Tofu and Vegetable Stir Fry + Easy Almond Butter Sauce

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I promise to get to the stir fry in a second, but first a little bit of self-reflection never hurt anyone 😉

Let’s talk friends, i.e. the family that you choose for yourself, the tribe you willingly associate yourself with, the group of people who serendipitously come into your life (and sometimes back into your life), a network of people that grows roots and supports you through thick and thin. I’ve been compelled to reflect on my friendships these past few weeks – for a variety of reasons, some incredibly good and some quite unsettling. Luckily for me the unsettling bits did not originate from within my circle, but nevertheless I have been one of the affected bystanders hit with a storm of betrayal and lies. All I can say is that I am one fortunate woman to have the friends that I have. More than fortunate. Blessed, in fact, if I may use this clichéd and worn-out, hashtagged to death remark. But it hasn’t always been like this.

About five years ago I ended a very long term, depleted relationship; and even though its conclusion was far overdue and inevitable, it still left me reeling and feeling lost. At that time I had a couple of genuine friendships and a handful of tenuous ones. As I recovered and adjusted to the aftermath, I engaged in new hobbies, rediscovered forgotten ones and started making connections  with people from all walks of life. In the midst of this flurry of new faces, I found those that have now solidified into friendships that I deeply treasure. I’m not gonna lie, it wasn’t easy for me at first. Over a decade since high school graduation (where I was a shy and reserved creature) I wasn’t sure HOW to make friends. Sounds ridiculous, right? But I wager that many adults just aren’t sure how to navigate the friend-making landscape. It gets a bit more complicated once you’re past the point of playing in the school yard, where a short recess spent kicking a ball around or playing hopscotch leads into the best-friends-forever realm. In any case, I guess somehow I figured it out. Five years later I am surrounded by people that make me a better person. And that’s the ultimate jackpot right there. The friendships that I have made over the last few years, as well as those that have endured the growing up years, have shown me how to be a more caring, empathetic, authentic, giving, loving, generous person. I am still learning and VERY much a work in progress. But as I reflect on the me pre-big-life-changing-breakup to the current me, it still astonishes me how much I have changed. And entirely (mostly) for the better. And all because of my tribe. I mean these people who willingly spend time with me are selflessly taking care of sick family members, raising smart and kind children, organizing care packages for those in need of a pick-me-up or some extra TLC, volunteering in their communities, reaching out to those who are isolated, and tirelessly setting an example of what a good human being should look like. It is impossible for some of that not to rub off on me. Like glitter off a princess Barbie, that stuff really sticks! And so I am grateful, and thankful, and blessed, and indebted to the universe for my friends. How did  I ever get so lucky.

And now for a clever segue to this stir fry. Well, I guess just like my friendships, this dish is uncomplicated, nourishing, deeply satisfying and rich in flavour. Kind of proud of what I just did there. Okay, please don’t leave. I promise I’m done now.

This recipe is a more formalized version of something that I have  been cooking for years – except that in the past I would just throw a bunch of dashes of this and that straight into the pan and somehow it would turn out. But people want numbers and proportions and so I nailed it down for you!

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It really is a pretty simple and versatile recipe. Sub in whatever veggies you like  – mushrooms, peppers and baby corn would work beautifully. But I am partial to the sponge-like quality of broccoli which tends to hoard the tasty sauce within its abundant tendrils. Whatever veggies you choose, add the ones that cook longer first, a few minutes ahead of the others. You can easily make the almond butter sauce nut-free by subbing in tahini. If you like garlic, add some of that in along with the ginger – I’m  not a garlic-hater, but I choose to do the least amount of chopping per any recipe I make. I am chopping averse. Or maybe I just like quick recipes. 

Please let me know if you make this!! You could even just make the sauce and slather it onto whatever food you please. Like friendships, this sauce makes life better…okay, here’s the recipe finally. Who lets me write anyway?

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Simple Veggie and Tofu Stir Fry + Almond Butter Sauce

Serves 3-4

Prep Time 15-20 minutes

Cook Time  20 minutes

Ingredients for Stir Fry:

1 block of extra firm tofu, cubed

1 Tablespoon coconut oil, or other neutral tasting oil

1-2 Tablespoons minced fresh ginger, to taste

2 Tablespoons water

2 Tablespoons tamari

1 bunch of broccoli or cauliflower, trimmed and cut into bite-sized florets

3 carrots, peeled and sliced into desired shape

2 zucchini, sliced into desired shape

Ingredients for Almond Butter Sauce:

4 Tablespoons roasted almond butter (may be substitutes with natural peanut butter, or tahini for a nut-free version)

4 Tablespoons freshly boiled water

2 Tablespoons tamari sauce

3 Tablespoons natural rice vinegar

1 teaspoon maple or agave syrup

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

 Directions:

1. In a large non-stick sauté pan or wok, heat coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add cubed tofu and cook, stirring often, until golden brown on most sides, about 10 minutes. Remove from pan onto a plate.

2. Reduce heat to medium and to the same pan add minced ginger, 2 Tablespoons tamari sauce, 2 Tablespoons water and broccoli or cauliflower. Stir well and cook 3-5 minutes. Add carrots and zucchini and cook 5 more minutes.

3. While vegetables are cooking, in a medium bowl whisk almond butter and freshly boiled water with a fork until smooth, add the rest of the ingredients and whisk until combined. Adjust to taste.

4. Add almond butter sauce to the vegetables and stir to combine. Add tofu back to the pan, stir and cook 1-2 more minutes until flavours meld together. Enjoy!

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Indian Spiced Chickpea Skillet Cake

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Here in Southern Ontario, the Greater Toronto Area to be exact, we experienced what is akin to a heat wave in winter this past weekend. Temperatures in the (low) double digits (Celsius that is) warmed our bodies and our souls and an abundance of sunshine made everything seemed brighter. Sigh, we collectively needed this! Or at least I needed this. Days like this weekend remind me that everything is going to be okay. Life will be okay. More than okay! Spring is around the corner, we just have to hang in there for a few more weeks.

You know what else warms the body and soul? Spicy, flavourful, easy dishes made with nourishing ingredients. You might have noticed that I love spice. A lot of spice. Like, all the spice in the world. And by spice I mean spices AND heat. In my world, the hotter the better. It’s like an addiction and I often crave spicy foods. My sister gets me. She’s just the same.

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In this spiced chickpea skillet cake the spice comes from some wonderfully robust Indian inspired spices like cumin seeds and fresh ginger, as well as from green chilies which you can dial up or down based on your preferences. You can guess which direction I went! This skillet cake is modelled after an Indian dish called dhokla, if only in flavours and ingredients, not actual execution. Traditional dhokla requires a pressure cooker to make and yields a spongy, super light savoury cake. Like a cloud in your mouth! I rely on baking powder to help achieve a bit of this airiness, though my recipe creates something much more dense and filling. In any case, it’s taste is reminiscent of dhokla and that is all I can wish for. To make it a bit more traditional you could drizzle the finished skillet cake in black mustard seeds and chopped green chilies fried in oil. Alas, no mustard seeds in my cupboard and the stores were closed due to a holiday. I decided to go for it anyway!  

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I love using chickpea flour as it is super cheap (I buy it at a bulk store) and packed with fibre, protein and a host of micronutrients. One 1/2 cup serving of chickpea flour (also known as garbanzo flour or besan) provides you with 10 grams of protein and 5 grams of fibre, as well as about half of your daily folate and a quarter of your daily iron requirements. Please ask me where I get my protein from the next time you see me. It’s also naturally gluten-free (though if you have Celiac disease please buy it in sealed packages!)

Please excuse the seemingly long instructions but I get chatty. And also I needed to explain how I MacGyvered my skillet to have a snug lid to fit over top of it. Yup, using skills in the kitchen!

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Indian Spiced Chickpea Skillet Cake

Serves 4-6

Prep Time 15 minutes

Cook Time 10-13 minutes

Ingredients:

2 cups chickpea flour

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon ground turmeric

3/4 teaspoon sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 cups water

2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 1 small lime)

1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro, packed

1 Tablespoon neutral-tasting oil (avocado, canola, grapeseed, refined coconut)

1 Tablespoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds (optional)

1 Tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger

1-2 chopped green chilies, leave seeds in

Garnish: chopped fresh cilantro, sliced green chilies, lime

Directions:

1. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk chickpea flour, baking powder, salt and pepper to combine. Add water and lime juice and whisk well, ensuring batter is smooth and lump free. Set aside.

2. Choose an oven-proof, non-stick frying pan or well seasoned cast iron skillet, for which you have a tight fitting lid (I used a lid from a large stock pot and used a couple of pieces of tin foil to plug the gaps along the rim of the skillet). Heat oil over medium-high, then add cumin seeds, coriander seeds, ginger and chilies. Fry, stirring often, until fragrant and seeds begin to pop,  about 1-2 minutes.

3. Add fried spices, ginger and chilies to chickpea batter and whisk in. Don’t worry if you don’t get every seed and bit from skillet. Place skillet back on the stove and turn heat down to low. Carefully pour chickpea batter into the skillet and cover with the lid (no peeking – the key is to allow steam to build up and help in cooking the cake.) Cook over low heat for 6-8 minutes, until bubbles appear on surface and mixture starts to set (you will notice the top of the cake will start to dry out and become less jiggly.) Be careful not to burn the skillet cake! Low heat is key here. While cake is cooking on the stove top, set oven on to broil.

4. Once batter is mostly set, remove from heat, remove lid and place skillet on middle rack and broil for 2-3 minutes. Watch carefully to ensure skillet cake does not burn! This is not the time to walk away and start a new task. Carefully remove skillet from the oven (it’s hot!) and allow to cool. Once cool enough to handle, you can flip the  skillet cake out of the pan onto a serving plate, or serve straight  form the skillet. Top with desired garnishes. It tastes best when warm, so eat right away! Or store leftovers in the fridge and reheat before eating.

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And now for a PSA: Let me know if you make this recipe! Share with your friends! Like and comment below!

xo

Enjoy life and good food and sunshine,

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