Hug a Dietitian Today: Part 2.0

Happy National Dietitians Day! (the Canadian version; the US celebrated a week ago).

Yup, today is specially dedicated to honouring and celebrating dietitians. Today also happens to be World Macaron Day… coincidence??

A couple years ago I wrote a little post on my other blog (which is currently in hibernation) dispelling crazy myths about dietitians. Check it out here.

Now go celebrate with some cake. Make mine vegan.

Cake and love and good food,
ilona

Happy Six Week Anniversary To Me!!

Consider yourself warned. This is a long post LOL.

 

Yesterday was the six week anniversary of the start of the fling. With the veg thing. I celebrated by watching Forks Over Knives…well I should say I attempted to watch it but sleep won over about half way through. And truly, that is not a reflection of the content of the documentary. It was actually quite interesting but, note to self, don’t begin a movie at 9:30pm on a work night.

 

So six weeks is a pretty good amount of time to contemplate the impact of such a dramatic change on one’s life. And going vegan does affect a number of areas: your shopping locales, cooking, exploring new ingredients but most significantly your social interactions. Because one simply has to plan ahead when avoiding animal-based foods. Going to a birthday party means skipping the cake and ice cream (and learning how to decline politely), venturing out to restaurants with friends means perusing on-line menus beforehand and getting creative, lunchtime meetings at work often require explanations and visiting acquaintances who might not be aware of your new lifestyle is fraught with raised eyebrows and eye rolling. I can’t say any of these experiences have been negative. And the discussions and commentary that I’ve engaged in as a result has been interesting and enlightening.

 

Early on, my mom started spreading the word to family and friends about this seemingly crazy mission and blog. Most people replied with a word or two of support or shared a favourite veg recipe. People where genuinely interested in the hows and whys of the whole thing, often exclaiming that they could never do it. Then there is my uncle.

 

My uncle Jacek, who lives in Poland with his lovely wife and two daughters, replied in his own, unwavering fashion: witty, cutting and truthful.

 

And now I quote (via translation from Polish to English, and I do apologize here because I can’t quite convey his wit and humor): “Just like cutting off a finger because of a paper cut isn’t a good solution, converting to a vegan diet to achieve better health is, in my opinion, somewhat draconian and radical.” He goes on to ask why foods like boiled eggs or using meat to flavour vegetable soups and stews would be considered unhealthy.

 

My mom answered that yes, she too though our approach was a bit extreme but that even she was starting to change her eating ways after watching the two documentaries that spurred my siblings and I into action. She also recalled a time when her family raised their own animals for meat, kept chickens for eggs, ate whatever food was growing in the garden, bought dairy products from a local farmer and in the winter enjoyed preserves made by my grandmother. It was honest to goodness farm to table living.

 

I’ve held off on responding to my uncle and have been contemplating my mom’s response. But six weeks in and armed with a collection of thought-provoking experiences I am now ready to share my opinions and ideas as to why I ended up here. So here is why I’m doing what I’m doing.

 

I don’t believe that there is inherently anything wrong, nutritionally speaking, with eggs, meat, fish or dairy. Or, shall I say, there wasn’t anything wrong with these foods until we started messing with Mother Nature. I feel we really went wrong when we began mass producing animal-based foods at a rate that inevitably compromised the quality, safety, ethics and compassion that should exist when sacrificing animals or using their by-products.

 

I’ve been exposed to enough literature and documentaries that it is now, more than ever, hard for me to ignore the evidence of how these poor animals are treated in the weeks, days, minutes leading up to their death. Or their miserable existence as we extract from them what we want (milk, eggs) and allow them to wallow in despicable conditions. Reduced literally to a commodity for human consumption, akin to canned goods, their well-being completely sacrificed for efficiency and quantity. Because we humans want things fast, and in vast amounts. And I mean, why change now? Why not when I first saw Food Inc. or the like? I don’t have a good answer. But upon being confronted with those horrific images yet again, I knew I had to solidify my thoughts and beliefs with action. The action in this case being a pledge to do vegan AND document it in writing (i.e. this blog).

 

And really I can’t say that this is entirely alien to me. I’ve been naturally moving towards an increasingly more veggie diet for quite some time. I already had a fairly limited consumption of meat, though I did eat fish often enough; and I more often opted for plant-based milk alternatives in lieu of the more familiar carton in the dairy section (aside from drinking my coffee with cream or milk). Also, I adore, crave even, vegetables and fruit (the former to a slightly larger extent). So it’s not like I was the type to order a meat-lovers pizza to start with anyway. I’ve always been much more content to slurp up a tofu and veg Thai curry or feast on a ginormous salad or ogle the colourful wares at the local farmer’s market.

 

But I have to admit, my mom’s narrative of “the good old days” did get me thinking. Now I wager that most/all vegans would be repulsed by eating an animal regardless of the life that preceded their slaughter. Would I be more at peace eating meat and animal products if I knew the animals were being treated ethically and led a happy existence?  This was one question that my brother posed before we set out on our veg adventure. I can’t say I had an answer then, and I don’t have an answer now. As it stands, I’ve thus far lived 6 weeks of vegan life (though I already feel like I will have a hard time reintegrating into the “other” world). I’m inclined to say that I’d certainly consider looking at the options for ethically raised meat and animal products sourced in a way that did not cause harm. Although this would certainly require some good old research and footwork as I feel I have so been duped by exclamations of free run, organic, grass fed and such that I would only trust my own investigations and conversations with producers to even consider such options. So maybe. In the future.

 

Another thing. I feel entirely unqualified to tout veganism as an option for every woman, man or child. It would feel awfully hypocritical, having only practiced partial vegetarianism in the past and full-on veganism for a mere month and a half. My goal is definitely not to impose any of my ideas, beliefs or undertakings on others. I truly believe that any change must be fully embraced by the individual before the plunge is taken, and that comes from within. It’s like badgering a smoker to quit. It won’t happen unless they themselves have an emotional connection to why they should do it and often the sentiments of “because it’s bad for you” are not sufficient.

 

But let me just say this (hey, it’s my blog after all!). I don’t judge those that choose the omnivore lifestyle. Just like I don’t believe that vegan equates to healthy (theoretically one could live off of chips, potatoes and Oreos and call themselves vegan). But I do very strongly feel that it is time for us to become more aware of what we put in our grocery carts, and more importantly, what we put in our mouths. Let’s not be blindly led by corporations and large scale manufacturers, who seem to largely make dietary decisions for us these days. Let’s examine what our food is made of and where it comes from. Let’s believe in the power of food to heal, transform and cure our ailments. Let’s stock our cupboards and fridges with foods that nourish, energize and keep us free of disease. Vegan or not, let’s be mindful of what we eat. Our bodies are precious, meant to take us from A to B and beyond for what we hope to be healthy, meaningful decades. This can only be achieved by fuelling them with goodness and not letting them become dumping grounds for processed, factory made, toxin-filled rubbish

 

At the end of it all, this whole experiment…the lifestyle change, the blog…is all a ruse to start conversation, to challenge beliefs and for me, personally, to see if I can do it. And by “it” I guess I mean two things: the vegan life and starting/maintaining a blog. That’s all 🙂

Peace, love and a good, long, healthy life,
ilona

Kitchen Treasures

First of all, has it already been five weeks? Over a months since my siblings and I started our veg challenge? Wow. I have been living the vegan life for 35 days thus far and I feel it becoming part of who I am not just something I’m doing. I remember at first I used to announce the milestones to anyone in my vicinity with pride, awe, surprise.

“It’s been a day!”

“A week in and so far so good!”

“Two weeks and still alive.”

But truth be told, today I actually had to look up when we all jumped aboard this journey. I just could not recollect how many weeks it had actually been.  It seems that the “how long” has stopped mattering. I feel a big part of this has been the fact that along the way my passion and excitement in the kitchen has been re-ignited and I have been head-over-heels giddy with all the new culinary discoveries that I have made.

Now, in all fairness I have always been one of those strange people that enjoy grocery shopping. Not the kind where you rush into the store, exhausted after work to pick up a missing ingredient or two to make a meal for a crowd that you invited over in a moment of utter amnesiac-like stupor. I’m talking the kind of shopping you can do with coffee cup in hand, languidly perusing the aisles in search of new treasures. Sorry, did I just make anyone gag a bit? But it’s true. Many a shopping trip have landed me in possession of some new exotic or never before owned ingredient awaiting gastronomic exploration. Or, in some scenarios, I have found myself searching high and low for a novel food element that I had discovered in a cookbook, conversation or show.

So opening the Pandora box of veganomics has certainly led me to acquire and try a bunch of fresh kitchen wares. Here are some favourites:

Millet:

I have long been on-board of the increasingly more crowded quinoa train. But I came across millet in a few vegan recipes and decided it was time to expand my grain repertoire. I like it a lot. I’ve used it as a base for a breakfast porridge, in a mushroom soup and as a side dish. Will continue to have this as a staple in my pantry for sure!

 

Nutritional Yeast:

Hello flavor! And nutrition! Nutritional yeast is a go-to ingredient in a lot of veganized recipes. It imparts a deep, pungent flavor. Hard to describe but the word umami comes to mind. I’ve put it in dishes like soup, spreads, scrambled tofu and an eggless egg salad. Rock on!

Dried Legumes:

Legumes (beans, lentils and chickpeas) have made many appearances in my pre-veg cuisine. Most often, except in the case of lentils, I would reach for the canned versions. Over the last few weeks, however, I decided to give dried a spin. And let me tell you, there is nothing scary about them. You soak them overnight and the next day you let them bubble away for about an hour, give or take a bit depending on the variety, while you go on with other business. The resulting tidbits are more flavorful, have better texture and for some reason they are, at least for me, easier to digest. Plus you do save some bucks doing the dried. Winners all around.

 

Sugars:

I was pretty surprised to hear that your garden variety sugar is often processed using animal bone char (it is used to filter out the impurities). Consequently, many vegans choose other alternatives. In lieu of the usual white stuff, my pantry is now stocked with Sucanat, organic sugar, agave and maple syrup. Oh yeah and coconut sugar. Cool, eh? I have to say, these processed white sugar alternatives have such unique, awesome flavours…who knew there was a world beyond the white??

 

Whole Foods 365 Almond Milk:

I have been using cow’s milk alternatives for far longer than I can remember. I’ve tried a few brands of almond milk and had settled on one brand in particular. Then I found out something concerning. It turns out that many products on grocery shelves, including the variety of almond milk I was consuming, contain an ingredient called carrageenan. Apparently not so great for your gut. So I started a search for something more GI-friendly and settled on Whole Foods 365 brand. Mmm. I use the vanilla, original and unsweetened varieties.

The next step is making my own!

 

Earth Balance:

Because sometimes you just want some buttery toast. Or mashed potatoes. Or popcorn. Earth Balance is a vegan margarine that is referred to by name in all the vegan cookbooks and sites that I have come across. Yummy, buttery goodness.

 

Food for Life Ezekiel Breads and Wraps:

I have not quite joined the gluten-is-the-root-of-all-evil party. But I do strongly feel that many of the sandwich building blocks available to us, despite the “whole” or “multi” labels slapped on them, are made with far too refined grains. As such, Food for Like Ezekiel is my go to brand. Their goods are made with whole, sprouted grains and the results are delicious. Currently in my freezer you will find the Ezekiel Sesame Whole Grain Sprouted bread, Sprouted Whole Grain tortillas and Sprouted Corn tortillas. They are kept in the freezer as they don’t contain any preservatives to extend their shelf life. A quick spin in the toaster or microwave and they’re good to go. Sooo nutritious and delicious!

Okay I will stop here. For now. I have a million other things to share with you, dear readers, so I will do more posts like this.

But in the meantime please, do share! What is your favourite vegan food or ingredient in your kitchen right now? Sharing is caring, after all 😉

wishing you a blissful, peaceful Sunday afternoon,

ilona

Kitchen Magic

Whoa! I can’t even begin to tell you all the magic that’s been happening in my kitchen. No, I’m not talking about anything wayward or raunchy here. Quite simply I have been uber-inspired to make food happen. Most days I rush home, start making something, head off to a workout and come back to spend time with my beloved appliances. Yes, this all does sound like a dismal existence to most. But honestly, each and every day I eagerly anticipate the results of whatever I am concocting that day.

Giving vegan a shot has been insanely electrifying. I am using foods, ingredients and techniques that I’m not sure I’d ever have given a chance in the past. And in part, a goal of this journey was precisely that. To learn. To re-ignite passion about food. To become mindful of what we put in our bodies.

Just the last three days alone I have made the following: a quinoa dish of my own design, a few juice combos inspired by various recipes, smoothies made with avocado (the results are what I can only describe as luscious), Vegan Cream Cheese and Coconut Mango Millet. Those two last recipes courtesy of my new obsession: Crazy Sexy Kitchen by Kris Carr. That cookbook has released a kitchen vixen…watch out!! My new girl crush for sure. I first heard about Kris in the documentary Hungry for Change, which I mentioned in my very first post. Kris has a documentary of her own called Crazy Sexy Cancer, and some other books I might check out.

Can’t wait to share my adventures!

Love and good food,

ilona

Back In The Game (plus recipe for Kale and Bean Soup)

Well, I am FINALLY feeling like myself again. I can safely say my body is virus-free. Hallelujah.

Can’t say I was feeling much food inspiration over the last little while. Although I’m not of the lose-all-your-appetite-while-sick sort (and damn it I do envy the people who get blessed with this silver lining of illness), my food selection was completely lack luster and I don’t think I attempted much beside boiling water and toasting bread in the kitchen, oh and heating up soup from a carton.

I managed to stay on the vegan bandwagon for two weeks now, viral attack and all. I have to say though, while I certainly don’t feel deprived and I can’t say I’ve even toed the precipice of starvation at any point, I have had some niggling thoughts about sneaking a few bites of cheese. Or milk chocolate (which is strange as I prefer dark varieties typically). I even had a dream where I pigged out on a milk-laden chocolate bar and woke up with residual feelings of guilt that the dream embedded. But honestly, all this has been minor.

In fact, beyond the illness stage, I continue feeling inspired and excited by all the vegan foods and recipes I keep coming across. As my sickness waned towards the end of the week, I found myself enveloped by a plethora of food experiences this weekend.

First off, my brother bought a juicer. Super exciting! We juiced the second the beast came out of the box. So far a winning combo has been apples, kale and ginger  Delish. I came up with a concoction that echoed the flavours of carrot cake: tons of carrots, apples, a bit of ginger and a few shakes of cinnamon and cloves. Yum! And of course there’s been a few underwhelming, and perhaps down right awful, results too. Will keep you updated on our juicer developments!

On Saturday night I made the pilgrimage to downtown Toronto for some of my favourite Thai food at Salad King. I can’t comment on the authenticity of the grub but I have been eating here since my Ryerson University under-grad days. I even remember what my first dish was, and this was back in 2002! Emerald curry, by the way. The location has moved (a few meters from the original) but the crazy atmosphere, affordable prices and consistently amazing dishes have remained. Even the mild to 20 chilies heat scale has not changed a bit. I am a 5 chilies type of gal…hey, some like it hot 🙂

I dined on my beloved Bangkok Stir Fry (veganized by omitting the egg) and my dining partner-in-crime chose the Hot Thai Noodles with a very non-veg chicken and shrimp option. We stuffed ourselves silly and walked away wishing for a location closer to home. Sigh.

My good food fortune continued into Sunday as we gathered at my parents place for dinner. My mom obliged our veggie ways and cooked up an amazing vegan kale and bean soup. Sooooo good!

Kale and Bean Soup 1

 Kale and Bean Soup

This is a delicious soup to serve on a chilly day. Much goodness is to be found in this gem of a dish.

Adapted from: The Vegetarian Collection by Alison Key and The Canadian Living Kitchen

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste (1/2-1 tsp of each)
  • 4 cups vegetable broth, homemade or store bought
  • 4 cups of water
  • 4 small white potatoes, diced
  • 1 large sweet potato, diced
  • 1 can (395ml, 140z) cannelini beans, rinsed and drained, used Eden Garden brand
  • 2 cans (395ml, 14oz each) navy beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 bunches of kale, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 cup parsley, roughly chopped
  • juice of one lemon

Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, coriander  cumin, salt and pepper and cook for about 5 minutes, until onion is soft and translucent.

Add broth, water, white and sweet potato and all the beans, bring to a boil then simmer, covered, until potatoes are tender (about 15-20 minutes).

Meanwhile put kale into a pot of boiling water and boil for about 10 minutes until softened. Drain and add to the soup along with the parsley. Simmer for another 5 minutes, then finish off with the lemon juice.

Serve as is or accompanied by whole grain bread, pita or a cooked grain (rice, buckwheat, quinoa or the like). Enjoy piping hot.

Kale and Bean Soup 2

Kale and bean soup 3

 My mom also surprised us by baking vegan chocolate chip cookies. No milk or eggs, and incidentally no wheat, but full of chocolatey goodness. Best served with beverage of choice for dunking. Recipe was from good old reliable Martha Stewart.

Vegan CC Cookies 2

Vegan CC Cookies 1

Way to go mama! First one to experiment with vegan baking. But that’s not shocking, baking is in her blood.

Vegan CC Cookies 3

I wrapped up my Sunday evening by prepping for the work week. Cooked up a one skillet meal using ingredients already in my fridge and pantry for lunches and dinners; will post the recipe this week. Main ingredients were fennel bulb, green peas, quinoa and Tofurky sausage. Don’t mock me, I love them.

And I whipped up a batch of hummus. I don’t really use a precise recipe, more so a guideline I suppose. But I will try to account for the proportions next time I make it so I can share the magic that a few simple kitchen staples can create: chickpeas, tahini, garlic, lemon juice and good-quality olive oil. That’s all.

Happy February everyone!

ilona

Brunch Success: Tofu Scramble Wrap with Greens and Zingy Avocado

I arrived at my sister’s house for our family brunch and was immediately greeted with bacony, eggy aromas that were so very familiar…and so very delicious (I didn’t start this whole veg thing because I hated these tastes, after all!)

My stomach grumbled. All I could think was that the meal I was about to prepare for myself better not disappoint as I might just gobble down a very non-veg pumpkin pancake before being aware of my actions.

Well, I would have to say that it turned out good. Very good indeed.

Wrap1

IMG_1041

 The taste was bright and the sprouts added a very fresh touch. The zingy avocado spread pulled it all together and I can’t imagine preparing this version without it.

IMG_1044

 

 Tofu Scramble Wrap with Greens and Zingy Avocado

The Engevita yeast (also know as nutritional yeast) adds a savoury note to the scramble, interestingly approximating the tastes you would find on an omnivores breakfast plate. Turmeric, a vibrant burnt-orange hued spice hailing from South Asia, known for its anti-inflammatory properties, adds a golden, egg-like colour. I happened to have come across pea shoots at an organic market the day before making this, but other greens like baby spinach, arugula, cress or such can easily be substituted. The easy to make avocado spread really makes this dish sing.

Adapted from one of my go-to veg cookbooks, Fresh: New Vegetarian and Vegan Recipes from the Award-winning Fresh Restaurants

Servings: 4

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 small onion, diced

1 block firm tofu, crumbled

2 Tbsp Engevita yeast

1 tsp dried oregano

pinch of turmeric

¾ tsp salt

fresh ground pepper

½ cup water

2 avocados

3 Tbsp lemon juice (about 1-2 lemons)

4 whole grain tortillas

2 large handfuls of pea shoots (or other tender greens), tossed with a tiny drizzle of olive oil and a squirt of  lemon juice

1 cup fresh sprouts (I had some home-grown broccoli sprouts, but any will do), optional

Heat olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Sautee onion until softened and starting to colour. Add the crumbled tofu and stir about for a minute or two.

In a small bowl combine the yeast, oregano, turmeric, salt and pepper with the water and whisk with a fork until smooth. Pour over the tofu and stir to combine. Bring to a boil and let cook until all the liquid has evaporated.

Mash the avocado with the lemon juice, add salt and pepper to taste. Dress the greens.

To assemble, divide the avocado mixture amongst the four tortillas, top with the tofu scramble, sprouts and greens. Roll up and enjoy!

IMG_1050

 My brothers feedback: you could fool a meat eater into ingesting tofu with this wrap. I’ll take that as a compliment 🙂

A few other family members tried a bite and conceded they would have some, that is if they weren’t so full already. I am so going to hold them to that!

After I finished the wrap, as I sat around watching my family devour pancakes, I decided I wanted to finish off my meal with something sweet too. I toasted up some Silver Hills Squirrely bread, slathered it with all natural peanut butter, topped with a mountain of fruit and drizzled with maple syrup.

"Pancake"

Yum! Feel free to lick the screen. I think this was quite ingenious on my part, wouldn’t you say?

"Pancake" - 2Well, enjoy the rest of your Sunday. I’m off to mope…Sunday afternoons remind me that work is just around the corner.

ilona

P.S. Here’s a peek at those home-grown broccoli sprouts I mentioned. Oddly satisfying to have cultivated something delicious and nutritious from a hard, unimpressive, tiny seed.

IMG_1054Anyone want to learn how to sprout??

1st Vegan Challenge…Accepted!

Barely a week into my vegan way of life and I am being faced with a challenge. We often do a family breakfast/brunch on Sundays, a way to reconnect with everyone and hang out with the awesome, fascinating, entertaining kids in the family (two of my nephews and a niece; aged 19mos, almost 2 and 5). Inevitably the gathering ends with three or four consecutive plays of Gangnam Style (I swear we have contributed a large chunk to the billion plus YouTube views that video has garnered.)

This meal 99.9% of the time consists of eggs, bacon and pancakes. My sister, the host of this weeks gathering, BBMed me today wondering what in the world I would be eating. Remember: my sister and bro are eating milk and eggs, so the only component they’re going to have to do without is bacon…not so for me. Essentially the entire meal is verboten as per the vegan manifesto.

I responded by saying that I would bring something vegan and edible. My mom, who had at this point joined the BBM conversation, stated (using no less than three exclamation marks): “just not the tempeh bacon!!!”

Apparently she is still scarred by my (clearly failed) attempt to make a non-meat version of the breakfast staple. This happened almost a year ago. In her kitchen. She claims that to this day she can smell the botched results. It has taken me this long to admit that, yes mom, that whole experiment didn’t fare so well. So there.

Well, my family, you’re in luck. There will be no tempeh bacon resurrection. But I will bring something vegan. Something daring. Something new. I am now considering my many options, but I think I am going to settle on a tofu scramble. I’ve perused a few recipes and if all goes well I envision wrapping it up in a tortilla with some Daiya cheese, veg and other tasty accoutrements..

So stay tuned! Sunday I will reveal my family’s reaction. Good or bad.

Yay for Friday!

ilona