Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Vegan Challenge: This is Why We Have Mother's Day

I finally arrived home from New York after a nightmarish full day of traveling.

The worst thing about arriving home late is having nothing in the fridge; not even a little morsel to snack on.

Lucky for me, my Mom really got on board with my whole vegan diet.  Last week she cooked up some awesome tofu-pineapple chili and gave it to me to freeze.

Having a delicious pre-made dinner made my arrival home infinitely better.

Vegan Challenge: VEGAN IN NYC

The lovely Sophia and I on the Brooklyn Bridge

Despite the frequency with which I am lucky enough to visit New York City, every time I go I still get into serious vacation-mode.  And my NYC vacation-mode tends to be less focused on relaxing and more focused on throwing together fantastic outfits, going for drinks at trendy bars, and eating way too much delicious food.

I was not about to drag my boyfriend and friend visiting from Toronto to a bunch of vegan places, so needless to say, there was some cheating on my vegan diet.

Some Thoughts on Eating Vegan While on Vacation:

Eating vegan at regular restaurants can be really boring.  In the day I had to subsist on salads with nothing on them, side plates (side mushrooms, side pickles, etc), and french fries.  At night I pretty much ate whatever was put in front of me. 

If you do have to go out to eat but your comrades are keen on meat, choose cuisines that are naturally extensively vegan.  Some examples are Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, and Mexican (corn tortillas and vegetables anyone?)

When you are out, just because the menu says its vegan, it doesn't mean it is!  I was pumped to see a vegan burger on one menu, but the burger came out on a non-vegan hamburger bun, which I only found out because I asked the waitress.
 ("Perhaps you should tell your customers the bun isn't vegan when they order the vegan burger." "Oh, yah, I guess I should.")

All in all, my foray into veganism in New York was a total failure.  I managed to avoid meat, save for a bite or two at a tapas place we visited, but being away from my own kitchen and going out to eat every day proved to be extremely difficult!

There is a fierce debate within the vegan community about a concept called the Paris Exemption - the idea that it is okay to eat meat on special occasions or if vegan meals are hard to find.  I agree with it on the grounds that something like veganism, or any other diet or lifestyle for that matter, should not be treated as dogma.  In my opinion, doing so can potentially lead to the isolationism of and friction between groups with differing opinions.  Flexibility is key to getting along with people who don't believe in the same things you believe in.  (But maybe I'm just saying that to justify the bacon wrap I had on Saturday night).

For an extremely interesting article on vegan fanaticism, visit this article by

Soph and I in Soho


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Vegan Challenge: Vacation Prep

So I'm going to New York for the Easter weekend to hang with my boyfriend and best friend (who is visiting from Toronto).

One thing I always try and do before a trip is clean out my fridge.  Since I've been eating vegan, my fridge is full of vegetables.  Knowing they wouldn't keep until I returned home, I decided to freeze 'em up so when I'm back I can make my own vegetable broth!

Celery, Brussel Sprouts, Yams, Garlic, Carrots, Zucchini, Green Beans, Lettuce, Asparagus, Orange Bell Peppers, Mushrooms, and Cherry Tomatoes.  Delish.
Make sure you chop them BEFORE you freeze them, because that's much harder to do when they're frozen rock solid!
Chop chop, stuff in a bag, and toss it in the freezer. 
There's a few things to be said about making your own vegetable broth.  For one, store bought broth tends to be extremely high in salt.  And secondly, I'm a firm believer that the more processed food you buy, the more pounds you're going to put on.  So whenever possible, I try to make everything from scratch (sauce, dressing, etc.)

Typically, the hours leading up to me leaving for a trip can be hectic to say the least.  For example, today I came home early from work to do a garbage run (from my basement renovation) and when I returned home, just hours before my flight and still not packed, I found water gushing out the side of the house.  Fantastic.  

It's a great feeling knowing I have a clean fridge and tasty vegetables just waiting to be turned into broth when I get home.

NOW I'm ready for New York!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Vegan Challenge: Vegan Snacks POPCORN!

I love me some popcorn.

I'm not a big fan of popcorn from a bag. And unless you love those transfats, I'd suggest buying popcorn kernels and popping them yourself.  It takes just a few minutes, and it's far tastier than the microwaved bag.  Heat a little oil in a pan, throw in some kernels, cover, and keep movin' 'em around until they're all popped.  Since I am human after all... I do like some butter.  When the kernels have popped ( I use the bag instructions: wait until poppings occur every 3 - 4 seconds)  I transfer everything to a bowl, put a little butter in the pan, wait until it melts, then put the popcorn back in the pan.  This ensures even butter distribution, which, as we all know, is essential.

I usually toss a little spice on my popcorn.  I just tried out Cajun seasoning blend, which is probably my favourite so far.

Here's a recipe for Excellent Homemade Cajun Seasoning from Canadian Home Living:

Cajun Seasoning: Ingredients

1/4 cup (50 mL) paprika
1/4 cup (50 mL) dried parsley
2 tbsp (25 mL) garlic powder
2 tbsp (25 mL) dried oregano
2 tbsp (25 mL) dried thyme
1 tsp (5 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2 mL) cayenne pepper

Toss all the ingredients together, and sprinkle on your popcorn.

I suggest you also try on your popcorn: Cumin; Curry; Paprika and Chili Flakes.  All excellent! 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Vegan Challenge: Weekend 1 - Guilty Milk and Egg-based Pleasures

Want to know what I did this weekend?

Confession time:

I came home from the bar on Saturday night and had a piece of toast. NON-VEGAN toast. It did have vegan breakfast patty's on it though. And ketchup... and ranch dressing (also non-vegan). It sounds more gross than it tasted.

I had a family dinner on Sunday and was able to refrain from eating the roast beef. I went through much trouble to make my own special vegan mashed potatoes and falafels in place of the roast beast. When it came time to eat, I did however, proceed to cover my entire plate in gravy. Bad vegan!

And then I had a cookie.

Ok, so clearly weekends are hard. Really, really hard.

But I did have to pick up 3 Subway sandwiches for my brother and dad (who are currently renovating my basement) and I made it out with only a salad.  Which is impressive, because Subway is one of my favourite things in the world. 

What did we learn?

 (That I love gravy? and cookies?)

Plan ahead (meticulously) when going out for a meal. I thought I had my whole vegan alternative meal planned out, but I forgot about two very important additions: sauce and desert. If your will-power is as bad as mine, careful planning is your best ally.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Vegan Challenge: Veganism and World Hunger

Photo taken during my 2009 trip to Cambodia

Friday Thoughts: The World Food Crisis

By now, most people are aware that there is a global food security crisis.  After a 2-year period of decline in food prices following the 2007-2008 spike, food prices are once again on the rise.  As usual, it is the poor who are feeling the worst effects of the rising food prices, and it is the poor in the poorest countries who are being hit the hardest. What I want to know is, can eating vegan reduce world hunger?

While the food crisis can't be attributed to a single cause (analysts have called it a "perfect storm" of factors) there is one factor I feel I can have a direct - albiet small - affect on, and that is by eating less meat. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Vegan Challenge: Almond Milk and Kale Chips

Day 4 Menu:

Breakfast:  Kashi Cereal with the world's best homemade Almond Milk (see recipe below)
Lunch: Leftover Quiche :(
Snack: Kale Chips
Dinner: Black Bean Burgers

I've made almond milk before and it's always been a bit watery and bland.  Just a bit "blah" overall. 

This one, on the other hand, is awesome! Nice and thick and delicious.  Go here for the recipe! 

Almond milk is about 1/4 of the price when you make it at home rather than buy it at the grocery store.

I'm a big tea drinker in the mornings, and unfortunately for almond milk, it just does not taste the same when substituted for milk in tea.  Nor does soy.  Bummer.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Vegan Challenge: Vegan Quiche

Doughnuts at the Snack Table: An glance at my last month of very tempting emails.

My Day 3 Thoughts:

Without fail, at least 3 times a week a mass email gets sent out from various people in my office. The subject line reads something like, "Cookies at the usual spot!! :):) " or today's, "Doughnuts at the snack table!" There was 4 dozen of them. I don't even really like doughnuts (hah, lie. I love them but know how bad they are for me so I tell everyone I hate them). Try again: My self-control is usually quite good, but today, knowing I can't have those doughnuts, those damn doughy circles of goodness were on my mind all day.

I suppose its actually a good thing I "can't have" the doughnut.  As I mentioned yesterday, it's not like I'm particularly hungry. 

But that makes me wonder, had it not been for the vegan diet, would I want the Boston Creme this bad?

And if I were a "real vegan," sworn not to consume animal products for truly ethical and moral reasons far bigger than myself, would I still want the Boston Creme? Or would the thought of those poor cows and chickens be enough to put me off completely?

I also wonder... is there some small part of the Boston Creme that's vegan, and I could just eat that?

This is only day 3.

My Day 3 Menu:

Breakfast: Granola and Soy Milk
Snack: Pumpkin and Sunflower Seeds
Lunch: Last night's leftover (faux) Chicken Quesadilla
Snack: Apple
Dinner: Quiche

So I made this quiche... it took me forever. And I was excited about it because it required a lot of steps, a lot of garlic, a lot of sauteing spices. Sounds like it should be great, right? WRONG. It just tasted like tofu. The only redeeming feature was that I couldn't find a vegan pie crust, so I used a regular pastry crust, which was sweet and delicious (but cheating).

Here's the recipe. Everyone else seems to love it so perhaps I did something wrong??

Here's a lesson learned: When the deliciousness of a dish is largely based on a single ingredient (in quiche's case: eggs) you can't replace that ingredient with something else and expect it to taste the same!!!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Vegan Challenge: Homemade Granola

My Day 2 Thoughts:

I'm one of those people that has to eat every 2 hours or else I turn into Sigourney Weaver at the end of Ghostbusters, so I thought the lack of vegan snacks could be a problem. In reality, I don't find I've been all that hungry. 

I'm in the process of renovating my basement (office lemming by day, demolition expert by night) and I was actually kept pretty full by what I had to eat today.  I think it must be the granola.  Talk about hearty.

My Day 2 Menu:

Breakfast: Homemade Granola, BC Fuji apple, and soy milk (see recipe below!)
Snack: Sesame and Pumpkin seeds
Lunch: Mixed 6-bean Salad
Dinner: Quesadilla with tofu chicken and vegan cheese. 

This homemade granola recipe is excellent!
I highly recommend trying to make your own rather than buying it.
Processed granola tends to be high in fat and high in price, while this is neither!

Homemade Granola Crunch Recipe

 6 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1-2 cups chopped assorted nuts
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/3 cup flax seeds (whole or ground)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup turbinado sugar
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2-2 cups water
2 cups dried mixed fruit (I used dried bananas and raisins)


1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Mix all ingredients except the fruit. For non chunky granola, skip to step 3.
2. For granola with chunks, slowly stir mixture in pot over low-medium heat until ingredients become sticky and form clumps (it will be somewhat hard to stir). If you need to add more water, do so.
3. Dump mixture onto 2 large jelly-roll pans, spread evenly. Bake for 1-1 1/2 hours (less time is needed for the granola with no chunks), stirring every 15-20 minutes. Granola will be a golden brown when it is ready.
4. Cool granola by spreading it out on flattened paper grocery bags. Add dried fruit.

Store in an air tight container; it should last several weeks.

This is where I got the recipe from.  Thanks!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Vegan Challenge: Day 1

I have prepared a meal plan for the week.
I have done the grocery shopping
I have said my goodbyes to all things meat and dairy.  Bye-bye milk for tea in the morning. Bye-bye brie.  Bye-bye spicy tuna rolls (I'll miss you most of all).
And so it begins...

My Day 1 Menu:

Breakfast:  Kashi Puffs with my roommate's soy milk
Snack: My own mix of sunflower and pumpkin seeds  (if you like trail mix, its cheaper to buy the nuts in bulk and make your own!)
Lunch:  Salad, lots of chick peas.
Dinner:  Pho (see recipe below!)

I love pho. I mean, I really love it. And THIS is a great recipe. I spent some time in South East Asia, and I'm not saying that qualifies me as a "connoisseur" or an "expert with a perfectly refined palate" but I mean, I spent 3 months in Cambodia.  And that's right next to Vietnam, where pho is from. So yah, I know what I'm talking about.

**I like to give credit where credit is due, but I have no idea where I got this recipe from.

The Best Pho You'll Ever Make

Serves 4


6 oz. rice noodles
1 1/2 cups snow peas, ends trimmed
1 cup shredded carrots
1 piece ginger (1/2 inch thick) peeled and chopped
1 star anise
3 whole cloves
8 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth if you are trying this vegan!)
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/4 inch strips (obviously discount this ingredient if you're trying it vegan)
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into thin strips
1 tbsp fresh lime juice
1/2 cups chopped scallions
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
4 sprigs basil
1 lime, cut into 4 wedges


1. Boil noodles in salted water for approx. 3 minutes. 
2. Place prepared snow peas and carrots in a colander; Drain noodles over snow peas and carrots; Rinse; and divide among 4 bowls
4. Tie a sachet of ginger, star anise, and cloves in cheesecloth or loose leaf tea bag; Place sachet in a large pot with chicken/vegetable broth; boil 5 minutes.
5.  Reduce heat to medium  (if you're making without chicken, skip step 6 and move onto 7).
6.  Add chicken
7.  Simmer 5 minutes 
8.  Add bell pepper and lime juice and season with salt
9. Remove sachet; ladle into bowls; top with remaining ingredients

Nutritional Info:  (with chicken and chicken broth)
395 Calories per serving
5 g. fat (1.3 g saturated)
51 g carbs, 3.7 g. fiber, 38 g. protein.

The first time I made it it took me around half an hour, but since then have gotten much faster :) Try it out and let me know your thoughts!!

My Changes:
I have tried this good pho recipe a variety of different ways.  With shrimp/prawns instead of chicken, with different kinds of peas/shoots.  In this photo I've added some bean sprouts.  Its great every time.

So far, eating vegan ain't so bad!  (I feel like this is like one of those times in the movies when the lead says something positive, and the audience cringes because they know that shortly its all going to go completely the opposite way...)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Challenge: 3 Week Vegan Diet

I drifted back and forth from vegetarian to ravenous meat eater for the past 4 years.  Is going vegan really that big of a stretch?

I used to think that vegans were just birkenstock wearing, dreadlock sporting, PETA-freak, granolas.  That's not to say a lot of vegans aren't that way, but my research made me realize going vegan is also for environmentalists, health nuts, and feed-the-hungry types (I fall into the latter category). I was pretty much hooked on the idea of becoming a vegan, if only for a little while, when I read that:
“Nearly half of the world's grains and soybeans are fed to animals, resulting in a huge waste of food calories. The extent of waste is such that even a 10% drop in US meat consumption would make sufficient food available to feed the world's starving millions.”

A word of caution: Before starting any diet its important to do your research! I picked up Jack Norris' Vegan For Life, which includes all the info you'll need to do a vegan diet right.

The Motivation: My motivation to complete this challenge is going to be the thought that by avoiding animals products, I am reducing animal suffering, and in my small way possibly helping someone not go hungry.

The Goal: Save some animals, green up the earth, get healthy, and reduce world hunger!

The Challenge: Consume no animal products for 3 weeks
This includes meat, animal milk, cheese, eggs… if it comes from an animal, it’s stayin’ out of my mouth. 

Oprah went on a vegan diet for 3-weeks in 2008, and in February Oprah and her staff went on a 1-week vegan diet, so I’ll be using a lot of her recipes, as well as some additional ones I find on my own.   And lets face it, if Oprah can do it, I can do it.

Difficulty Level: When I was in my first year of university and I watched “Fast Food Nation.” There is a graphic scene in a cow slaughterhouse which really turned me off eating meat. I don't really cook red meat for myself, but will occasionally make chicken if I start to crave it.  Remember, cravings are your body trying to tell you something, and you should always listen to your body! I will eat a burger once and a while, and my dad makes a mean steak I just can’t refuse. For these reasons I don’t call myself a vegetarian, I simply don’t eat a lot of red meat. Since I don’t eat a lot of meat to begin with, and I am a big fan of tofu products, that part of the challenge should be relatively easy. I do, however, love bread, cheese, milk, etc. I also love going out for dinner but hate to order salads when I go out.  So that 'vegan option' is out the window. 

Overall Difficulty Level: 8.5/10

Start Date: Monday, April 11
End Date: Sunday, May 1