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: 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.

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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I’m a Two-Faced Vegan

I recently had the pleasure (!) of spending time in the company of someone who turned out to be totally two-faced, which upset me greatly. As I sat in front of my laptop, metaphorically picking at old scabs and feeling betrayed, I flicked through photos I’ve taken of food. In case you haven’t worked it out yet – I love cooking. It makes me happy. Suddenly I started to smile. I may not personally be two-faced (what you see is what you get, much to the annoyance of some people) but my cooking certainly is! There were two distinct voices popping up on my screen. One said “I really can’t be bothered. Throw it in a pot and be done with it” while the other voice crooned “Nothing is too much trouble when creating a meal”. Some dishes used cans and pre-mixed spices. Others were multi-item meals, with everything made from scratch. Some looked like they were thrown together by a total slob, others were prepared to be placed before royalty. Two faces. Two types of delicious food.

It surprises me when people say they don’t have the time to cook veg#n meals, obviously assuming that each one takes a tremendous amount of thought and effort. But in reality it’s so easy to replace meat with non-meat items and basically continue to eat the same way as before. I recently spent a week in my mother-in-law’s kitchen in the UK, where we would co-ordinate our efforts to feed both the omnivores and me with minimal effort. Roast potatoes, roast veggies and lamb for them. The same for me but with the lamb replaced by vegan patties. On another day they had salmon, cooked in the oven. I threw some marinade (it was a thai salad dressing I found in her cupboard) on tofu and cooked it at the same time. One day they had new potatoes, corn, veg stir fry and steak. I had the same with Linda McCartney’s veggie sausages instead of steak. Being vegan took no more effort than eating meat. And it was a lot cheaper. One night I cooked something that I would eat at home, preparing it to feed a crowd when Alan’s sister and family were with us. I used canned chick peas, a pre-mixed curry blend, canned coconut milk and a blob of tomato paste to knock up a chick pea curry. It was served with potatoes fried with spinach and garlic. Very little effort, low cost and a very tasty little (if kinda sloppy looking) meal 🙂

Other quick and easy ideas for dinner include:

  • Spaghetti bolognaise using veggie grounds instead of meat. Top with grated vegan cheese if you want.
  • White kidney beans, mushrooms and green peppers cooked in a jar of pasta sauce on top of rottini.
  • Veggie burger on a bun, with all the usual trimmings
  • Grilled faux chicken breasts (yes, they do exist!) topped with salsa and served with a baked potato and salad

This photo below was our dinner on Monday. I arrived back in Canada on Sunday and hadn’t gone shopping. It was rice noodles in vegan stock (using a stock cube) with Chinese picked veggies (from a jar), a tomato I found lurking somewhere and general Tao vegan chicken (from a bag in the freezer). Throw it all in a pan, boil it up and eat.  Hot, filling and delicious, with the bare minimum of effort.

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The other face of my vegan cooking takes itself a bit more seriously. Home made tofu. Curries made using multiple packets of spices. A multi-item Ethiopian platter (see last week’s blog for details). When people are coming round for dinner things usually ramp up a notch, especially if they are taste-testing recipes for me. We eat a huge variety of dishes until we can’t eat any more, and then try to fit in a dessert. It takes planning, time and effort, and if we ate this way all the time I think I would go mad. But sometimes its fun to spend time in the kitchen creating a meal. Last night this is what we had:

  • Home made tofu served 2 ways
  • Edamame, daikon (white radish), pepper and mushroom salad
  • Futo maki made with white rice, enoki mushrooms, cucumber and pepper
  • Futo maki made with brown rice, rolled in edamame-wasabi puree and panko then fried until crispy, stuffed with sweet potato, yellow pepper and cucumber
  • Miso soup (from a packet on this occasion – look for vegan ones without bonito)
  • Stuffed tofu skins

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It took less time than you might think – the tofu took 15 minutes. The rice cooked itself in the rice cooker. I stuck to a small number of veggies and didn’t do any fancy chopping. But it certainly took longer than opening a can of beans 🙂

So the next time someone says “I don’t have the time to be cook veg#n food”, ask them what they think a vegan meal looks like. They might not be aware that vegan meals have two faces!

Whatever you decide to cook this week, enjoy it. Perhaps you could try something new, quick, tasty and healthy. Maybe even something vegan….

Karen 🙂

Accepting the Ethiopian Challenge!

One of the Facebook groups I belong to, which is full of the loveliest people ever, issued a challenge to its members to create a vegan meal based on the cooking of Ethiopia. I’ve never been to Africa, and I’ve only once been to an Ethiopian restaurant, which unfortunately gave me a nasty case of upset insides. But I’m always up for a challenge so I decided to give it a go. I reached for my old cookbook “The World in your Kitchen”, which I bought when it first came out way back in 1999, and started my quest for tasty nosh. I found a page with scribbled writing on it, showing that I’d already made the dish at some point in the past. Ethiopian lentil wat. Bring it on! I then reached for Marcus Samuelson’s  book ” Soul of a New Cuisine”, knowing that he had a version of injera which, while not vegan, used a method which didn’t involve letting batter ferment for 3 days. Call me a wimp, but I don’t really like my house smelling of fermentation. I also didn’t like it smelling of rotting vegetables when my eldest did a science fair project years ago….but that’s a (rather rancid) story for another day. I’ve made injera before using both the long and short methods, playing with different types of flour. Teff flour gives the most authentic flavour if my one trip to an Ethiopian restaurant is anything to go by, but I prefer wheat flour with a dash of lemon juice. Obviously this isn’t an option if you’re gluten intolerant, but since my gluten-free son isn’t here at the moment I can indulge in a wheaty treat or two 🙂

I know that a meal of lentils and bread is quite adequate and very filling, but I wanted more so I added a dish of greens to go with it. And then I thought….what about a faux chicken wat? I bet I could knock one of those up pretty quickly! And so it continued. We’ll be eating the left-overs for days, which is great because I’m all cooked out!

A traditional drink in Ethiopia is honey wine, but I replaced it with a little white number from France. Not to sweet, but full bodied and easy to drink. Hubby and I are not big dessert-eaters so we wrapped it all up with a nice cup of coffee, taking the non-traditional route of adding soy milk.

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Success!!! I’m looking forward to the next challenge, wherever it may be. Why don’t you have some fun in your kitchen this week? Try the recipes here, or pop off on a culinary adventure to your dream destination. If you’re not a veg#n why not challenge yourself to go without any animal products for a whole day? Be creative and have some fun.

Karen 🙂

Ethiopian Lentil Wat (Modified from The World in your Kitchen by the New Internationalist)

  • 1 1/2 cups dried red lentils, washed thoroughly and any stones removed
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 tbsp oil (preferably groundnut)
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp crushed dried red chilies (or cayenne powder)
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • pinch ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp ground fenugreek (methi)
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste

Simmer the lentils gently in the water for 20 or until tender. Partially cover the pan and watch them carefully – they have a nasty habit of boiling over as soon as they think you’re not looking! Or maybe that’s a problem unique to me….. I find soaking them in cold water for 30 minutes before cooking helps reduce the foaming.

When the lentils are almost ready, fry the onion in the oil over a medium-high heat for about 5 minutes or until soft and golden. Add the garlic, vinegar and spices along with 2 tbsp water. Cook over a medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly so that it doesn’t burn.

Mix the spices into the cooked lentils and add salt to taste. Cover and leave over a low heat for 10 minutes for the flavours to mingle.

Faux Chicken Wat

  • 2 tbsp oil, preferably peanut
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 6 cloves (crushed if you prefer)
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp crushed dried red chillies
  • 1 tsp salt or to taste
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces (3 -4 cups)
  • 4 faux chicken breasts
  • 2 1/2 cups vegan chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp lime juice

Fry the garlic, onion, spices and salt in the oil over a medium heat for 5 minutes or until the onion softens. Add the sweet potatoes and faux chicken. Pour in the stock, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until the sweet potato is tender. Stir in the lime juice then remove the faux chicken and cut into bite-size portions before returning it to the wat. Serve with grains or injera – it will be quite runny. And when you reheat your left-overs the next day it will taste even better.

Quick Vegan Injera (Modified from Soul of a New Cuisine by Marcus Samuelson)

  • 2 cups wholewheat flour
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup soy milk mixed with 1 tsp lemon juice and left to thicken for 5 minutes
  • 3 – 4 cups club soda (the batter should be thin)
  • 2 tbsp oil, preferably peanut

Mix together the flours, baking soda, salt, thickened soy milk and half the club soda.Stir well to create a smooth paste and let it sit at room temperature for 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining club soda. Pour a small amount of oil onto a griddle or flat-bottomed frying pan over a medium heat. Pour 1/2 cup of batter (or as needed to create a thin layer) into the pan and cook for 30 seconds. Cover and cook for another 30 seconds or until the batter is firm. Remove from the pan and keep warm while you cook the other injera.

Ethiopian-ish Greens

Chop up the greens of your choice and saute in 2 tbsp spiced coconut oil. Add salt to taste.

To knock up a batch of spiced coconut oil, add the following spices to 2 cups of coconut oil and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Check on it regularly – you don’t want the spices to burn. Allow to cool then cover and store in the fridge for up to 3 weeks. I suggest doing this in small portions as it’s quite hard when it sets!.

Spiced Coconut Oil

  • 2 cups coconut oil (measured while solid)
  • 1 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground fenugreek (methi)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil

Mice, Men and Molasses Cookies

Today’s blog is posting itself while I’m away from my desk, hopefully travelling along the Rhine, glass of wine in one hand and a vegan snack (or two) in the other. I’ll be taking a novel or two on my journey with me, along with a selection of informative writing / publishing guides which I’ve put onto my i-pad. I’m not intending to work while I’m away, but you never know. It’s best to take some serious reading material with me, just in case. Or, as sometimes happens, to give me something to read if I happen to hate the novels in my backpack.

I belong to a couple of book clubs, one of which I make it to every time and one of which I seem to miss more often than not due to circumstances beyond my control. I find this very annoying when I’ve slogged my way to the end of a book I hate, such as “Outlander”. It was a huge relief when the book finally ended – had it been a movie I would have watched it on fast-forward, but unfortunately my book’s pages would only turn  as fast as my fingers could manipulate them, which wasn’t as fast as I would have liked. I speed-read a few chapters, but even so I felt as if it couldn’t end soon enough. I’ve also recently endured “To Kill a Mockingbird” (hated it), “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” (my choice, and I hated it), and “Body Surfing” (hated that one too!). On a more positive note, my book clubs have led me to delights such as “The Lace Reader”, “The Guernsey Potato Peel Pie Society” and “The Lace Makers of Glenmara”. I was even introduced to “Anne of Green Gables”, which wasn’t part of my British childhood. We had a laugh discussing it after one of our members realised she’d got a copy of the book intended for grade 4 kids instead of the full version. It had a lot of good pictures in it 🙂

So why would I read a book I hate? Well, to be honest, it’s partly to avoid eye-rolling and lectures from my fellow book-club ladies in the small group I attend. I can get away with missing out chunks of a novel if it’s a big group, but when there’s only four of us we really all need to read the book in order to have a good discussion. Although, admittedly, at our last meeting the discussion was very brief and went along the lines of “Who chose this book? What on earth were you thinking?” We’d just finished reading “Of Mice and Men”, and we all hated it with a passion. Dead puppies, dead women, a friend shooting his fellow traveler in the back of the head….this book had it all! Yes, I know it’s a classic, much loved by English teachers everywhere, but it wasn’t exactly an uplifting story. I finished it the day before the meeting and felt so……..soiled…….as a result that I had to bake cookies. As in, I HAD to bake cookies. No choice. And when they were baked, I ate 4 of them fresh out of the oven. I hope this doesn’t become a habit! I’ve seen the book club lists for the next few months, and there are a couple of potential cookie-bake-novels on the list. I can only hope that “Remarkable Creatures”, which I’ve chosen for October when my mom will be visiting from the UK, doesn’t turn out to be one of them, or I’ll have a bit of apologizing to do…. along with some baking 🙂

If you’re in the middle of a book you don’t like, promise yourself that you’ll bake a batch of these cookies when you get to the end. It will make it so much more enjoyable.

 Ginger Farthings

This is my mother’s recipe, and it must have been around for quite a while. Farthings were legal British currency from 1707 until 1960 and were worth one quarter of a penny.

  • ¾ cup vegan margarine, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Vegan replacement for 1 egg (I used 1 tbsp ground flax mixed with 3 tbsp water and left for 15 minutes)
  • ¼ cup molasses
  • 2 cups flour (use 1 cup wholewheat and 1 cup unbleached white if you prefer)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • extra sugar for coating

Heat the oven to 325’F / 160’C / Gas Mark 3

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until light and creamy then beat in the egg and molasses. Sift the flour, baking soda and ginger together then add to the butter mixture. Beat until smooth. Take teaspoons of the soft dough and shape into balls. Roll them in sugar and place on a non-stick baking sheet 3” apart. Bake for 10 -12 minutes or until golden brown with a cracked surface. Cool on a wire rack.

GINGERFARTHINGS (Copy)

Karen 🙂

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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 🙂

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Strange Things Heard at the Expo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zucchini and Basil Soup

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

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

zucchiniSoup2 (Copy)

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.