Thursday, July 29, 2010

Book Review: Amphibian by Carla Gunn



I just finished reading Amphibian by Carla Gunn and have been torn about whether or not to post an entry about it.

The book, although environmentally-themed, has virtually nothing to do with veganism and thus I'm not sure it has a place here on my blog, but it is such a charming little story that relates so closely to what many of us vegans experience on a day-to-day basis that I thought I should mention it to the other avid readers who may take a glimpse at my blog.

Amphibian tells the story of nine-year-old Phineas Walsh, an incredibly clever and precocious boy who would spends his time watching The Green Channel and authoring short stories about a fictional planet paralleling the plight of our own Earth's environment.

Phin's concern rests on not only the horrible things happening to the Earth and the creatures that inhabit it, but also the fact that no one - not his classmates, not his mother, not the psychiatrist that his mother forces him to see - seems to give a damn that any of it is happening. His concerns are continually berated by those around him and reach a boiling point when his mother, under the guidance of his therapist, forbids Phin from watching The Green Channel in an effort to manage his anxiety. The problem, they say, is not with the world (which he could never possibly change) - the problem is with him.

This story is about what it feels like to be an outsider. To care about something so important to the very fabric of who we are and where we live; to care about something that is not only not shared by others in young Phin's life, but something that is continually mocked by most of those around him. Although indirectly, it does relate to the experiences we go through as vegans.

It is curious that there is no mention of Phin being a vegetarian. Phin is consumed with saving animals (even "Cuddles" the classroom frog) and there are definite animal activist undertones to many of the things he says, such as:

"But do you know what I think? I think that some people can't stand to think that animals feel a lot like human beings. I think it's hard enough for people like my mom to write and hear about what's happening to other human beings around the world - let alone other animals too. Knowing that so many more of the earth's animals feel sadness and pain is just way too much hurt for their minds to let them see."

It is common knowledge now that the most effective thing any single person can do for the environment is to abstain from eating animal products, and I am convinced that someone who is as aware of the world around him and as concerned for the planet as Phin is would take up, at the very least, a vegetarian diet.

Regardless of veganism being overlooked, this is a charming story about a little boy who wants to change the world and a world of people that think he is, quite literally, crazy. It's a story that I think will be appreciated by the many folks out there who, like me, bawl their eyes out while watching the animals covered in oil in the Gulf or spend their nights staring at the ceiling wondering where clean drinking water is going to come from in a few years. It touches on what it means to be a part of the 21st century world, a place where a large portion of people are obsessed with the environment and preserving our planet and yet refuse to make any real changes because they may involve some level of sacrifice. My favourite part of Amphibian involves a classroom Earth Day celebration where the assignment is to draw a picture of the greatest gift humans can give the earth. Phin's picture is equal parts hilarious, depressing and - unfortunately - painfully accurate.

If you are easily frustrated by environmental literature that does not at least mention the importance of veganism to our planet's survival, I would not suggest picking up this book. If you can look past that, I think Amphibian is an entertaining and inspiring story about just how lonely the burden of knowing too much can be and the differences that one person (even a little boy) can make in the world.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Jicama-Avocado Salad with a Spicy Citrus Vinaigrette



Sadly, I very rarely make it out to our local farmer's market because I work all of the three days that it is up and running in the summertime. I do, however, have a pretty cool "Produce Guy" that does his best to supply as many local goodies as he can, seven days a week. He is also known to stock the shelves with a few funky fruit and veggie items that don't often find themselves in the standard chain supermarket's aisles. When I go visit him on Friday mornings he greats me with a hearty "Hello, Young Lady! Look what I have for you today!" and, knowing that I am not only a vegan but an adventurous vegan, he is always sure to point out the random and unexpected produce items he has in stock for the week. It was he that brought sunchokes into my life, and it was he that convinced me to try the jicama for the first time.



The jicama is also known as the Mexican turnip. It's a fairly low-calorie root vegetable that has a sweet taste - almost like a very mild apple. It is best eaten raw, making it perfect for salads.

The recipe for the horribly photographed but incredibly delicious salad you see at the top of this entry comes from Veganomicon and the raw jicama paired with a refreshing citrus vinaigrette does well to keep you cool on hot summer afternoons like the ones we've been having here in southern Ontario as of late.

We had a ton of leftover jicama, so a few days later Paul made a mild coleslaw (salt, oil and vinegar like I grew up on - to this day it strikes me as weird that people put mayo in slaw). He added shredded jicama to the shredded cabbage making it even more refreshing than your standard issue coleslaw.

Produce Guy asked me how I liked it when I returned a few days later for another fresh vegetable fix and he gave me a great idea - stirring raw shredded jicama into soups right before serving so that it maintains its bite and adds a little something something to standard soups. I think It would go exceptionally well in heartier fall and winter soups like creamy parsnip, or a butternut squash puree.

Is it bad that I am kind of over summer already? I miss hoodies and bowls of soups and not sweating my body weight every afternoon.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Garden Quiche



I had a regular egg-based quiche once in my life and I found the taste and texture to be so unsettling that I nearly threw it up all over the boardwalk that I was eating it on. Eggs have always been quite sketchy to me; their sliminess was something I could never get on board with, which is probably where my aversion to breakfast foods came from.

Never having to eat such a thing again was one of the many incalculable perks of going vegan.

Funnily enough, when it comes to making traditionally egg-based items using tofu instead, I am in love - even when the tofu is prepared in such a way that it creates a mock egginess. (Have I officially coined this term? "Egginess" Copyright 2010, ThisIsVegan.com).

As such, quiches and other breaky items have once again found themselves in my meal prep repertoire after years of being blacklisted, although I rarely find myself eating them for breakfast. Who on earth has time to be that fancy in the mornings? Most weekends are even write-offs, although I am known to make a pretty decent Sunday morning spread when I want to (potato frittata, tempeh hashbrown casserole and tofu rancheros among some of my favourites).

This quiche is the ultimate brunch item, but the two of us had it as a very late dinner the other night, in between working around the house and trying to catch the late showing of Inception at the cinema (which, by the way, was awesome). It comes together fairly easily and is a great summertime fridge crisper cleaner as you can toss whatever vegetable elements you have leftover from the week on in. I followed the recipe pretty closely by using bell peppers, mushrooms, onions and of course, the sweet potato and topped it all off with fresh chives from my herb garden. The tofu is processed with nutritional yeast, miso, garlic powder, tumeric and black pepper, giving it a creamy and almost cheesy taste.

We ate it with some peppered Ontario green beans fresh from the market and even made it to the movie on time (seriously, check out Inception - it made my brain explode).



The recipe for this quiche comes from HelloVeggie.org and you can find it by clicking here.

P.S. If you are in the southern Ontario area, Animal Freedom Day is happening tomorrow in Burlington! I have to work, but as long as I get off at a decent time I will be making my way to Spencer Smith Park in the afternoon. There will be face painting, games, animal freedom t-shirt making, a vegan potluck, and a march and candlelight vigil for the animals. It's a part of the Burlington Jazz & Blues Festival, which is an entirely vegetarian event (I can't wait to stuff my face!). If you can't make it down, I urge you to take the veg pledge and tune in live via UStream!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Black Bean Sliders & Fries (Marbles, Waterloo)



I spent the better part of today trolling the shops in Uptown Waterloo with my mom. After reluctantly not buying what is probably the cutest little dress I have ever seen because it was just a tad too skimpy (sigh, if only I were a few years younger) we stopped for lunch.

We went to Marbles, which is located on the corner of William and King in Waterloo, Ontario. It's a restaurant we've been frequenting for some time now. Here's a picture that I have unapologetically thieved from Google Maps:



Although it is not a vegan joint, Marbles is home to many vegan options. I normally get their peanut stir fry, but today I noticed a new menu item - black bean sliders! They were topped with guacamole and fresh salsa (and also a chipotle mayo option, which I obviously politely declined, so they kindly doubled my guac instead). They come with a mix of regular and sweet potato fries.

The plan was to take half home to Paul.

For a person who is allegedly trying to lose ten pounds, I'm not trying very hard, am I?

Marbles Restaurant
8 William Street East
Waterloo, ON N2J 1K9
(519) 885-4390

Monday, July 19, 2010

Vegetable Kebabs Agrodolce (with Rice) and Simple Bean Salad



I'd never made kebabs before (vegan or otherwise), so I was really excited when this month's Vegetarian Times cover recipe was for Vegetable Kebabs Agrodolce.

A quick wikipedia consult established that agrodolce is a traditional Italian sweet and sour sauce. Sounded good to me, so I cautiously moved into unknown skewer territory the other night.

The items that made there way onto the skewers were the following: radicchio, eggplant, summer squash, zucchini and avocado. The agrodolce is made with pine nuts, garlic, herbs and raisins among a few other key ingredients.

The veggies are threaded onto bamboo skewers (by the way, always, always soak your bamboo skewers in water for several hours before putting them anywhere near your barbeque - unless, of course, you don't like your eyebrows). Once threaded, they are topped off with a bit of the agrodolce and tossed onto the grill over a high flame for a few minutes, just enough to get some good char marks on the veggies, and then they are topped with any remaining agrodolce.

Now, the recipe called for steaming the squash/zucchini and eggplant for a couple minutes before threading them onto the skewers and grilling them. I obviously steamed them for too long, because a third of them turned into completely unusable mush. Next time I make these I will steam them for two minutes at the absolute most and then spread them out on a separate plate so that the cooking ceases and they are given ample space to cool down.

These skewers are quite possibly my new favourite summertime menu item. I can't believe how amazing grilled avocado is - why have I never tried this before?! The radicchio also provides an intense smoky flavour that reminds me why I love summer, because it's certainly not because of the heat - it's because of the food.

I made some standard issue rice to go along with the kebabs - brown rice cooked in some vegetable broth and hot sauce. When finished cooking, I tossed in some fresh herbs from my garden (parsley, oregano and chives) and the excess agrodolce that wouldn't stay on the kebabs.

Canned beans were also on sale this past week, so I decided to put some to good use and made a simple bean salad:



Simple Bean Salad

1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 cup cucumber, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 cans beans
(pick what you like or what you've got on hand - I used 1 can red kidney beans and 1 can navy beans)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Sprinkle of chopped fresh chives
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
Hot sauce, to taste
Salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

1) Toss all of the ingredients together, mix thoroughly and refrigerate for a couple hours to let the flavours mellow. The longer you let it chill, the better it tastes, so feel free to make it the night before you want to eat it.


This bean salad packs up perfectly for picnics or days at the beach and is such a refreshing way to combat the midsummer heat. And check your local news stand for the summertime edition of Vegetarian Times, you won't be disappointed with this veggie kebab recipe!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Daiya Experiment...Part Three: Cheddar Bake



Friends, I have saved the best for last.

In my pregan days, my summertime claim to fame was a cheddar vegetable and pasta bake served alongside burgers of some sort.

For years I have been unable to recreate this dish in a vegan-friendly way. It was the one measly thing that I simply could not make a decent vegan version of.

It was my Everest.

It bugged me. Oh, how it bugged me. I live in a "anything omnis can do, vegans can do better" world, which may be a bit conceited, but is good for the spirit when living in an often unaccommodating omnivorous society. So you can see why giving up on veganizing this old favourite was simply not an option. I would not concede to failure!

The problem was that the cheddar flavour is (obviously) the predominant force in this dish's deliciousness. Other cheese-based dishes can be more easily veganized if the cheesy taste is masked by another flavour in such a way that you don't notice that you're not eating dairy cheese. In those instances it doesn't really matter what kind of vegan cheese you throw in there.

In the case of this cheddar bake, any old vegan cheese would simply not do, since the vast majority of cheeses marketed to vegans taste absolutely nothing like dairy cheese. What good is a cheddar bake if all vegan cheeses make you gag, as they did me?

Enter Daiya.



(Vegan) Cheddar Bake

Ingredients:

3 cups whole wheat pasta (uncooked)
2 tbsp vegan friendly margarine
(alternatively you could use olive oil but go for the margarine if you have it!)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbsp whole wheat flour
1 cup rice milk (plus extra, if needed to thin the sauce)
2 1/4 cups cheddar Daiya
2 cups frozen mixed vegetables, thawed
(I used peas, green beans, lima beans, corn and carrot - but it would be really great with frozen broccoli)
Salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper - to taste
1/4 cup breadcrumbs (optional)

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 375F. Cook pasta in a large pot in boiling water for about 8 minutes or until done al dente.

2) In a separate large saucepan, melt the vegan margarine over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook 1-2 minutes, until just browned (but be careful that it doesn't burn!). Stir in the flour and cook for another minute, the mixture should become paste-like. Slowly stir in the rice milk, until the mixture reaches the desired consistency (I usually use one cup plus a couple tablespoons). Add the salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper.

3) Increase the heat to a gentle boil (but be very careful that the mixture does not burn). Once boiling, decrease heat to low and stir in 2 cups of the Daiya. Stir continuously until the Daiya is melted.

4) Drain pasta and toss into the cheesy sauce. Add the thawed vegetables and mix well.

5) Place the pasta mixture in a lightly oiled casserole dish. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup of Daiya and top with breadcrumbs, if desired. Cover and bake for 10 minutes. Uncover, and bake for an additional 5 minutes.

Yields 4 large servings as a main dish, or 6 smaller servings as a side dish


I swear, this is even better than the dairy version, and I am not just saying that because I love veganism. It is actually better. While we were eating it Paul felt the need to say out loud, "Is it just me, or is this really good? Like, really good?"

And that comes from a person who has had dairy cheese more recently than I have.

It's lighter. It's creamier. And you don't feel disgusting when you're finished eating it.

I've reached the top of Everest and it feels (tastes?) goooooooooooood.

[In case you can't tell by the first picture, I will note that I have given up on making homemade veggie burger patties. Instead, we marinated a pair of absolutely massive portobello mushrooms from the market in barbeque sauce, grilled them on the barbeque and then topped them with chipotle guacamole instead. Perfect main dish to complement my beloved cheddar bake!]

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Vegan Cupcakes for a Stag and Doe



Our friends Sam and Nick are getting married. Last night there was a Stag and Doe for them.

I've recently learned that Stag and Does are a Canadian (if not Ontarian) phenomenon so an explanation is probably warranted.
A Stag and Doe (or, alternatively, a Buck and Doe) is a celebration thrown on behalf of a bridal party to raise money for the bride- and groom-to-be, in an effort to give them a healthy financial start once they exchange vows. There's usually a DJ and dancing, there is always a bar, a raffle and tons of midway and casino-style games with the proceeds going toward the bridal couple.

I made cupcakes. It was a cowboy theme. Our friends won some vuvuzelas. It was a good night.



Paul and I in our country finest.



Paul participating in the "Great Canadian Whack-Off" game.



John manning the Crown & Anchor table, which he ensured me was "all natural and meat-free"



Us country girls



AJ and Melissa won the coveted World Cup raffle prize, complete with vuvuzelas!



A very rousing karaoke rendition of "Don't Stop Believing"



Good friends, good times, good cupcakes and hopefully a solid lot of money raised for the wonderful couple. I can't wait for the wedding!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Thai Peanut Burger Wraps & Spicy Thai Salad



It's been awhile since I've had a substantial kitchen fail, so I guess I'm overdue.

My relationship with all things burger-like just isn't working out. Why do I never learn my lesson?

The recipe for these Thai Peanut Burger wraps is from Vegan Planet and it comes highly recommended by several people in and around the blogosphere. I gave it a try a few days ago and like everytime I try to make burgers from scratch, I could not get them to hold together. At all. Not even a little bit. In fact, the crumbly little ball you see in the photo posted above was the only salvageable patty out of the whole lot.

I just don't understand how I can be so terrible at this. I've seen many pictures of this exact same dish turning out perfectly fine. Because everyone else seems to be able to handle the recipe, I'm going to take full responsibility for this failure and note that from now on I should probably leave burger making to the professionals.

The real bugger of it all is that it tasted quite good - the peanut sauce (also found in Vegan Planet) is quite a gem; I think I'll make it again as a dipping sauce for my spring rolls. I suppose I could make the burgers again as "burger crumbles" instead of attempting actual patties, as they are just going into a pita or wrap anyway.

While I don't post recipes that are not my own on this blog, I did find the recipe for these burgers online, if anyone out there without Vegan Planet wants to give it a whirl - let me know where I went wrong!



Because we are in the tail end of a completely ridiculous heat wave, there is no time like the present to try incorporating more raw into my diet. I made this salad as an accompaniment to the burgers. I have no concept of how much vegetable I am actually chopping whilst I am doing it and you can see that this salad ended up being absolutely massive.

It tasted good, but why is that whenever I making anything with even the slightest bit of avocado, the avo is the only thing that I taste? This is the third or fourth raw salad dressing I've tried that lists avocado among ingredients and they all have kind of tasted the same. I must be using too large of an avocado.

The recipe is courtesy of Choosing Raw and it is found here.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Daiya Experiment...Part Two: French Onion Soup



I'm starting to wonder what ever happened to the lazy days of summer, because I haven't really seen any. I'm getting next to no sleep between work, social life and the World Cup. And I've had no time to cook.

Even when I have had time to cook, I have had no time to blog - which is why the second installment of my adventures with Daiya is so delayed.

The June recipe in Sarah Kramer's 2010 Go Vegan! calendar was for french onion soup. This couldn't have worked out better for me, as I still had half a tub of Daiya mozzarella left over from the pizza experiment and a whole load of discount onions that needed to be used up immediately.



The thought of soup in the summer is usually pretty nauseating to me (it was well over 30C before 10am this morning and the humidity is bordering on belligerent), but a few weeks ago Mother Nature provided me with a rainy and gloomy day so that I could try my soup without needing to take an ice bath afterwards.



It is such a simple recipe that I even had time to put it together on my lunch break. Lots and lots of onions browned in a tablespoon of vegan margarine and then stewed in broth, poured over a slice of twelve grain organic bread, topped with mozzarella Daiya and set in the oven under broil for just a couple minutes so that the Daiya can melt.

I've never had non-vegan french onion soup so I can't comment on its authenticity, but I can comment on its amazing taste. Another win for Daiya!

For those in search of the recipe, it is in Sarah's calendar, but I've also heard rumour that it's in La Dolce Vegan, a cookbook I have yet to pick up but that I'm sure is a great vegan resource.

I am officially out of mozzarella Daiya and have moved on to the cheddar!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Butter Tarts (and Canada Day 2010)



Butter Tarts are a Canadian national treasure. On the great list of quintessential Canadian-isms, appreciating the gooey deliciousness of butter tarts falls somewhere in between driving on a sheet of ice without flinching and knowing all the words to Barenaked Ladies songs.

So leave it to my fellow vegan Canadian, Sarah Kramer, to offer an amazing veganization of the typically not-so-vegan butter tart in her 2010 Go Vegan! Calendar. Sarah uses a bit of vegan butter, but all the flavour comes from the raisins and walnuts (and yes, the sugar too).

Purists often turn up their noses at the use of raisins in butter tarts. Feel free to ignore them. They're just a bunch of haters - everyone knows raisins are awesome.

Further, if the purists are snarky about raisins I can only imagine what they would say about my tarts - after I was already elbow deep in sugar I realized I had next to no raisins in the disaster zone that is also known as my "baking cupboard". Panic started to set in because I had been psyching myself up about these butter tarts for days and the prospect of doing without was distressing (clearly, I live quite the cushy life).

The last thing in the world I was interested in doing was returning to the crazy busy supermarket. What possessed me to go the day before a national holiday in the first place is beyond me. My normal pacifist self became quite hostile after nearly losing an eye while trying to grab a tomato so there was no way I was returning.

I decided to improvise with some of the dried cranberries leftover from the fruity breakfast bars I made last week.

This was indeed a gamble and admittedly I felt a little unpatriotic taking such liberties with our national treat. Turns out that cranberries make for quite the delicious twist on the old butter tart AND they even added some much needed red colour to my Canada Day dessert.

I'm a cheater though, as I was more interested in laying in our gazebo with my book than making homemade pastry dough, so I totally used premade. Shame, shame, double shame.

We had a great Canada Day, filled with beautiful (although slightly chilly for this time of year) weather and



our patriotic pup;



good friends, sparklers, and what ended up being a New Kids on the Block dance off in the kitchen at 2am;



and a beautiful fireworks display at Columbia Lake.

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