then settled on the sand, occasionally moving to get out of the way of dung beetles, and watched the sun sink over the desert landscape. It was a truly magical experience.

camels (Copy)Our evening meal in the desert camp was the usual fare of breads, yellow dhal, and an assortment of meat or dairy dishes which I couldn’t or wouldn’t eat. There was an additional dish of something which looked like twigs in a spicy sauce. I asked our guide if it was something I could eat. “Yes”, he said. “It’s desert beans” so, after getting confirmation that it was dairy-free, I took a sizable helping. I thought it would be a pleasant relief to eat something other than yellow dhal or eggplants, but as I sat there chewing on the twig-like beans in a focused manner I realised how wrong I had been.

Since getting home, I’ve played with green beans of the Canadian variety and served them alongside chick pea or lentil curries, and nobody has asked me if I accidentally cooked some twigs I found buried in the snow. The flavour takes me back to the deserts of India and makes me smile.

Rajasthan Desert Beans

If you don’t use refined oils, cook the spices briefly in 2 tbsp of boiling water instead of the coconut oil, stirring constantly so they don’t stick and burn.

  • 2 tbsp oil (I like to use coconut oil)
  • 2 pinches asafoetida (hing)
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4  tsp mango powder (amchoor)
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp crushed dried red chillies, or to taste
  • 4 cups green beans, trimmed
  • 1/4 cup fresh coriander
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1 cup water

Heat the oil in a frying pan or wok. Add the hing and stir round then add the cumin seeds, garam masala, salt, coriander, mango powder, turmeric and chillies. Fry briefly then stir in the green beans, fresh coriander and raisins. Mix well. Pour in the water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for 5 – 10 minutes, depending on how soft you like your beans. Serve hot.

If you want a more authentic experience, scour your local Indian grocery store for dried desert beans. Soak them in water for 8 – 10 hours then drain and rinse well. Boil in plenty of water for 2 minutes then drain before using in the recipe.They will be twig-like.

DesertBeans (Copy)After eating this dish, retreat to your tent under the stars and lie on your camp bed dreaming of your adventures. Get up well before dawn, eat a hearty breakfast of dhal and rotis then head off on the next step of your journey, pausing to watch the sun rise over the desert. And maybe pray that the next place you stop at, unlike all the previous hotels and camps, has both a shower and hot water.

Karen 🙂

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