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HELP! There's a VEGAN Coming For Dinner!

 

The Blog Has Moved! It's now bigger and better!

Posted 4/10/2015

To create a better blog, I've started blogging at: https://helptheresavegan.wordpress.com/

Check it out!

Karen :)

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Walk a Mile in my Shoes #2

Posted 7/4/2014

sparta1A few months ago I posted a blog about the dilemmas of owning leather shoes when eating a vegan diet. Now don’t get me wrong - I don’t mean I pull on a pair of thigh-high black leather boots every time I sit down to eat a bean or two – but I’m having problems with the whole leather shoe thing.  If I don’t want to digest animals, why would I want to wear them? I think, perhaps, that the best use for leather is to hold the insides of a cow together instead of being used to keep my feet comfy. In “walk a mile in my shoes #1” I proposed that I would go through my closet, remove shoes which I didn’t wear, and respectfully send them off to somewhere new. Since then, I’ve sold a few pairs to people who promised to wear them and appreciate them. Then today, much to my surprise, my vegan sandals and I stumbled upon a way to downsize my shoe collection, give my footwear a second chance, and help people all at the same time! I’d driven to Dymon storage in Kanata, over by Canadian Tire at Kanata Centrum for you local folk, to pick up some extra packing paper, and while I was there I saw a large box containing shoes. The poster said “Soles4Souls Canada – Changing the world, One Pair at a time”. Interesting. I returned home and looked up the website. It said “Souls4Souls is a Nashville-based charity which collects shoes from warehouses of footwear companies and the closets of people like you.” (Hey – I think they mean ME!!!!!) “We distribute these shoes, free of charge, to people in need around the world. Since 2005, Soles4Souls has given away over 7 million pairs of new and gently worn shoes (currently distributing one pair every 9 seconds). The shoes have been distributed in 125 countries, including Haiti, Kenya, Nepal and the United States. Visit www.giveshoes.org for more information.”

This could be just the thing I’ve been looking for! I have more shoes than I need, and I feel bad that animals were slaughtered, skinned, turned into footwear, and then left in the dark corners of my closet to collect dust. I admit that by donating them to Souls4Shoes Canada I’m doing nothing to improve the lives of farm animals, I’m doing nothing to promote veganism, and I’m not supporting the production of non-leather footwear. What I am doing, however, is hopefully helping people who are not as fortunate as I am. I can pick and choose what I eat, what I wear, and what I put on my feet. I’m aware that, living here in Ottawa, I’m extremely blessed to be able to make so many lifestyle choices. I have ready access to plant-based proteins such as beans, lentils, nuts, “faux meats” and tofu, and have an overwhelming number of fruits and vegetables to chose from. I have no need, nor desire, to munch on a slice of Bessie-the Cow, pork-out on a piece of pig, or heat up a hock of horse. I also, quite honestly, have no  need to wear a piece of cow or horse on my feet. So....sing along with me:

Hi ho, hi ho
To Dymon here I go.
With a boot and a shoe
(and a neigh and a moo),
Hi ho hi ho hi ho hi ho
(Thank you Disney for the inspiration).

If you’ve got any unloved footwear in your closet, whatever it’s made of, why don’t you drop it off at a shoe collection point too? Singing the little song is optional, but I strongly recommend it! See if there’s one near you at http://www.soles4soulscanada.com

Karen J

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Art for the Animals

Posted 6/24/2014

I recently had a clearout event for my art studio, which I closed after 20 years of painting. It sounds like a sad thing to do, but in reality it’s something I’ve been planning for quite a while. Downsizing has given me the final push I needed to get the artwork out of my house and into other people’s homes. The plan was simple – post the event on Facebook and Kijiji, take anonymous donations for an animal welfare charity, and brighten the walls of friends and strangers. For the most part, it worked exactly as planned. People came, selected artwork, made a donation, and left happy.kids I’m still smiling about the guy who took a painting containing Pythagorean calculations to put in his computer room, the lady who now has chickens hanging on her kitchen wall, the tearful woman who took away her first ever pieces of original art, and the young mother who now has artwork for her small son’s room. Heartwarming stuff. And yet, sadly, one person became the fly in the ointment. The cloud on the horizon. The hair in the peanut butter. The rain on my parade. The one who said “OMG - I feel so guilty,” as she threw the loose change from her pocket into the donation box and left with a considerable number of paintings to hang in her new four-bedroom home. “They’re for my children,” she cried as she loaded up the small paintings hidden behind the large ones. I really wish I didn’t know that her kids are well past the age of car and ABC paintings. “My walls are so bare!” she declared as she manoeuvred the medium size ones out of the door. “I feel just awful!” she said as she dragged out the large ones. Her final words were “I feel so bad! So bad!” as she leapt in her van and drove away. I felt bad too. She took what should have been a joyful event and tainted it. Greed and guilt are things we do to ourselves, and neither brings happiness. It bothered me, perhaps more than it should, until a friend told me a Polish proverb. “Every time you feel yourself getting pulled into someone else’s nonsense, repeat these words. Not my Circus. Not my monkeys.”

japaneseAnd then I think of the other people who came, and my day brightens again. The lady who returned with a sealed envelope to put in the donation box, because helping animals was important to her. The young woman who fell in love with three small pieces to hang in her tiny apartment. The hugs, the tears, the smiles, the laughter. The ones who took art to sell at fundraisers for other charities. The gratitude of lovely people who understood that art is special and something to be enjoyed. And my gratitude at seeing my creations go to loving homes. And, of course, the happiness I felt at the end of the sale when I selected some charities to donate money to. It was a difficult choice to make. Should I give everything to one organisation and make a big difference, or split the cash between a number of charities? I the end, this is what I chose to do. Five animal welfare groups would each receive an equal amount, with the remaining twenties and loose change going to a local fundraiser to renovate a home for a child. After all, how could I choose to help cats, my companions of choice, and not help dogs? How could I ignore rabbits, when I lived with one as a child? How could I ignore a sanctuary which promotes animal welfare? And, of course, how could I ignore a local handicapped child when my niece spent her short life in a wheelchair?

These are the charities I chose:

The Cat Rescue Network: http://www.catrescuenetwork.org/

Gentle Jakes Coonhound Rescue, which a friend has connections with: http://www.coonhoundrescue.ca/

Sit With Me, as recommended by someone at my clearout event: http://www.sitwithme.ca/

New Moon Rabbit Rescue: http://www.newmoonrabbitrescue.ca/

Big Sky Ranch: http://www.bigskyranch.ca/

Help Lauren King: https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/ek9m8/ab/61dXM2?fb_action_ids=4268372085728&fb_action_types=fundrazr%253Adonate&fb_source=aggregation&fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582

Thank you to everyone who made this possible by giving words of encouragement, making donations, giving my art a loving home or picking up pieces to help other charities. And to those who read this blog and decide to make a difference in the lives of animals or people... thank you. Make a donation, volunteer, email a neglected friend, write something kind on someone’s FB page. Do something nice for someone today – you’ll be glad you did.

Karen :)

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The Mystery of the Missing Blog

Posted 4/29/2014

Today is Tuesday. Blog day. And yet....there is no blog waiting to be posted. Despite my intensions of writing one every week (but no more than  one per week - I don’t want to be suspected of having  verbal diarrhea!) I’m sitting here looking at my files and finding nothing. Now please don’t be mistaken - I’m not apologizing or making excuses - there’s no blog because I’ve been too busy LIVING to worry about blogging. This last week has definitely supplied plenty of blog material for future posts, such as the head-jerk reaction from a meat-eater opening a bag of vegan cheese, or the omnivore who, despite my ascertains that he wouldn’t be happy with the texture, cooked a box of vegan “shrimp”.  Oh boy, did I ever laugh. But they will have to wait.

My time since the last blog has been spent driving to Toronto and back twice (putting over 2000 km on my car while doing so), rental-room hunting with my eldest son (insert the words “what the heck is that smell?” here multiple times), being scolded at tango lessons for bending my knees when walking (who would have thought it?) and taking a dance lesson on stage at the Panasonic theatre in Toronto before watching a fabulous performance of Arrabel (memo - when watching a play when the plot is totally explained through interpretive dance, read the synopsis before the play starts lol). I’ve also collected number 2 son from a train station so that he could celebrate his 20th birthday at home and have his wisdom teeth removed today, started to pack my house in anticipation of staging it ready to sell, and made considerably less progress on the Japanese cookbook than my editor would like. Phew! Yesterday I played at being a taxi driver because my husband’s car was at the dealership being fixed (I took number one son to work, husband to work, number 2 son to dentist, a friend to a dealership to retrieve her own car, brought number 1 son back from work and brought husband back from work). And my crowning achievement? Making a birthday cake for my amazing friend Margaret as she celebrates her 50th birthday today.

So, that’s why there’s no blog about vegan-y things this week. But there are, at least, pictures of a vegan cake to keep you happy until next time.

Karen :)

cake1 cake2 cake3

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Doh!

Posted 4/22/2014

I have friends who love cakes and cookies, ice creams and mousses, sweet treats and desserts. These are the friends who, when invited for dinner, invariably say “Can I bring dessert?” Sometimes I say yes, simply because it saves me the trouble of making a sweet treat which I probably wouldn’t eat anyway. Even before I metamorphosed into an “as close as I can sensibly get” vegan, I tended to avoid desserts. I’m lactose intolerant, and my gall bladder was removed after going mad, so cream was a BIG no-no for me. I’m the only person I know who’s spent a week on a cruise ship and not eaten a single dessert. Not because I was trying to be “virtuous” (as my mother-in-law would put it), but because sweet things simply don’t “do it” for me. Give me a simple bar of dark vegan chocolate every now and again and I’m quite content. Or a bag of salted potato chips – now that would make me happy! So why did I find myself sitting in a parking lot on Sunday wolfing down a donut as if my life depended on it? Personally, I blame the National Capital Region (Ottawa) Vegetarian Society’s facebook group.

Over the past few weeks there have been various posts on the NCVA page showing donuts made by Auntie Loos (https://www.facebook.com/AuntieLoosTreats), which is a vegan bakery in Ottawa. The reviews accompanying the photos and links were super positive, and obviously the donuts are a huge hit. Somehow this idea of “donuts=good!” implanted itself into my subconscious, ready to spring out at an opportune moment. That moment, as it turned out, was on Sunday afternoon.

Before I go any further, let me get my excuses in place to rationalise this sudden need for a sugar-and-fat overload. On Saturday Alan and I drove to Toronto to deliver groceries to our youngest son (no explanation is going to be offered to explain why he didn’t go and buy his own. Kids, eh?) and to see Arrabel at the Panasonic Theatre. (Memo to self - when going to see a play totally explained in the form of dance, read the synopsis before the play starts!) On Sunday we got up bright and early to view rental properties with our eldest son who is looking for somewhere new to live in York in September. There were questions I really wanted to ask the landlords but somehow managed to hold back, such as “What the feck is that SMELL?” and “How old is that “bed”?” and “Where’s the window?” and, more than all the others, “Would you let your child live here?” The first property we saw had two police cars sitting outside. One of the officers explained that usually there would only be one car, but he and his partner had been lucky enough to get one each on Sunday. I’m not sure that made me feel any better! I was definitely feeling a little stressed by the time we had viewed the available rooms and declared them all to be unsuitable. Next came the trial of fitting the contents of a student’s room, along with 3 people, into a car and then closing all the doors. We managed to do so, but it took some snarling at each other to achieve it.

So, after hitting the road and heading back to Ottawa, we stopped at a service station to get some liquid caffeine to assist us on our journey. Hubby and son both wanted a donut, and as I stood at the counter the subliminal message planted in my brain (Donuts! Yum!) leapt into action. I heard myself order a chocolate dip donut for Alan, an Easter donut for son #1, and a maple dip donut for myself. I was a little surprised, but paid the cashier and took my treasures back to the car. Before I even sat down, my donut was gone. It was sugary and maple-y and cakey and fatty, and I loved every bite. However, as I folded up the empty bag, the thought hit me. “I bet that wasn’t vegan!!” It was then that I realised I had absolutely no idea how to make a donut. Do they contain eggs? Butter? Does the icing contain milk? Obviously it was too late to worry about it since the donut was well and truly gone by this point, but I vowed to check it out after I got home. I googled the Tim Horton’s webiste and their helpful document (http://www.timhortons.com/ca/pdf/Allergen_Information_-_Canada_-_April2014.pdf) quickly pointed out the error of my ways. Their donuts are vegetarian, but not vegan. Doh. So, the next time I get the urge to indulge in a something of a donutty nature, I’ll be heading off to Auntie Loos to sample her vegan treats. However, given that the donuts I’ve eaten so far have been at least 10 years apart, I don’t think I’ll be going there for a while!

Karen :)

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Raw Food Rant Two

Posted 4/15/2014

In my last blog, I talked about trying a raw food diet as a change from eating Japanese food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The challenge I set myself was to make satisfying raw food meals using minimal ingredients and as few gizmos and gadgets as possible. I used a book which claimed I could make meals using 5 ingredients, in 15 minutes or less. As I mentioned in Raw Food Rant One, I was somewhat sceptical!

Day 1 started bright and early, along with the realisation that I should probably have gone grocery shopping the day before. It’s all well and good creating a 5-day menu plan, but if you don’t actually have the ingredients in the house it can be kinda hard to stick to it! Undeterred, I headed off to the freezer and dug out 3 peanut butter-oatmeal-seed balls, which I usually keep on hand for snack-attacks. Oats are not considered “raw food”, but sometimes you have to work with what you’ve got. By 10 o’clock I was starving, so it was time to head back to the kitchen. I’d planned on making a Garden Veg Smoothie, and was happy to find the required ingredients sitting in my fridge. I plugged in my old blender, put the lid on and requested that it pureed the contents of the jar until smooth. It looked at me and laughed, so I had to settle for a somewhat textured green smoothie which I green smoothieregarded suspiciously, wondering why I hadn’t simply put the veggies onto a plate and called it a salad. I poured half into a glass and put the other half in the fridge for later, mostly because the colour was less than appealing and I didn’t want to commit to drinking the entire thing in one go. Surprisingly it was quite nice, but not very satisfying, so I retrieved the other half and polished that off too.

By lunchtime I have to admit that the cats’ food was starting to smell good. I fought back my urge to put on the rice cooker by mixing up some parsley dressing to pour over sliced avocado, carrots, red pepper and sliced mushrooms. It was chased down by half a serving of Nutty Apple with Ginger. Mid-afternoon found me with my hand in the bag of oat balls, and the kitchen was filled with the smell of dehydrating kale in preparation for dinner. I’d planned other things for dinner, but actually ended up having a repeat of lunch since I already had the dressing made and a half-portion of nutty apples sitting around. I supplemented it with dehydrated kale and spinach, enviously watching Alan chow down a vegan lasagna from the freezer. In the evening I snacked on roasted seaweed and Japanese pickles, neither of which I believe count as raw food. I drank a glass of blueberry juice (out of a bottle - I don’t own a juicer) and went to bed feeling light-headed from the sugar-rush but virtuous. (Memo - don’t drink sugar just before bed if you actually want to sleep. Stick to whisky as a nightcap.)

parsley dressing

I went grocery shopping on day 2 and stocked the kitchen with fruits, vegetables and raw nuts and seeds. I threw together a fruit and chia seed smoothie (turns out that I don’t like the texture of soaked chia seeds) and munched on dehydrated kale while I mixed up some of the recommended staples such as Thai sauce, curry sauce, sesame humus (it’s chunky but serviceable) and a couple of sweet treats. My blender put in a supreme amount of effort during all this prep work, but it’s totally incapable of creating smooth sauces from nuts. I tried my cracked mini food processor, but all it did was leak, and I had to settle for textured results. By the end of the day I’d consumed a couple of smoothies (I’m so sick of washing my blender!!) and tried two of the corn-based dishes (the salad was OK, but the pureed corn patties were....not). I seemed to have spent most of the day eating, but I never felt satisfied. I didn’t enjoy the sugar-rushes I got from dried fruit, and struggled with the concept of adding 3 tbsp of coconut oil to a fruit smoothie. This new eating plan contains a lot more fat my body is used to, and it’s not happy about it. When Alan and I went to a Meet-up in a pub that evening, the greasy fumes coming off the plate of fries ordered by the guy sitting opposite me made me feel nauseous. I sipped my decaf coffee (not raw, but who cares) and day-dreamed about freshly baked bread, steaming soups, and other low-fat forbidden foods.

I started day 3 with a vegetable smoothie and proceeded to munch my way through the day. I became obsessed with the idea of eating, but didn’t smootherelish the thought of drinking yet another smoothie or chopping yet another vegetable. My body rebelled against the increased amount of fat in my diet, and when I picked up an avocado to add to a salad, I returned it to the bowl unscathed and gave it a foul look. I tried to follow recipes in my raw food book, but very few of them can be made without a high power blender and / or food processor and / or other tools, and very few of them actually only have the promised “5 ingredients”. I spent more time in the kitchen than usual, even though I had pre-mixed dressings in the fridge, and had lost my appetite by the end of the day. I couldn’t stand the thought of another handful of nuts, another sugar-rush fruit smoothie, or another feckin’ sliced zucchini. When we went out to a steampunk gala that evening (it was fab!), I stayed away from the plate of raw veggies on the snack table. I’d rather be hungry than eat one more bleedin’ stick of celery.

By the time day 4 (Sunday) arrived, I was beginning to wonder if I would make it to the end of my 5 day trial without falling off the wagon. Breakfast was a banana-mango-hemp milk smoothie (it’s a shame raw food diets don’t include soy milk - it has much more protein than nut milks), followed by mixed veggies, cashews and Thai dressing for lunch. It tasted OK, but I had trouble eating it - I was somewhat hemp smoothiedistracted by Alan’s steaming, hot, fragrant bowl of faux-meat ramen. In the afternoon Alan and I went to see “The Lunch Box”, which is a lovely movie set in India, following the lives of two people linked together by notes in a lunch box. Every time the man in the movie opened his lunch box and inhaled the aromas, I could smell the spices. The movie finished and I turned to Alan. “Curry?” “Oh yes!” We drove to Tandoori Fusion in Bells Corners where I had a fabulous vegan dinner of aloo gobi, spiced lentils and roti. It was a huge relief to sit down with something hot, spicy and filling. I ate half and took the rest home for lunch the next day. For the first time in four days I felt satisfied both physically and emotionally, and I knew that the raw food trial was over.

So what have a leant from this? Obviously the most significant discovery is that a raw food diet is not the right eating style for me. I’m going to add more raw veggies to my meals, but they will be joined by steaming bowls of lentils, hot or cold bean dishes, and soy-based proteins. I think it will be a long time before I can face eating another nut, but I might add hemp hearts to a salad every now and again. I’ve also leant that cookbooks sometime make promises they can’t keep, and I will be careful to avoid this in my own cookbooks. As for dinner tonight, it’s yellow split pea soup with onions, carrots, celery, garlic and potatoes, with a side salad of.....no, I’m joking. There’s no side salad :)

Does anybody (Ottawa area) want a slightly used (there’s writing on some of the pages) raw food cookbook? Free to a good home - but you need to have a high power blender to make the most of it. Let me know if you’re interested!

Karen :)

Footnote: I know somebody is bound to be asking themselves  “But how much weight did you lose on your 4 day raw food diet?” And the answer is ......none at all. My body knows what weight it wants to be, and it’s sticking to it.

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Raw Food Rant One

Posted 4/8/2014

For the last five months, almost every meal I’ve prepared (including breakfasts) has been influenced by Japanese cooking. Heavy on the soy sauce, mirin, tofu, and rice; very light on the fresh fruits and vegetables. I’m finally into the “pulling it all together into book format” stage and desperate to munch down on some quick and easy veggie-based dishes. I’ve been intrigued by the idea of a raw food diet for a while, and this seemed like a good time to investigate it. I’ve previously been put off by the image I have of a kitchen full of dehydrators and power-tool-like equipment, so I was delighted when I found a book in Chapters which said on the back cover “No complicated equipment or techniques are required – just five ingredients and minimal know-how.” Woo hoo!!!!! This sounds like a good introductory book for raw food wannabes. I opened the book and read the introduction. It addressed the very questions I had been asking: “Doesn’t raw food take a long time to prepare, and isn’t it complicated to make, requiring a lot of special kitchen equipment?” to which the author replies “The answer to both is a resounding no. Raw food can be as simple to make as Lime Tomato and Avocado Chili.....and all can be prepared in 15 minutes or less.” Wow! I was impressed by these claims but still a little doubtful, so I read on. “In this book you won’t find recipes that require hours of soaking, sprouting or dehydrating.” (Fab!) “Anyone.....can make these recipes using standard kitchen equipment.” That was it. Sold. I bonded with the book, and held my head high as I walked down the aisle to publicly declare my intentions, witnessed by a cashier, to cherish this book ‘til death do us part.

Spoiler alert: For me, the most important parts of a relationship are trust, honesty, and integrity. The book seduced me with its come-hither looks and words of comfort and hope, then broke my heart in the harsh reality of day. I’m pausing here to sob on my keyboard, happy only that my tears are, to the best of my knowledge, raw.

raw1The day-after-the-night-before, I got up early and curled up on the sofa with the regulated quota of cats and a steaming hot cup of tea (I never thought to ask... Is drinking hot tea allowed on a raw food diet?) to become better acquainted with my new love. I recalled the promises made to me in the store: 5 ingredients, 15 minutes or less, standard kitchen equipment. I re-read the pages which had seduced me, then moved on to the explanation of “Five-Ingredient Recipes.” Why does that need an explanation? Surely the title says it all... but wait! Somebody is fiddling the numbers! “These recipes do not count salt or water as one of the ingredients.” Hmm. OK. I can live with that. I always have them handy anyway. “These recipes may rely on recipes from the “In The Pantry” chapter to create more complex dishes, in which case the recipe is tallied as a single ingredient.” Now maybe it’s just me, but that sounds like cheating. I turned to the “In The Pantry” chapter and took a look. Quick Thai Cream Sauce needs almond butter, water, lime juice, coconut oil, agave nectar and wheat-free tamari. That’s 6 ingredients. Oh, wait, water isn’t an ingredient, so that leaves 5. I can use it to make, for example, Carrot Pad Thai (an additional 5 ingredients, one of which is salt, so let’s call it 4), topped with lime (another ingredient) and Teriyaki Almonds (5 ingredients, none of which are salt or water.) That means, depending on how fancy I get, Carrot Pad Thai actually has between 11 and 14 ingredients, not 5. Now don’t get me wrong - I have, on occasion, played with numbers to get the results I wanted, but this concept of claiming that 6 - 1 + 5 - 1 + 5 = 5 is new to me. I felt my brow start to furrow, which is not a good thing at my age – the forehead wrinkles tend to stay for hours if I frown for too long. Maybe this was just an oddity in the book. I flipped through and found another recipe: Squash Burrito. 6 ingredients, minus the salt, leaving 5. One ingredient is sunflower seed hummus, which has 6 (make that 5) ingredients. Total: between 9 and 11, depending on how you do the math. Not all the recipes require the use of Pantry items, but there’s enough to make me worried.

Another cause for concern is the repeated appearance of words like “blender,” “food processor,” “mandolin,” “spiralizer” (WTF?) and “juicer.” I flipped through the book. With the exception of 4 (that’s FOUR) recipes, every single one of them needs one or more of these pieces of equipment. Red flags started waving in my imagination. It would appear that the author’s idea of “standard kitchen equipment” differs somewhat from mine. I have a wooden spoon, a grater, an old potato peeler (oops, no I don’t – it went to Toronto with one of my kids), two really good Japanese knives and a cheap 10-year-old blender. And, of course, a rice cooker, but I don’t think that’s going to be much help! I threw the cats off my lap and went equipment-hunting in my cupboards, thinking that somewhere I might have an old hand-blender with a mini food-processor attachment. After a bit of investigative work I found it. The processor bowl has a few hairline cracks in the bottom, and it’s about the size of a grapefruit, but it will have to do.

Later that day, the cats and I returned to the sofa with another cup of tea, armed with a notebook and pen. The mission: to find recipes I could tackle with my limited equipment and create a 1-week menu plan / shopping list. I vowed not to let the words “process at high speed” and “blend on high power” deter me from trying the recipes, and I would have to find some way to use my knives and potato peeler instead of a mandolin or spiralizer. One way or another, I was going to make this work. “Good luck with that,” said the cats as they shed hair all over the sofa, me, and the book.Sparta

Let the battle commence.

Karen :)

Footnote: I’ve set myself a few ground rules:
If I’m hungry, I’m going to eat. I’m not doing this to lose weight.
If I don’t have an ingredient, I’ll use a substitute.
I won’t set myself up to fail – if I can see that my blender isn’t up to the task I won’t use that particular recipe.
I’m not giving up my hot cups of tea. I’m doing this to try to introduce more raw food into my diet, not to make myself suffer!

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HELP! There Are OMNIVORES Coming For Dinner!

Posted 4/1/2014

As some of you know, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen doing what can be politely referred to as “food experiments.” Some are highly successful, resulting in dinner (hurray!), while some cannot be described as successful no matter what form of analysis is used. A good journalist might use phrases such as “creatively presented,” “a brave approach to flavour” or “an interesting adventure in texture,” which can easily be rephrased as “Honey, we’re eating out tonight.”dofu

Since returning from a long-awaited trip to Japan, I’ve been working on a vegan cookbook which showcases Japanese food. After months of putting lumpy, soggy, squidgy and/or strangely grey creations into the compost, I’m finally in a position to test-drive the recipes. So, on Sunday night I gathered my largest team of taste-testers (thank you, Home Depot) together for a preview dinner. Most of these intrepid souls had never eaten Japanese food before arriving, shiitakeand others had only had typical all-you-can-eat-sushi menu items. The taste-testing dinner needed to be gluten-free (thankfully I have gluten-free soy sauce!) and, as an extra challenge, all my guests were omnivores who were sitting down at a vegan’s table. I don’t know which side of the table was braver—them for turning up for a dinner of tofu and beans, or me for inviting a large pack of them all at the same time. We had a fabulous evening full of laughter, questions, repeated use of the word “tofu,” cautious poking of unfamiliar food offers, and I got great feedback on the dishes. Those unfamiliar with Japanese food quickly learned the meaning of “use a small amount of wasabi” after snorting the green horseradish down their noses following a larger-than-optimal portion.cabbage

So what did my foodies manage to assess for me? If you’re not familiar with Japanese food, amuse yourself by trying to match the menu items with the photos as you go along. We started with red miso soup with soft tofu and spinach, which quickly weeded out the tofuphiles from the tofuphobes. This was accompanied by napa-spinach rolls (ah- somebody doesn’t like cabbage!), fresh tofu skins (a bit of an acquired taste), home-made pickles (the cabbage was too salty), and chilled sesame / black sesame / green tea dofu (those not used to Japanese food found the texture unusual). Next came marinated shiitake mushrooms (people who liked mushrooms liked these a lot), grated daikon, potatoes in white miso (the favourite dish of the evening for one person), and soybeans with carrots (needs less soy beanssauce and more mirin, but the Italian parsley worked well in this dish). Red-bean stuffed rice balls (onigiri) followed, which are great bento-box items. There was a pause for breath before the arrival of gluten-free Osaka-style okonomiyaki (I hated the texture of this pancake. Give me wheat flour!!!), green tea dango-on-a-stick (too chewy for some) and fried ginger faux lamb. This meat-like dish was very popular, but I personally didn’t like it. It was just too damn meaty!!! We then rounded up the main courses with vegan sushi rolls, which were filled with combinations of peppers, asparagus, green onions, home-made tofu, avocado, pickled daikon and carrots. Phew!!!

 

But wait... there’s more!

Desserts don’t feature highly in bars and restaurants in Japan, but we did encounter the odd one or two. When I served the taste-testers chilled silken tofu in soy milk, topped with a sweet soy sauce dressing, the team spilt firmly into two halves. Those who liked tofu used words like “creamy,” “subtle” and “refreshing,” while the tofuphobes cried “This would be better with caramel!” and “tofu is too bland” and “Awww- it’s tofu!” The following dish of black beans in caramelised sugar syrup was more favourably met, but the favourites were definitely the mochi and green tea cake.

sweetbeans

soymilktofu

mochi 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

When the dinning was finished and the final cup of green tea imbibed, my fearless diners were full to overflowing and the house looked like a major disaster zone. It’s amazing how much mess a multiple-course dinner eaten over a 2 hour period can create!!!!

So what have we all learnt from this culinary adventure? My tasters learned that if you don’t like tofu at the beginning of a meal, you probably still won’t like it by the time dessert arrives. I learned that my gluten-free soy sauce has a stronger taste than my regular soy sauce, that I prefer my cabbage pancakes to be made with wheat flour, and that a pack of meat-eaters can leave a dinner table stuffed and happy after a vegan meal.

Karen :)

onigiri faux meat yuba

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Walk a Mile in My Shoes

Posted 3/25/2014

shoe1

I, like many other people, love shoes. High heels, flats, ankle boots, tall boots, sandals (not so much so), dance shoes, travel shoes, winter shoes, spring and falls shoes. Love ‘em. Now don’t get me wrong here - I don’t actually like wearing them - I’m much happier running around in bare feet - but when they call to me from the shoe shops saying “Look at me! And I’m on sale!” they can be hard to resist. But how many of these pieces of footwear ever actually leave the house on my feet? Very few. Just my favourites. My precious ones. Usually the old, battered, low heel, black leather ones. Last night I left the house wearing a knee-length dress and black army boots. The same army boots I wore to the grocery store in my jeans, and to go out for dinner wearing a skirt. I love my army boots - they don’t really go with anything, but they’re just so....me. But they used to be someone else. Someone who ate hay and said moo. And that’s where the problem begins. As a newly reformed as-close-as-I-can-get-vegan I’m beginning to question the ethics of some of my footwear choices. Is it right for a girl to continue to wear her cow and horse (yes, horse) shoes after she makes the dietary switch from a dairy-free-fish-free-vegetarian to a self-proclaimed vegan? I know that whatever I say at this point will be met with disagreement from somebody, but let me tell you what I’m thinking.....

 

shoe2

While I have fewer shoes than many ladies my age (the big difference is that the other ladies actually wear their purchases!), I still have more than I need, and a lot more than I actually wear. Some were bought for a job (which unexpectedly only lasted a month), and others were bought when I visited England and went out shopping with my mother-in-law as some sort of bonding experience. Others I’ve had for years (and these are the ones I usually wear) and some were bought in the last 5 years, mainly because they were on sale. I have two pairs of horse leather shoes, the first of which were sold to me by an assistant who said “think of it as recycling little Sally’s pony” when I flinched at the thought of horse footwear. But then logic kicked in. If I thought it was OK to wear Bessie-the-Cow on my feet, why couldn’t I wear a horse? And yet, it still feels odd when I see them in the closet.

 

 

shoe3

When I took the time to actually look at my shoe collection, I had a happy surprise. A considerable number of my shoes and boots are not actually leather at all, despite my parent’s constant advice when I was young to buy leather shoes so that they can “breath”. Weird really, when you think about it. The animals actually used to breath before they got turned into footwear, but they stopped breathing when they became shoes. I’ve also discovered that my feet, lovely though they are, get equally sweaty regardless of what my shoes are manufactured from. I’ve got faux leather and canvas footwear sitting on the closet shelves. Hurray! But nestled among the more ethical shoes are the leather beasties. What to do....what to do....

At this point in my life, I’m not ready to throw my leather away. I don’t think it’s respectful towards the animals who died to make the shoes, and I don’t think it’s a financially or environmentally responsible response to my dilemma. So here’s my solution (although I admit it doesn’t immediately solve anything!)....

To start me down the road to more comfortable (physically as well as ethically) feet I’ve made a decision which I hope is respectful towards the animals who died to make my shoes, kind to the environment, non-judgmental towards people who are happy to wear leather (as was I until recently), and financially sensible. I’m going to down-size my shoe collection, keeping only what I actually wear. If these are leather, I’ll keep them until they fall apart, then replace them with non-leather footwear.

I’ve given myself a “shoe season” (from the last snowfall in spring until the first snowfall in autumn) to work out what I actually put on my feet, after which I’ll be selling the rest. I won’t be giving them away because 1) I’ll need the money to buy new (vegan) shoes and 2) I want them to go to people who will actually wear them and are willing to prove it by handing over cold hard cash. Then the new owners can walk a mile (or more) in my shoes. Is this an ideal solution? No. But it’s a start. I’d love to hear comments about what others would do / have done in this situation, but please keep it polite.

Karen :)

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Today, I Got Stoned

Posted 3/18/2014

Thanks to my fabulous FB friend Darlene Nadeau, creator of the beautiful silk belly dance veils at http://shiboriborealis.com/, I got stoned today, and the house still smells fabulous. Before you get too excited, I’m not talking about pot - I’ve been baking bread!

I was raised to believe that in a kitchen, the fewer gizmos and gadgets you have the better. My Great Auntie Nellie (I recommend everyone should have one of those when growing up) taught me how to make potato bread rolls by hand, and her weapon of choice in the kitchen was a sturdy wooden spoon. She instilled in me a love of hot, steaming bread fresh from the oven which has stayed with me throughout my life.

When my kids were small, I confess that I owned a bread maker. I didn’t have the time to knead dough for 10 minutes in order to make sticky cinnamon buns for an after school treat, nor could I be bothered to mix the ingredients for home-made naan bread by hand. I thought that my bread maker and I had built a good relationship over the years, but after my kids left home it sadly decided to terminate our friendship. In the middle of kneading a batch of wholewheat bread it hurled itself off the countertop, unplugging itself from the wall as it flew through the air, and smashed onto the floor on the far side of the kitchen. The dough (which suffered the indignity of being coated in cat hairs from the kitchen floor) survived mostly intact, but the bread maker was beyond repair. And so began my journey back into the world of hand-made bread.

Last year I bought a copy of a book called “Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day”, available on Amazon, mainly because it contained gluten free recipes which I thought might be useful for my son. Sadly I wasn’t able to use them because they were loaded with eggs (I’m vegan, and he has an egg intolerance anyway), but it did have great ideas for how to make bread without kneading. This idea isn’t a new one - in 1923 my Great Auntie Nellie AuntieNelliewas making “quick breads” using pretty much the same technique - but the authors of this book have popularised it. My arthritic hands were very pleased with this idea, and I adapted one of their recipes so that Alan has a constant supply of healthy, tasty vegan bread for his breakfast every day. However, all was not rosy. I used the recommended steam-in-the-oven method to bake the bread, and it always turned out too moist to toast well. Maybe if I bought a better toaster.......but that’s not going to happen. And that’s where Darlene comes into the picture. She regularly posts pictures of beautiful loaves of bread on Facebook, and I wanted to know why hers looked so much nicer than mine. The answer, it turns out, is to get stoned.

One shopping trip later - thank you “Grace in the Kitchen” for your 40% off sale on just what I needed - and after numerous batches of dough, my entire house smells FABULOUS! The stones really do make a difference - the bread is much more evenly cooked than before. I don't think I'll ever embrace the idea of no-knead bread 100% (watch out for a 3-dayTuscan bread recipe sometime soon), but I'm definitely an oven stone convert. The big question now is, what shall I make for dinner? Root vegetable and lentil stew with maple oat baguette? Chick pea curry with naan bread? Carrot and lentil soup with ciabbata loaf? Or maybe a mushroom pate on toasted seed bread? Oh, the choices I have to make!!!!!

Karen :)

Bread

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