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HELP! There's a VEGAN Coming For Dinner!


And Then There Was Zen...

Posted 3/15/2014

I love eating out. It’s a delight my English parents introduced me to at an early age, taking me to places like a tiny Chinese restaurant behind the market it Birmingham where every piece of pottery was chipped, or to a home-baked pie restaurant above a bakery in St. Anne’s. I have happy memories as a student of grabbing a falafel pita late at night, wolfing down burningly hot curries in Manchester, and feasting on the best veggie burgers EVER up a side street in Nottingham.

But at the same time, I also hate eating out. The trials and tribulations of finding good, tasty, non-meat, non-dairy food in restaurants sometimes makes me wish I’d just stayed home. Last week I was listened to a waitress explaining to me that when she said they had vegetarian items she hadn’t actually realised I WAS a vegetarian, and there were in fact no vegetarian dishes on the menu. At other times I’ve been told that a chicken soup is vegetarian because it has vegetables in it, or that a dish is vegetarian apart from the meat. Forgive me for rolling my eyes at this point. Sometimes, after I think I’ve been successful in ordering vegan food I’ve been surprised by the final dish, and not in a good way. A plate of tofu and vegetables, which I checked 3 times was JUST tofu and vegetables before ordering, was chock-a-block full of tiny deep fried fish, complete with heads and eyes. One of my favourite memories is of a vegetarian hot-sour soup which had a huge house fly floating in it. I showed it to the waiter who responded by shouting “Shit! Oh shit!”. After taking a moment to collect himself he tentatively asked “would you like another one?”. I assumed he was talking about the soup rather than the fly....

I’ve eaten at many vegetarian restaurants over the years (and there have been MANY years, believe me) and have always left disappointed. The food was often either buffet style (OK for a lunch, but for dinner I want to have a menu and my own table) or extremely “earthy”. You know the sort I mean - it leaves you feeling good about “saving the planet” but offers little in the way of taste or texture. Or, as my son Chris puts it “It’s so healthy it just makes you want to go for a jog”. It’s not just a problem I’ve had in England and Canada - a veggie restaurant in Tokyo served Alan and I with slimy bowls of unidentifiable squidgy blobs in grey goop, brightened up in colour and flavour only by the addition of sliced cherry tomatoes. To this day I have no idea what we ate, but know that we wouldn’t do it again!

Having said all that, I’m sure you can understand my hesitation before booking a table at Zen Kitchen in Ottawa on Tuesday night. I’d heard good things about it and figured it was probably time to see what the hype was about. It only serves vegan items so I wouldn’t have to worry about finding fish heads in my stir fry, but on the other hand it only serves vegan items so “bland” might be the word of the day. Wow, was I wrong! The evening started well with a beer for my non-vegan hubby (this is the trick to getting him to places he might not want to go...I simply say “You can have a beer and I’ll drive home”. It’s never failed me yet!) and a shared Zen Platter. Soft, chewy rice noodle rolls with a peanut dip, 3 types of pickles (which all had a unique flavour), crispy home-made potato chips, tofu with apple-butter and miso (Alan politely removed his from the bamboo skewer and ate it with his fork. I was so excited that I just shoved it in and chewed with a happy smile on my face) and dehydrated kale. I’ve previously mocked all things dehydrated, but this was delicious! Never before have Alan and I fought over the last piece of kale on a plate. That sort of thing is simply unheard of. The main courses were also wonderfully flavoured - Alan had seitan (moist, nicely textured, with a smokey topping) and I had the Mexican themed plate. We were both very happy. Afterwards, Alan somehow managed to fit in a chocolate cake with hot Mexican chocolate sauce, and I ordered the dessert sampler but found I was too full to eat it and brought it home with me. All in all it was a fabulous meal out. Lots of flavour, no dried fish, no grey goop, and no flies in my soup :)

After having such a positive experience at Zen I’m now willing to give other veggie restaurants a chance (or, in some cases, a second chance) to strut their stuff. Let me know if there’s somewhere you recommend, and keep an eye open for more reviews in the future.

Karen :)



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What does a "good" vegan eat when she thinks nobody is watching?

Posted 3/10/2014

My long-suffering hubby Alan is flying away on Wednesday, leaving me all alone with only Popcorn (the cat, not the popping corn variety), Ms. Bigglesworth and Sparta for company. There will be nobody to cook for, nobody to move my feet off the sofa for, nobody to look at the state of the kitchen and express surprise that I could make quite that much mess in only one day. When he travels, it’s a bitter-sweet experience which leaves me with mixed feelings of “I’m alone! I can live like a slob!” and “I’m alone - I already miss him”. In times gone by I would have headed to the grocery store and sneaked a bag of those chocolate balls with truffle in the middle, a family size bag of chips and maybe some St Andre cheese into the house to console myself / celebrate the fact that nobody was watching, depending on how I was feeling at the time. I rarely ate dairy anyway - I’m lactose intolerant and have no gall bladder, so eating high fat dairy had disastrous results usually resulting in me sleeping alone - but when Alan went away I felt free to let rip, if you’ll pardon the expression. But since I made the quiet switch from almost-vegan-but-not-quite-there to as-close-to-100%-as-I-can-manage I’ve found my tastes have change, without deliberate effort on my part. Meandering along the grocery store isles this morning in preparation for his departure I found myself picking up jars of artichoke hearts, capers, jalapenos, blueberry juice and dark, dairy- free chocolate, which are all things I love but Alan isn’t fond of. A pot of coconut milk chocolate “ice cream” has miraculously appeared in the freezer, and I’ll have to deal with that later. But what’s my guiltiest pleasure of all when I’m alone? Preserved bamboo shoots in soybean oil from the Chinese supermarket. Pungent, slightly greasy, crunchy and utterly delicious. Alan can’t stand the smell and won’t sit in the same room as me when I put them on top of my rice, and if I warm them up in the microwave it stinks for days afterwards. I’m going to enjoy them with my breakfast rice every day while he’s away. So if you pop in for a visit and smell something funky, it’s not my socks (which may be lying in the middle of the floor) or something nasty the cats have done, it’s my comfort food making your nasal passages twitch.popcorn

In days gone by, when Alan was away I’d settle down on the sofa in front of the TV for a dinner of waffles with chocolate chips and banana, or baked beans on toast, or a couple of veggie dogs in a bun or two. Not exactly soul-sustaining fodder, but I couldn’t be bothered to cook. Over the last year I’ve realised it’s just as easy to cook something healthy as it is to heat up junk food. For the next week I’ll be settling down to plates of pasta tossed with artichokes, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes, or yellow split pea curry with cashew nuts, or veggie-grounds chilli on a micro-waved potato, topped with avocado and jalapenos. OMG that sounds good! Do you think he’d be upset if I asked him to leave a day or two earlier than planned?

I’m always curious about what other people are eating when they need something tasty, sustaining and fuss-free, so I’m putting the question out there for both veg*ns and non-veg*ns - what’s your “go-to” dinner? For those who eat meat, would you be interested in suggestions on how to make it less meaty? Let me know :)

Karen :)

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Mid-Week Mochi

Posted 3/5/2014

I feel like I want to walk into a public place, stand on a chair and declare “Hello, my name is Karen, and I blog”. Not to gain validation from anyone else, but just so that I can get used to my new role as a blogger. Sharer of information. On-line writer. A verbose person who waxes lyrically. A loquacious lady. - I picked the word loquacious up from my book club yesterday evening. And yes, I DID know how to spell it! So, here it is, blog number 2......

I was actually going to write this on Monday, but obviously I didn’t. The plan was that I would leap out of bed (yes, that’s a joke) and immediately head to the kitchen to make some Japanese sweets called daifuku mochi (pronounced dye foo koo moe chee) while the rice was cooking for my breakfast. Mochi-Monday. Sounds good. However.......Two-mochi-Tuesday also has a certain ring to it, so that was plan B. Making the mochi was fun and easy (more about that later), but blogging was suspended when Ms. Bigglesworth decided to roll enthusiastically all over my keyboard, somehow resulting in the loss of my internet browser tool bar, my favourites menu, my start menu button and everything else deemed useful on a computer screen. As I posted on facebook (which was all I had left at the time), had I not been vegan we would have been eating roast cat for dinner last night. So now I’m settling for “Mid-Week-Mochi”.

But I digress (hey - I’m a blogger!!!!). Back to the mochi. When Alan and I visited Japan last year, there were mochi everywhere. Metaphorically, of course. They weren’t stuffed into our pillows or lurking behind the bushes or being used as soap in the onsen or anything like that. Although, thinking about it, they would have made better pillows than the ones in the Western style hotels. Talk about hard and lumpy! Mochi, as you’ve probably gathered, are neither hard nor lumpy. They’re soft, squishy and sweet. There are many, many recipes for mochi on the internet, mostly claiming to be THE perfect recipe. The best texture, the easiest method, the most authentic, the ones grandma made...and many of the recipes are exactly the same. Most involve cautions about burning your hands on hot dough (my thoughts are if it’s too hot, let it cool down first! There are no prizes for suffering in the kitchen!) and most, in my opinion, are not sweet enough. If I’m going to eat dessert (a rare event) I want it to be worthwhile! My interpretation of mochi can be found on the recipes pages. I break from tradition by using powdered sugar (look for an organic brand) instead of granulated sugar, not burning my hands on hot dough (!) and rolling the mochi in a combination of cornstarch and icing sugar rather than using pure cornstarch. For the fillings I use pre-made red bean paste from T&T supermarket and fresh strawberries (sadly, imported - too much snow here!). A word of warning - the strawberry mochi can look like boobs if you don’t sprinkle them with cocoa. Just letting you know.

Well, I think that’s enough rambling for one day. The kitchen is calling and I’m itching to see what happens if I put peanut butter into mochi dough. I suspect it might all get a bit TOO sticky! Interesting fact - mochi are made with glutinous rice flour, which is safe to eat as part of a gluten free diet:)

Karen :)mochi1

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Where To Draw The Line?

Posted 3/1/2014

For over a year now I've contemplated writing a blog. I’ve put up many objections such as “A blog is just verbal diarrhea in the public domain” and “There’s no point writing blogs that nobody will read” and “There are so many blogs out there, why does the world need another one?”.

Today it’s time to face the truth. I’ve put off writing a blog because I’ve been unsure where to draw the line.

Over the past 35 years I’ve been the only person eating a plant-based diet in my circle of family and friends on two continents. I’ve been told that my diet makes people uncomfortable, that I have no right to inflict my views on others, and that I’m not invited to dinner because I’m too hard to feed. I’ve been told that “rabbit food” isn’t fit for human consumption, that tofu is gross and nobody should be eating it. I’ve been given veggie burgers accompanied by the words “I bet it tastes like cardboard, but my cow is delicious. Moooo!”. I’ve been mocked, insulted and embarrassed.

Where do I draw the line between protecting myself from hurtful anti-vegan comments and making people aware that, in the culture in which I live, eating meat is linked with animal cruelty?

Today the line is being drawn. I will no longer feel bad about feeding dinner guests healthy, tasty VEGAN food. I will not pretend that eating meat is OK and something to be joked about. I will not pretend that it doesn’t hurt me when people disrespect MY dietary choices when I have spent years respecting everyone else’s. Today I start my VEGAN FOOD blog. The line is drawn.

Future posts will be about my life, my experiences, my successes and my failures but mostly about my passion for food . There will be recipes, humour, photos and stories. Despite today’s opening post, it will not be laden with angst and lectures. I’ve said what needs to be said. I would be honoured if you would join me and my non-vegan companion cats in this journey, give me feedback when you feel the urge, and perhaps try out a recipe or two.



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