Limehouse Conservation Area + Shifting Perspectives

 

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Isn’t it funny how one hour can make such a big difference? The day after daylight savings time ends we get one extra hour. Sixty more minutes to devote to whatever we please. Maybe sleep. Yes, for most of us it’s sleep. It’s only one hour but it makes the day feel extra long, like a time lapse in the universe which allows us to squeeze in a little bit more. It feels magical, don’t you think?

Having an extra hour on a stunningly beautiful, golden autumn day meant there was only one thing I wanted to do: hiking. Which isn’t surprising as this is often how I use up extra time on gorgeous days (an example here.) So with a giant to-do list to tackle later in the day looming ahead, I savoured the extra bit of time and headed to Limehouse Conservation Area to explore a section of the Bruce Trail I have not yet been on. My goodness, why did I wait so long?? Each new section elicited an audible gasp, as I tried to take it all in and immerse myself in the beauty and uniqueness of the trails. Caves to traverse, nooks to discover, old lime kiln ruins to explore. And never mind the magnificent fall foliage ablaze and glowing in the low slung sun.

Shadows + Silhouettes

Only an hour adjustment but it makes all the difference. The angle of the sun altered, the slanting shadows cast and scattered in new patterns across the forest floor. The world looked different. It felt different. I felt different. Everything had shifted an hour.

Rooted

I go on hikes alone not to eschew company, but to revel in my solitude. It is not an isolating act, but one of hard-earned and protected aloneness. Not lonely but alone. My meditation. A way to turn over thoughts and ideas in my head with the equalizing and balancing force of nature as my companion. A way for me to find my way in the chaos of everyday life. It is so easy to become disoriented by the ceaseless cacophony of rings, and notifications, and reminders, and information. Oh that incessant barrage of information. On the trails it is me and nature. Perhaps other people too, but ultimately only in passing. As I discover new places and find my way on new trails, I feel empowered, renewed, recharged. A calmness permeates each neuron as many of life’s uncertainties no longer feel so threatening. They just are. A part of life and not an indication of being lost. A shift in my perspective. And I need that reminder often and hence the regular solo hikes.

Standing Tall 

I took pictures along my hike today, as I often do, to preserve some of the images on something more permanent than the canvas of my memories. And to share. With you, with my family, with my friends. I snapped and marveled. As I veered off the main trail onto a side trail, I mindfully put my phone away my phone battery died. And I am thankful it did, because perhaps I would have missed it. A little patch of forest where the trail widened, a sort of clearing, with woods to one side and the escarpment dropping off to the other, with a carpet of vibrant yellow leaves blanketing it all. A tree stump beckoned, and so I sat. I listened to the birds, an insistent woodpecker especially making its presence known, and the occasional distant purr of motorcycles, an airplane, reminding me of my proximity to civilization. A nearby river provided a hushed and constant warble. Golden maple leaves, still clinging to branches, seemed to flutter and wave without a detectable breeze. I felt like I was sharing my breath with them. The earthy perfume of drying leaves thickly covering the forest floor mingled with the heady fragrance of pine and cedar. The cerulean sky pierced the canopy with jolts of colour. I stayed for a while. I stayed and sat and breathed and felt the earth.

Confetti

Contented, I moved off my perch and continued on, grabbing a small handful of pine and cedar: aromatherapy in the palm of my hand. I felt like I was moving through chapters of the forest, as each new part of the trail revealed another layer of the plot. New colours, new sounds, new trees and foliage. New emotions and sensations.

Aromatherapy

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As I reached the end of the trail and emerged on a local road, I came upon a couple of hikers who looked up and asked “Are you lost?”, though in their case what they meant was “We are lost and are you in our boat?” I replied “No, I am  not lost” with a smile on my face and believing it with every fibre of my being. I helped them with directions and re-traced my steps back to my car. My phone batter dead, but my body, mind and soul recharged. If only for a little while.

Stay A While

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Dark Chocolate Cherry Granola

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Awww man, y’all are gonna lose your shhhh for this one! Believe it or not, this is only one of the very few times I have made my own granola. I’ve had every intention in the past, just zero execution. Confession: that could be said about other aspects of my life too, I suppose. Procrastination is the name of my game and I am VERY good at it (let it not be said that I don’t have any skills!) If putting things off until the last minute and figuring out ways to avoid what I need to do by doing everything else instead was a sport, I’d be a world champion. That’s not to say I’m lazy – just good at deferring. And even in the kitchen, I cook all the time but creating workable, tasty recipes that make sense and can be replicated is another thing on its own – that requires planning, forethought, precision, and measuring spoons. All of which just slow me down in the kitchen. But the desire to share good food that is delicious and nourishing in equal measures finally succeeded – and so I have hunkered down, with note pad and pen in one hand and measuring cups in the other (or something like that) and started not just making food, but actually developing recipes. Who am I?? Also, it helps that my recent foray into this was received so generously by my family and friends, one just can’t help but be inspired to go on.

So let’s get on with this recipe. There are some food pairings that just seem to be made for each other: peanut butter and jam, coconut and pineapple, lime and tequila. And of course chocolate plus cherries, the darlings of this recipe. I mean, when have chocolate and cherries together ever been a bad idea? Never. Am I right? Thought it has to be said that the cherries also go beautifully with the hazelnuts in this recipe, and the almonds, and well the chocolate goes with just about anything (chocolate + hazelnuts, enough said.) So what we end up with is a jar full of goodness that just loves to intermingle, and each ingredient, while good on its own, elevates the others. A metaphor for a utopian society dare I say? If granola can inspire a visionary world view, well all the better in my opinion.

I had some family and friends try this granola out on its first outing and the reviews were fantastic. On top of yogurt, paired with almond milk for breakfast, or straight up out of the jar by the fistful, everyone fell in love. The recipe is pretty simple too: you mix the dry ingredients together, and essentially make a raw chocolate to coat everything in. Mmm, a chocolate bath. I know that dried cherries can be quite pricy but a little goes a long way. In any case, feel free to substitute dried cranberries instead if that’s all you have on hand. That goes also for the nuts and seeds, change those up if you want but keep the amounts the same. It’s a pretty flexible recipe – and far better than most of the granola you can buy, both in taste and nutrition. Nourishing dried fruit, seeds, nuts and oats with antioxidant rich cocoa powder and a touch of maple syrup. That’s it.

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Finally I have to say I chuckled a bit when naming this recipe. I though, once people read chocolate and cherries I will have them sold! They won’t even notice the word granola in there. Muahaha, got you!

Oh! One  more thing, as I was eating this bowl of granola I was rewarded with a delicious, rich chocolatey almond milk. Never a bad thing.

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Dark Chocolate Cherry Granola

vegan, soy-free, gluten-free option

Makes about 6 cups

Prep time 10 minutes 

Cook time 30-35 minutes

 Ingredients

1 1/2 cup large flake rolled oats, gluten-free if needed

1 cup raw almonds, roughly chopped

1/2 cup raw hazelnuts, roughly chopped

1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds

1/4 cup hemp hearts

1/2 cup dried cherries, roughly chopped

scant 1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup coconut oil

1/3 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 300˚F (150˚C) and line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine oats, almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, hemp hearts and dried cherries and salt. Stir well.
  3. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt coconut oil, remove from heat and whisk in maple syrup, cocoa powder and vanilla.
  4. Pour the chocolate mixture over the dry mixture and stir well until everything is well-coated.
  5. Tip the granola mixture onto the prepared baking sheet and spread out into an even layer. Press down on the mixture with a spatula or wooden spoon so that it sticks together.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and stir, again spreading it our into an even layer and pressing it down. Bake for another 15-20 minutes. Let the granola cool completely on the baking sheet, it will harden as it cools. Break the granola up into clusters and transfer into an airtight container (I use glass jars).

Tips

You can chop the nuts by pulsing in a food processor.

Substitute equal amounts of other nuts, seeds, dried fruit as you wish.

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Green Chickpea Pancake For One

Some weekends are just the stuff dreams are made of. This one was one of them. Sunny summery skies and welcome heat (despite technically it still being spring) were the backdrop to some seriously good times: karaoke with friends, a Blue Jays game under an open dome with family and poolside pedicures + margaritas at a friend’s house. Sigh.
Driving home from today’s outing I decided I wanted to make a quick dinner so I could soak up the rest of the day’s warmth. Seems like a lot of food inspiration hits when I’m behind the wheel (see my last post)…I guess the fresh air and open road makes me think good food thoughts!
So here is my less than 15 minute veggie and protein packed creation.

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Green Chickpea Pancake for One
Makes 1 serving

Prep time 5 minutes
Cook time 10-12 minutes

Ingredients
1/3 cup chickpea flour
1/3 cup + 1 Tablespoon water
1 large handful baby spinach
1/4 teaspoon salt
Fresh ground pepper
1/3 cup frozen green peas
1 teaspoon coconut oil

Toppings
Avocado
Green peas
Cucumber, sliced
Crushed Hot Chili Peppers
Other ideas: hummus, vegan cream cheese, mixed greens, roasted or sautéed veggies

1. Put chickpea flour, water, spinach, salt and pepper in a blender and blend until smooth. Adjust seasonings.
2. Add frozen green peas and stir.
3. Heat 1 teaspoon coconut oil in non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Pour batter onto pan, spread out evenly. Cook 4-5 minutes on each side, until slightly golden (being careful when flipping pancake). Place onto a plate and top with desired toppings.

I also love having this type of pancake for breakfast as I prefer savoury first thing in the morning. You can change up the additions or even omit the spinach to make a non-green version (but why would you?? Green is the new black.)

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On a side note I have a serious addiction to this crushed hot chili peppers sauce – I get it from a local Italian market. I first found something similar at a farmer’s market in Italy. Hooked ever since. I put that shhh on everything! I find reasons to eat. Everything else is created to be a vehicle for this amazingness. It is fiery hot and I adore it that way.

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Wishing you all a wonderful, plant-fuelled week ahead!

Xo

ilona

Veggie and Rice Nori Bowl with Tempeh + Green Tahini Sauce

Summer weather is upon us, in my part of the world anyway. Somehow, despite the sunshine, I am coaxed back into the kitchen to create something fresh and vibrant to nourish my body. Most (sane) people avoid the kitchen when the thermometer shoots up. But, alas, sanity is not my strong suit. Fresh from an hour of weight training, I conjured up this bowl while driving home. Truthfully, minimum oven/stove time was on my mind. As a side note, I really need to start keeping a notebook close by for when inspiration hits – I often think up food ideas and then promptly forget to make them. And then forget all about them. Not this time! I got home, set the rice to cook, and got busy chopping veggies. I did my food prep outside to squeeze in every ounce of this warmth and long daytime hours  (it’s 9pm as I type and still light out!)

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I must have had sushi on my mind (which, now that I think of it, makes sense – we’re planning a sushi night with friends) because the result definitely echoes deconstructed sushi (read: too lazy or inept to roll sushi so just gonna pile it all into a bowl.)

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In any case, it turned out awesome! Filling, vibrant, verdant, nourishing. And fast.
I must note that the quantities of veggies seem big, but I LOVE my veggies, and leftover veggies aren’t really a bad thing, right? You might also have leftover sauce – just use on roasted veggies or cooked grains. Would be great on roasted potatoes.

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Veggie and Rice Nori Bowl with Tempeh + Green Tahini Sauce
Makes 4-6 servings

Prep time 20 minutes, cook time 25 minutes (if rice starts cooking as you prep veggies)

Veggie and Rice Nori Bowl
1 cup short grain brown rice, dry
1 head of broccoli, chopped into bite size florets
1 head of cauliflower, chopped into bite size florets
1-2 zucchini, sliced
2-3 inch fresh ginger, julienned
2-4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 Tablespoon sesame or coconut oil
3-4 Tablespoons tamari sauce
3-4 Tablespoons water
Raw nori sheets for serving

1. Cook rice according to directions.
2. Heat oil in very large wok or skillet over medium-high heat, add ginger and garlic and stir fry for a minute.
3. Add cauliflower, broccoli, tamari and water. Stir fry for 6-8 minutes (until slightly cooked but still crisp). Add zucchini and stir fry another 2-3 minutes. Set aside.

Tempeh
1 block tempeh, sliced lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices
2 teaspoons coconut oil
1 Tablespoon tamari

1. Heat oil in non-stick frying pan over medium-high. Lay tempeh slices in one layer on frying pan, cook 3-4 minutes per side, until golden.
2. Take off heat and sprinkle tamari over tempeh. Set aside.

Green Tahini Sauce
1 small bunch parsley, trimmed (can leave stalks)
1/2 cup tahini (sesame paste)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup water
1-2 cloves garlic
1 Tablespoon light miso
Fresh ground pepper to taste.

1. Place everything in blender or food processor and blend until smooth.

Assemble bowl: place nori sheet in bowl, add rice, a generous amount of veggies, a few slices of tempeh and drizzle with sauce. Enjoy!

Variations: instead of rice you can use quinoa or millet; instead of tempeh you can use tofu, chickpeas or beans.

Grain and veggie bowls are about the easiest meal you can make and the combinations are endless! Enjoy 🙂

Xo

ilona

Vegan Thanksgiving Feast: Roasted Butternut Squash, Cauliflower and Sage Soup, Pan Fried Herbed Tempeh, Spiced Ginger Cranberry Chutney and More!

Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving everyone! I love this time of the year. So much to be thankful for. Family, friends, health, prosperity…life has been good. Oh and it helps that in my part of the world we are immersed in a weather utopia with mild temperatures, blazing sunshine and a riot of fall colours already beginning to blossom.

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Be forewarned: this is a long post but you will be rewarded with three original recipes + links to more recipes I have tried.

Amongst the things I am thankful for is being able to enjoy a vegan, plant-powered Thanksgiving feast that made taste buds sing. The only true veg guests at our table of nine (+ my eleven day old niece) were my sister and I, though everyone else is food adventurous and certainly open to trying anything. My sister’s only directive was “just make something that will serve as a vehicle for cranberry chutney”. Ok, mission accepted.

Now you will have to pardon the quality of the photos in this post as I was snapping pics in what can only be described as delighted chaos. I was cooking in my mom’s kitchen, sharing precious counter space with her as she made her menu items, making up recipes and writing them down as I went along and ensuring that the finished products were in sufficient quantities and edible and more or less ready at the same time. And all along trying to ensure my camera survived intact.

Flowers from my parent’s garden adorning our festive table
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While my mom made the customary turkey for the non-veg folks at the table along with her infamous wild rice and sausage stuffing, she did contribute to the veg menu by making a savoury mushroom gravy and a separate dish of her stuffing with roasted chestnuts in lieu of the meat. They were amazing! I will have to work out the recipes and share with you soon. (Question: is it still called stuffing when you’re not stuffing anything with it? Things that make you go hmm).

The other side dishes she made were naturally veg-friendly and the only adjustment needing to be made to some recipes was to replace butter with olive oil or Earth Balance.
I supplemented the dinner menu with three items of my own plus two pies for dessert (a pumpkin pie and apple pie – in my opinion you cannot have one without the other).

Vegan Thanksgiving Menu
Appetizer:
Roasted Butternut Squash, Cauliflower and Sage Soup (recipe below)

Entrée:
Pan Fried Herbed Tempeh (recipe below), Maple Roasted Squash and Sweet Potatoes, Brussels Sprouts with Sautéed Mushrooms, Wild Rice and Chestnut Stuffing, Mixed Mushroom Gravy, Spiced Ginger Cranberry Chutney (recipe below)

Dessert:
Pumpkin Pie with Gluten Free Crust (from Oh She Glows, I adapted the recipe for my peanut/tree nut allergic niece by replacing pecans with equal parts pepitas and gluten free ginger snaps) and Caramel Apple Pie (from Healthy. Happy. Life.), served with Luna and Larry’s Coconut Bliss Vanilla ice cream

And now for the recipes!

Roasted Butternut Squash, Cauliflower and Sage Soup
This soup was inspired by the flavours of a Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage Browned Butter I have made in the past for Thanksgiving. This year I did not have enough time to make this relatively easy, albeit time intensive recipe but still craved the silky, buttery, luscious flavours. So I came up with this soup, and I have to say the results were definitely reminiscent of the melt-in-your-mouth raviolis. In part I think this had to do with the fact that I pureed the soup in a Vitamix blender as opposed to using an immersion blender – this decision transformed the soup from good to great, simple to celebratory, smooth to silken.

1 butternut squash, cubed
1 head of cauliflower, cut up into florets
3 Tbsp olive oil or melted coconut oil
handful of fresh sage leaves, about 10-12 leaves
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground allspice
1 tsp sea salt
fresh ground pepper
8-10 cups water
2 vegetable bouillon cubes (I use Harvest Sun)
¼ cup full fat coconut milk

1. Preheat oven to 400⁰F, line large baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Toss butternut squash and cauliflower with olive or coconut oil, half of the sage leaves, turmeric, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, salt and several grindings of black pepper. Tip out onto parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for about 30-45 minutes, until cooked through and golden (time will depend on your oven). Don’t overcook.
3. Once roasted, transfer vegetables into a large soup pot, cover with water, add bouillion cubes and rest of fresh sage leaves. Bring to a boil, simmer for a few minutes until all the flavours have come together. Add coconut milk and adjust seasonings.
4. Carefully transfer soup into blender in small batches, blend until silky smooth. Note: leave vent hole on blender lid ajar to let steam out and place kitchen towel on top to keep splatters in. Pour pureed soup into clean pot, adjust seasonings again (usually I adjust salt last).
5. Serve with crispy sage leaves (heat up a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil in frying pan, toss in fresh sage leaves for a few seconds until they get crispy, remove with slotted spoon and place on paper towel to drain excess oil), a drizzle of coconut milk or pepitas Or all three.

Veggies about to go in the oven…
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…and now done
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Silky smooth, courtesy of the Vitamix!
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Pan Fried Herbed Tempeh
Our vegan Thanksgiving feast needed something hearty to match up with the zing and tartness of the Spiced Ginger Cranberry Chutney, and thus came this tempeh recipe. I borrowed a bit of inspiration from a panko-crusted tempeh I encountered at a local vegan restaurant. In this version, however, I chose to use hearty whole-grain homemade breadcrumbs with the savoury flavours of sage and oregano; I love sage at Thanksgiving and my mom has tons of it growing in her backyard. The coconut oil I used for frying did not impart too much of its coconutty flavor but certainly you can replace with a more neutral-tasting oil of your choice.

1 block tempeh
1 cup bread crumbs (I used a few slices of Silver Hills Squirrely bread, left out to dry overnight then processed into coarse crumbs in a blender)
5-6 fresh sage leaves (replace with about 1 tsp dried if don’t have fresh)
½ tsp dried oregano
½ tsp sea salt
fresh ground pepper
½ cup coconut milk, or another plant-based milk
coconut oil for frying

1. Place bread crumbs, fresh sage, oregano, salt and pepper in blender or food processor, pulse until everything is combined and sage leaves are finely chopped.
2. Cut block of tempeh in half so you have two rectangles, now cut each piece in half again but this time in such a manner that you still have the same sized rectangles but now half as thick. Clear as mud?
3. Set up two bowls, one with coconut milk the other with bread crumb mixture.
4. Dip each piece of tempeh first in coconut milk, then into breadcrumbs, pressing firmly so that breadcrumbs coat the tempeh evenly.
5. Heat coconut oil in non stick frying pan on medium/medium-high heat, you should have enough oil in the pan to come almost half way up the tempeh cutlets. Gently place tempeh in the pan, fry for about 3-4 minutes per side until golden brown, don’t burn it! Don’t stress if some of the breadcrumb coating falls off (I didn’t).
6. Carefully remove tempeh from pan onto paper towels to drain excess oil.

Only picture of the tempeh, clearly this photo was taken on the run
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Spiced Ginger Cranberry Chutney
If you’re still using cranberry sauce from a can to compliment your holiday feast, this is the recipe that will hopefully get you to abandon that practice. It is tart, sweet, spicy and zingy. It is unapologetic in its bold and stand out flavours. It rocks my Thanksgiving plate and its absence from the table would be deeply mourned by all. Funny story, when I first started making this irresistible condiment, about a decade ago or so, I was not yet enlightened to the difference between star anise and anise seed, and so anise seed is what I picked up at the store. It has remained an ingredient in this recipe despite the fact that I now stock star anise in my spice cupboard,can’t imagine making it without it. On a side note, I usually make a double batch of it and preserve in small jars to enjoy as an accompaniment to many other meals and snacks.

Adapted from Food and Drink magazine, Holiday 2000

2.5 cups cranberries (300g package), rinsed and picked over
1 large apple, any variety, peeled, cored and chopped
1-2 Tbsp chopped fresh ginger (use more or less, depending how much gingery heat you like)
½ cup apple cider or apple juice
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
¾ cup vegan sugar (cane, coconut palm, Sucanat etc.)
1/8 tsp each cloves and allspice
¼ of whole nutmeg, grated
2 star anise
½ tsp anise seed
3-4 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
½ tsp salt

1. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, once cranberries start to pop, reduce heat and simmer uncovered for about 20-25 minutes. Chutney will thicken once cooled.

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All in the pot it goes
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Beautiful, vibrant, delicious
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And there you have it. In case you’re wondering, the other side dishes were quite simple to prepare and don’t amount to much of a recipe. The squash and sweet potato got the same treatment – acorn squash was cut into slices while the sweet potato was cubed, both were drizzled with olive oil, maple syrup and sprinkled with cinnamon, salt and pepper, then baked in a 400⁰F oven. The Brussels sprouts were washed, trimmed and boiled until tender then combined with mushrooms sautéed in olive oil, all was seasoned simply with salt and pepper.

Coming all together for a party on my plate
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The pies did not make it to the picture stage as they were devoured in a flash. The pumpkin pie was ahhhhhmazing, the filling reminiscent of a rich butterscotch. The ginger snap crust worked out well but was a bit tough (no one cared). The apple pie was quite good, certainly no complaints from anyone but I could work on my vegan crust making skills. And the leftover caramel from the apple pie recipe was divine when heated up and served with a scoop of Coconut Bliss ice cream and chopped walnuts. It may be true that I polished off the rest of the caramel in this manner. But no witnesses have been found to confirm.

Happy Thanksgiving y’all!
ilona

Quick and Delish Summer Dish

Hello dear readers. It’s been a while. Too long. But here I am again, for better or worse!

I spent this beautiful, perfect summer day waiting around for the internet guy to finally reconnect me to civilization. He showed up 15 minutes before the 4 hour window they gave me as my appointment time was up. Anyone else think this practice is ludicrous?? Hey, I’m coming over for dinner. When? Oh, I don’t know, sometime between 4 and 8. Anyway. I’m almost over it.

So I did what any other food lover would do with spare time. I cooked. Now, I’m not the type of person that is particularly averse to cooking in any sorts of weather, but it does occur to me that most people don’t want to spend oodles of time in the kitchen when the sun is blazing outside. And so here is a quick little number I pulled together in about 20min or so with ingredients I had on hand. When I execute these spontaneous acts of cookery, I like to think in groups. Nutrient groups, food groups, deliciousness groups, whatever you want to call it. Here is what I aim to include in a nourishing dish I concot on the fly:

Veg – anything goes! the possibilities are essentially limitless
Whole grain – my faves are quinoa, millet, rice, gluten-free pasta, sweet or white potato (while not technically a grain I throw the potato in this category for it’s starchy nature)
Protein – beans, lentils, chickpeas, tempeh, nuts, seeds

Pick something from each group, add the magic of flavour (spices, herbs, tamari, miso, citrus juice and zest, oils, vinegars, broth, condiments…I could go on). And there you have it.

Millet, Greens and Legumes in Miso Sauce

1/2-1 cup dry millet (see cooking instructions here)

a whole whack of kale, washed, large stems removed, chopped in bite-sizeish pieces (the more the better, this green cooks down A LOT)

1 cup frozen peas

1-2 cups beans of your choosing (I used leftover chickpeas and broad beans that I had in freezer, you can use canned or store-bought frozen)

For sauce: whisk together 2 Tbsp of miso paste (I used the white variety), 2 Tbsp rice vinegar, 2 tsp sesame oil, 2 tsp maple syrup, a dash or two of hot pepper sauce of you choose, and about 2-3 Tbsp of water

Heat a teaspoon or two of sesame oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat, add kale and a few splashes of water and let it hang out until wilted and getting tender (a few minutes). Use tongs to move it about. Add frozen peas and beans, cook until defrosted. Add sauce and let it all come together for a minute or two. Add millet (I used 1/2-2/3 of the amount that 1 cup of dry millet cooked up…will use leftovers in salads, soups or breakfast porridge). Stir it all together, the millet will absorb the delicious sauce.

Enjoy! Preferably with a cold beer.

Happy lazy summer days,
ilona

PS No picture. The beer made me sleepy.

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

Valentine’s Sweets

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Anyone within earshot in the week leading up to Valentine’s Day heard me rant and grumble about how artificially sweetened and commercial I felt this holiday to be. Then my sister changed my outlook.

She said that any chance in life we get to celebrate should be embraced  And, this is what really hooked me, she  wholeheartedly felt that any holiday where the starring food was chocolate should not be tossed aside carelessly. Okay sis, I get your point. And I concur.

{I really do treasure these moments in life when a previously steadfastly held paradigm shifts.}

So celebrate with chocolate became my V-Day objective  Now most years I would inhale whatever chocolate-like product crossed my path. But being vegan makes you a bit more mindful and aware of what you stuff your face with. Another bonus of this whole journey. So I set out to make some homemade treats. With good quality ingredients.

I consulted my go-to site, Oh She Glows, and chose two recipes. Chocolate Chip Cookies because I was craving these and Mini Peanut Butter Cups In a Jar because their inherent adorableness and unearthly combo of chocolate and peanut butter makes them incredibly irresistible. Go ahead, I dare you to try.

Both resulted in sweet, sweet heaven.

Mmm chocolate chip cookies and cold almond milk…

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I devoured a few after the photo shoot. Ok, during as well. No regrets.

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And these decadent pots?

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Umm, yeah. I want a stash of these in my freezer at all times. I battled between wanting to hoard them all and sharing the love with my loved ones. I remembered my Kindergarten lessons and shared. Look at the delectable layers…

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Note that I didn’t have the patience to swirl the melted chocolate evenly over the surface of the pots. So I drizzled. Can’t say my taste buds cared.

With the cookies I was pretty precise with the recipe and measured things out as outlined in the recipe; I always think of baking as a chemistry experiment, where you want things to be in the right proportions to get a good result. With the peanut butter and chocolate cups I was a bit more liberal. I really don’t have the patience to measure peanut butter in a measuring cup only to then have to scrape it all out. So I did eyeball a bit and was probably more generous with some of the ingredients. All turned out well.

You know you’ve got all-star desserts when both your veg and non-veg friends and family start asking you for the recipes.

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I do encourage seasoned and newbie vegans alike to try these recipes out. You won’t be disappointed!

Much theobroma cacao love to you,

ilona

Easy Quinoa and Fennel Dinner…and a Whole Lotta Snow!

Ughh. Just as I sat down to write this post I spilled a glass of red wine…it splattered across almost the entire surface area of my kitchen floor and on part of a fabric covered chair. Lovely. What a waste. Good thing I wasn’t at the bottom of the bottle just yet.

So I’ve topped up my tipple and now on with it…

Doesn’t this look hearty?

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Served up with a bit of insanely fiery homemade hot sauce…

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Up close and personal.

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This is the type of good-for-you dish with stick-to-your-ribs flavours that make sense on a day like this:

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Yeah, you could say we got a bit of snow this past weekend. In my part of the world this equates to the biggest snow fall since 2008.

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I wish I was in possession of that snow blower. But secretly I kind of like shoveling snow. It’s free exercise…I’m sure right about now I’ve convinced enough of you that I’m crazy 🙂

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Also, not so secretly, all I wanted to do was go tobogganing…no brave soul wanted to join me.

But I digress, back to food. While I mentioned previously that I made this dish last week, it came to mind as the wind whipped shrapnel-like snow in my face.

Easy Quinoa and Fennel Dinner

This dish is choc-full of hearty, “meaty” flavours courtesy of the fennel, herbs and spicy vegetarian sausage. I use vegan meat substitutes sparingly but was in the mood for something like this. You could easily substitute the sausage with cubed extra firm tofu or tempeh. Be sure to press out the excess water from the tofu if using; a good marinating in some tamari, apple cider vinegar and olive oil wouldn’t hurt either the tofu or tempeh.

Serves 4

1 cup dry quinoa

3 Tablespoons good quality canola oil (I use Maison Orphee, it’s got a magical golden yellow colour)

1 medium sweet onion, chopped

1 fennel bulb, trimmed and finely sliced

2 teaspoons fennel seeds, ground (I use a pestle and mortar for this task, you could also use a coffee grinder dedicated to spices)

1 generous teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon chili flakes, or to taste

salt and pepper to taste (I used about 1/2 teaspoon salt and several grindings of black pepper)

2 Italian Tofurky sausages, cut in half moons (or use extra firm tofu or tempeh)

1 cup frozen peas

Add quinoa to about 5-6 cups of boiling water. Boil for 10-11 minutes, drain well in a fine-mesh sieve and set aside.

Heat oil in a large frying pan (non-stick or cast iron) over medium-high heat. Add onions and fennel and cook, stirring now and then, until they start taking on a nice golden colour, about 8-10 minutes.

Add ground fennel, thyme, chili flakes, salt and pepper. Stir-fry until fragramt, about 30 seconds.

Next, push onion and fennel to the sides of the frying pan, add the sausage in the middle and cook until starting to brown, about 3-4 minutes.

Add the cooked quinoa and frozen peas (they defrost nicely in a minute or two). Combine everything together. Cook another few minutes until peas are ready and adjust flavours to your liking.

Enjoy with a dollop of hot sauce. Vegan sour cream, a squirt of lime juice or avocado works nicely here too.

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I made the accompanying hot sauce a few months back using hot peppers of an unidentified variety purchased at the local farmers market. The farmer warned me they were peppy. He wasn’t kidding. I used a compilation of recipes to come up with this furiously scorching mixture. No joke this stuff is H.O.T. (and I say this as someone who thinks Frank’s Red Hot is tame). I put this homespun S&%@ on everything!

Now let me see if I can remember the ingredients in time for the upcoming but still-so-far-away farmers market season.

Peace, love and spiciness,

ilona