Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Four Season Savory Stew



It feels like it's been a small eternity since I blogged last. You would think I would have some sort of witty anecdote to share with all of you, now that we have spent a week apart. I got nothin'. In fact I am so tired that there will not only be no witty banter, but also I feel I should warn you not to be alarmed if there is a sudden interruption of the text below by a row of Zzzzzs. The ridiculous heat has made it impossible to get a decent night's sleep these days so I'm a wee bit cranky after my 6am wakeup call today.

But this blog is not about complaining. No, it's about praising. Praising the all mighty Crock Pot and the magic that happens within it after 10-12 hours!



This stew is quite possibly the Working Twenty-Something's dream. Other than chopping vegetables there are no prep steps. Everything goes in the crockpot in the morning, raw and all at once, and coming home to that delicious scent after a long Monday at work is almost as nice as coming home to a warm puppy. (ALMOST).

It's also a vegan's dream because it is high in protein, iron and calcium all at once.

And did I mention that you do nothing to it but toss it into the crockpot, go to work, come home and then eat it? Worst case scenario: you decide to make a couple slices of garlic bread to go along with it.

Which I didn't, because I am trying to drop a couple pounds.

Which sucks, by the way.

The recipe for this stew comes from the CalciYum cookbook, a little known dairy-free relic of the pre-Skinny Bitch era, a time when "vegan" was still an underground term and vegetarian was considered extreme. The book was published in 1998 and doesn't even use the term vegan once, instead referring to the recipes as "dairy-free vegetarian". I have no idea how this book ended up on my bookshelf (in 1998 I was 15 and "eating healthy" consisted of having lettuce on my cheeseburger so I can say with some certainty that I myself did not purchase this book). I've never actually seen it in person in a store, although it does appear to be available through Amazon.

These days the bookstore shelves seem to be lined with more and more shiny new vegan cookbooks - which is great, don't get me wrong - but sometimes it's cool to jump in a cooking time machine and live like vegans did before tempeh bacon and Sweet & Sara marshmallows were in everyday supermarkets. Roughing it - vegan styles.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Grilled Jerk Portobello Steaks & Messy Rice



I tried to make a BBQ dinner out of these portobello mushrooms for several days and was rained out every single time. The day could be perfectly sunny and mild and when the quitting bell would finally ring the clouds would roll in and it would start to rain. (Note: my work does not have a real quitting bell, there is just one that goes off in my head every evening at 6:15pm. However, I do quite often find myself having the urge to yell "yabadabado" as I lock up the clinic.)

These portobellos sat in the fridge for a week. I was starting to seriously question their freshness and I had officially run out of all other foodstuffs from the previous grocery trip. Portos are kind of expensive, so there was no way I was going to let them end up in the trash. As such, yesterday I declared that no matter what kind of chaos Mother Nature unleashed on us, I was going to grill those freaking mushrooms for dinner.

Like clockwork, the clouds came in at about 6:15. But I have a great husband and he volunteered to stand out in the rain and grill them for me.



I made a rub out of some of the Jamican jerk seasoning that I usually reserve for seitan. I brushed each portobello with a little olive oil and hot sauce and then got as much of the rub on each mushroom as possible.

The recipe for the messy rice comes from Veganomicon, and thanks to Google Books, it's actually available to those of you who don't have the book simply by clicking here.

It's now the day after I used up the mushrooms and it is quickly approaching the end of the workday. There is not a cloud in sight.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Review: Hybrid Hair & Detox Spa, Kitchener (and the Sullivan & Sawyer Giveaway Winner!)



I'm a fairly low-maintenance kind of girl these days. While I spent my early twenties bleaching the life out of my hair and caking on pounds of makeup every morning, these days it takes a night on the town to get me to even reach for mascara. While this is partly due to the fact that I would rather spend as much of my mornings before work in bed and not in front of the bathroom mirror, it's also because I have had some trouble accessing earth-friendly items to use for this purpose. Not to mention that I do think it's important to let your skin breathe every now and again, and since I've applied my "no makeup on weekdays" rule, my skin has been doing much better.

But let's be honest, a girl could use some pampering now and again. Back in the day I was known to frequent a spa or two, spending copious amounts of money on highly questionable hair chemicals. And admittedly, though I have been vegan for a very long time I have not been as diligent with my hair products as I have been with my diet and clothing. While the dyes that have been used on my hair in the past have technically been "vegan friendly" (in that they contained no known animal products and were not, to my knowledge, tested on animals) they were hardly earth friendly. Being the hypochondriac I am I was convinced I was subjecting myself to a long battle with cancer every time I sat down in the salon chair (who knows, maybe I was) and after leaving the salon I would have headaches for days. I would literally have to wash my hair immediately afterwards, sometimes a few times, to make the headaches go away.

The turning point for me was when I went dark, after years and years of being blonde. The first time I washed my hair all the residual dye was creeping from my scalp and going down the drain and I panicked. What am I doing, putting these incredibly harsh chemicals down the drain and subsequently back into our drinking water?

I started doing the math. The scary kind of math when you try and calculate your contribution to the plight of our earth based on the number of times you've had your hair dyed since you were fourteen years old. It was time for a change.

This change terrified me. Honestly, I say it once and I'll say it a million times: the food aspect of going vegan is the easy part. The product aspect is far more difficult. First and foremost, so many hair products don't even list what's actually in them. Secondly, unlike food, it's far more difficult to take the DIY route and make your own hygiene products and cosmetics. Thirdly and although you know better than to trust big business advertisements, it can be scary to go against the grain when it comes to your looks. It's vain. Absolutely. But we're all friends here and we can admit to being a bit fickle now and again.

Regardless of all that, if I was going to continue calling myself an environmentally-conscious vegan it was time to set aside vanity and I was fully prepared to do so, thinking that grey hairs would start creeping up all over the place and I would age fifty years in a day or something (if you haven't realized my propensity to be extremely irrational on a daily basis, you haven't been reading my blog for very long).

And then I googled "vegan hair kitchener waterloo" and low and behold, Hybrid Hair & Detox Spa popped into my life. Kitchener-Waterloo's first earth-friendly hair salon located in the adorable Belmont Village area of Waterloo.

I called them immediately and I had my first appointment yesterday afternoon.

My first impression was that everyone was really, really friendly. My second impression was, "WOW these people really do walk the talk".

These days, so many folks throw around the terms "environmentally-friendly" and "green" without truly knowing what they mean. Or even caring what they mean. These terms have become marketing ploys like any others - catchy gimmicks used to lure people in by making them think that they are bettering the planet based on "green" labels and extensive marketing strategies as opposed to actual results for the earth.

This could not be further from the truth when it comes to Hybrid. The folks at this salon actually care about the planet and those of us who reside on it and that is evident from the moment you walk in the door.

The salon is bullfrog powered. They rely on natural light when they can, utilizing the beautiful and enormous windows all over the salon. Their products are completely and totally free of all harsh chemicals and preservatives and are plant-based (I think my stylist said that the hair dye she used on me was made from a broccoli-like vegetable?! How cool!).

And the best part is that your appointment includes a scalp massage of the finest proportions.

Their hair dryer and flat iron are even green, made from recycled materials and soy inks. Seriously! And they offer a refill program for their shampoos and conditioners to cut down on plastic waste.

And the best part of it all is that I was assuming that I would have to make a great sacrifice by going green with my hair routine. In hindsight, I don't know why I thought this. It's pretty ignorant of me really. I guess I should really watch my mouth when I get irritated with folks who think eating vegan is too difficult. But honestly, it was the best salon experience I have ever had. The colour is exactly what I wanted: dark but still warm. It actually cost less than the previous salons I've attended. And my hair is straighter than it's ever been in my life.

Can we take a moment and acknowledge how straight my hair is?

If you know me in real life, you'll know that I have this ridiculously thick and curly mop of a mess on top of my head. I have so much hair. I rock bedhead on a daily basis and front like I intended to, but seriously, there are days that I cannot get even a wide comb through my hair. I put on a thick headband and avoid mirrors for the day.

My entire life was spent longing for long, pin-straight hair. I grew up in the 90s, when the world expended an enormous amount of energy worshiping Jennifer Aniston/"Rachel" straight hair. My hair stood no chance (regardless of the fact that I would take an actual clothes iron to it on a daily basis. AN ACTUAL CLOTHES IRON. Teenagers these days don't understand the privilege of ceramic hair straighteners).

So let's take a minute and look how straight my hair is in the above picture. And that was nothing more than a little planet-based product, a blow out, and a wee bit of flat ironing. Love!



In conclusion, if anyone wants to spoil me, a gift certificate for Hybrid Hair & Detox Spa should do the trick. And for those of you looking to green your hair routine, give them a call and I guarantee you won't be disappointed. A special thank you to Erin for the amazing cut and colour and Stephanie for the wash/condition and scalp treatment. It's so refreshing to interact with folks who act on what they believe in and who take risks to turn their values into reality and into something that we all benefit from - as such I, without a doubt, give Hybrid Hair & Detox Spa the This is Vegan: Seal of Approval!

I wish I could give to them twice because it seems like once is not enough for how great this place is.

The green revolution is taking over!

Hybrid Hair & Detox Spa
678 Belmont Ave, Suite 202
Kitchener, ON N2M 1N6
(519) 886-8624


P.S. - SULLIVAN & SAWYER BABY CO. GIVEAWAY WINNER!

As you can see, yesterday I was too busy getting my scalp massaged to even think about sitting by the computer (can you honestly blame me?) so I am a little bit late in announcing a winner for the Sullivan & Sawyer Baby Co. giveaway. And the winner is....



AMANDA THOMAS, who entered via Facebook
Congratulations, Amanda! Send me an email at mary@thisisvegan.com and you will receive information on how to redeem your $30.00 store credit.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Recipe Double Header: Bean & Corn Tortilla Lasagna / Mexicali Chop



I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw a pack of Food For Life organic sprouted whole corn tortillas in the freezer aisle of my supermarket. Couldn't believe it! While I'm not gluten-free, I don't understand why many of the conventional corn tortilla brands load their products full of wheat flour - hello, they are supposed to be CORN tortillas! Not to mention that the ridiculous quanitities of preservatives, oils and sodium that go into the standard brands give me the heeby jeebies.

Let's be honest, corn tortillas aren't exactly a health food, but choosing the Food for Life brand as opposed to many of the others out there is certainly the lesser of the evils. Let's compare ingredient lists:

"Food for Life": Organic Sprouted Corn, Filtered Water, Sea Salt, and Lime

"Popular Mainstream Brand Named After a Texas Town": Corn Flour (29%) , Wheat Flour, Water, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil, Stabiliser: Glycerol, Wheat Gluten, Salt, Dextrose, Raising Agents: 450a, E500, Emulsifiers: E471, E466 , Preservative: E202, Acidulant: Citric Acid, Flour Treatment Agent: E920

Uh, the choice is pretty clear to me.

I don't even know what the hell most of the crap listed up there is and there is no guarantee that the glycerol doesn't come from animal fat so there is a good chance it's not vegan-friendly anyway. So as you can see, while corn tortillas have been available to me I have refused to cook with such an unnecessary frankenfood.

Until now!

The first thing I made with the sprouted corn tortillas was the Bean and Corn Tortilla Lasagna from Eat, Drink and Be Vegan:



Corn, black beans, avocado, baked tortilla chips, chipotles and a spicy arribiata tomato sauce that I had kicking around made for one of the best Mexican style meals we've had in a long time. The sprinkling of Daiya on top didn't hurt either.

I highly, highly encourage you to go out and pick up Eat, Drink and Be Vegan (if this lasagna doesn't convince you, click on the "Eat, Drink and Be Vegan" tag on this blog for more deliciousness). However, if you want to try this recipe out beforehand, the recipe is posted here.



I had a few corn tortillas left over from the lasagna so I made the Mexicali Chop printed in the July/August 2010 edition of Vegetarian Times. Mexican salads can be pretty dangerous when you order them in restaurants but making them at home ensures you can bake (not fry) the tortillas and go light on the dressing.

Click here for the recipe.

P.S. You have just under 48 hours to enter in the Sullivan & Sawyer Baby Co. giveaway! I will be drawing a winner on Friday morning. Good luck!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Blueberry-Banana Pancakes at Cafe Pyrus, Kitchener



We followed up our Saturday morning errands with breakfast at Cafe Pyrus, a new veggie hangout in the downtown core of Kitchener. A friend of mine had been in and was raving about the tempeh sandwich so I went in there fully intending to try it for myself, but after watching the staff dishing out plates of pancakes and homemade applesauce, I couldn't resist.

I was so busy shoveling them into my mouth that I completely forgot to take a photo until they were half eaten, so I apologize for not having a better quality image of these amazing pancakes to show you. I should also take a minute to rave about the iced chai I had to drink. I am not one for coffee or tea. Ever since I was in the fourth grade and someone double dog dared me to eat a coffee bean I just can't get on board with coffee and tea has always seemed strange to me BUT froth it up with a bit of almond milk and ice and apparently I am in love. We went home after breakfast and a couple hours later I was ready to head back downtown for another one. It's a good thing my laziness is usually more overpowering than my food addiction.

I'll be making my way back to Cafe Pyrus some time soon to finally try that tempeh sandwich, so stay tuned for more pictures. In the meantime, if you're in the Kitchener area I highly recommend checking out this cute little cafe. The atmosphere is wonderful, with couches and board games and the friendliest staff I've ever interacted with in a resto. I'm looking forward to making my way through their menu!

Cafe Pyrus
16 Charles Street W
Kitchener, ON N2G 1H2
(519) 954-7705

Friday, August 13, 2010

Mediterranean Tofu



This is my favourite part of summer. My reasons are twofold.

1) Fall is just around the corner and fall is my most favourite season. Particularly since this is the first year that I am not a student fretting about the first day of school.

2) Mid-August marks the point in the summer where all of those with green thumbs realize that they planted way more than they can handle and subsequently pass along their goodies to those of us who couldn't grow mould if we tried. Translation: copious amounts of free produce coming at me from various family members in various corners of the city!

It is at this time of year that I wish my refridgerator was reversed: one exposed shelf and three rows of vegetable crispers rather than the two measly crispers I have now. Surely such a thing must exist in vegan heaven.

Until I invent such a fantastic contraption, I have loaded my awkwardly designed refrigerator to the limit with fresh picked beans, bell peppers, broccoli, cabbage, lettuce and tomatoes (of every size, shape and form). And because these treats are so fresh and vibrant in and of themselves, I've been cooking in such a way that doesn't result in them being smothered in the excessive sauces that I use in the winter to hide the wilted crap I find in the produce aisle of the local supermarket.

In fact, this summer's constant flux of sun-rain has made for one of the best growing seasons in southern Ontario history and has resulted in produce more flavourful than I can ever remember.

This light tofu dish is quite possibly the soybean embodiment of the season itself. The ingredients list is shockingly minimal for something that has so much flavour: tofu, olive oil, garlic, ripe tomatoes, sundried tomatoes, lemon juice and basil. That's it.

I used cherry tomatoes from my grandma's garden. They are so sweet they might as well be candy.



The leafiness you see on top of the tofu is garden-fresh basil, which quite possibly has the shortest shelf life of all greenery so when I have it, I use it.

I made a creamy asparagus pasta to go along with this tofu dish because I was starving the night I made it, but for those really hot August nights it would be perfect on nothing more than a bed of lettuce and a light Italian dressing.

The recipe is from Vegan Express but you can also find it on Nava Atlas' website.

And as aside, another summertime "let's use up all this fresh produce" favourite of mine is spelt noodles tossed in olive oil and hot sauce and topped with whatever fresh veggies I can find. In this case, it was more of the above sweet cherry tomatoes, along with garlic, green onion and zucchini and topped off with fresh oregano and parsley:



I just can't get enough pasta these days, what can I say.

If anyone else has any produce they are looking to get rid of before the weather turns, you know where to find me. After my disasterous attempt at growing veggies last summer I am not above begging for your scraps.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Dulce Sin Leche Cupcakes (and a Bachelorette)



I spent the weekend up north in Blue Mountain, Ontario for my friend Sam's bachelorette.

We had an an incredibly dicey drive up. My GPS randomly decided to turn itself off and because we were talking away I didn't notice for several minutes and apparently they were the most imperative minutes of the drive because we missed highway 24 entirely and instead ended up taking dirt roads the entire way. At one point were driving what I am still convinced was a bike path with ATVs passing us the entire way. I'm not going to lie, I was fairly convinced that said GPS was taking us out into the middle of nowhere with plans to kill us. It made me think of when the GPS made Michael Scott from The Office drive into the lake and in that moment I vowed never to trust technology again. And then I remembered that I don't know how to read maps, so odds are my fate is someday going to be at the whim of that electronic contraption yet again.

I made cupcakes to bring up. Because I always make cupcakes. Plus I was abandoning Paul for the seven hundredth time this summer and felt a bit guilty, so I wanted to leave some behind for him.

I wanted to try something new, so this is the first time I made these cupcakes. I went a bit crazy with the caramel topping (which is made with brown rice syrup so I got to use what was leftover from the breakfast bars I made for a camping trip earlier in the summer), so they turned into a bit of a sticky mess. But isn't that half the fun of caramel?

I think my favourite part of this recipe was the use of coconut milk. I have become incredibly obsessed with coconut milk as of late. It adds just a little creamy bit of somethin' somethin' to everything it finds its way too and I can't get enough. These were by far the most moist (moistest?) cupcakes I have ever had in my life and have subsequently displaced Boston VS Brooklyn Cream Pie as my favourite cupcakes ever.

Find the recipe in Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.



Me and the beautiful bride-to-be!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Mango Ginger Tofu (with Brown Rice & Steamed Broccoli)



A couple weeks ago, on what was most likely the hottest night of the summer, we went out for sushi and I had a plate of mango-avocado handrolls. I'm sure I had eaten them before, but the combination of the hot summer night and the juicy mango was so refreshing that I've become completely obsessed with this tropical fruit this summer.

I had heard about this mango-ginger tofu dish around the blogosphere and being that it is already August, I figured it was time to try it before another summer slips away on me.



If you don't already own Vegan with a Vengeance, you should probably buy it - this recipe alone makes it worth while. Even though it's got quite the spicy kick to it (thank you, hot peppers), the mango makes it almost refreshing. It is the perfect dish for a midsummer night on the patio.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Sullivan & Sawyer Baby Co. Giveaway!





I'm very excited to be giving away a shop credit of $30.00 for the Sullivan & Sawyer Baby Co. online shop!

All products offered through Sullivan & Sawyer Baby Co. are handmade by my friend Courtney and her great-aunt. Courtney is celebrating the launch of her brand spankin' new line of Organics for Baby & Toddler. The products in this line are made with certified organic ribbon and fabrics that are hand-dyed and sewn with organic natural thread. The packaging is printed on 100% recycled paper with soy and veggie inks - perfect for all the eco-minded moms and dads out there.

If you have any questions regarding the merchandise or materials used, here is the contact information for Sullivan & Sawyer Baby Co.

Here is just some of the great merchandise available through Sullivan & Sawyer Baby Co.. Be sure to check out the store for more items as well as the full Organics line that is now available.



DiaperClutch ($12.00 CAD)



Organic PaciTie ($10.00 CAD)



Basic Gift Basket ($35.00 CAD)



This is undeniably a great prize for all the parents of wee ones out there. However, if you are like me (barely able to take care of yourself and thus have no children), just think of the unique gifts you could pick up for the next baby shower you attend.

There are three ways you can enter this contest:

1) Become an official Blogger follower, using your Gmail account, then comment on this post with the sentence "Sullivan & Sawyer Baby Co. Giveaway!".

2) Become a fan of ThisIsVegan.com on Facebook and post "Sullivan & Sawyer Baby Co. Giveaway!" on the page wall.

3) Email me at mary@thisisvegan.com with the sentence "Sullivan & Sawyer Baby Co. Giveaway" somewhere in the text body. Your email must include your complete name so that I can ensure I'm not being spammed.

Guidelines

1) You may enter the contest three times, once via the blog itself, once via the Facebook page and once via email.

2) Contest closes Friday, August 20, 2010 at 10:00am EST. A winner will be randomly drawn and contacted with information for claiming the prize.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Minonos



On Saturday morning I got it in my head that I wanted to bake. I was craving some sort of a sugar high, which is rare for me, because when it comes to junk food I am far more likely to be found salivating over the salty, deep-fried variety than over cookies or cakes. Regardless, I've been wanting to satiate my sweet tooth for a couple weeks now, but it has just been entirely too hot to be fussing in a kitchen with the oven on.

Saturday night's plans consisted of driving out to the boonies and sitting around a camp fire, so I figured it was the perfect time to bake (so that I could sample one or two cookies and pawn the rest off on my friends). Plus it was a cooler morning than usual for summertime, so I didn't mind turning on the oven.

Although I am an obsessive cupcaker, I felt more like baking cookies of some sort on Saturday.

This is always a recipe for disaster because I positively suck at making cookies. I honestly do not know what the problem is - I can execute cakes (both cup and full size) to near perfection, but those freaking cookies get the best of me. Every. Single. Time.

I hadn't really planned on baking cookies this weekend so my ingredient supply was somewhat low. I flipped through Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar and jumped on the first recipe that I had all the supplies for: Minonos.

Minonos are the vegan knock-off of the Pepperidge Farm favourite Milanos - a layer of chocolate sandwiched between two cookies. Simple enough.

So I make the dough and (kind of) form it into the appropriate oval shapes. The recipes says to bake for 14-16 minutes, so I toss them in and set the timer. At which time I find myself on Facebook, most likely gawking at something that is not my business, which always takes more time than you think it will. I notice the delicious aroma wafting its away upstairs and into my office and I glance at the clock - only 10 minutes had passed so I figure that there is no way they were done.

I finish gawking and head back downstairs. The timer still has two minutes on it and the cookies are burnt to a gosh darn crisp. Except "gosh darn" are not the words I use when I pull them out of the oven.

Fine. Fair enough. I messed up. I should have kept a better eye on them because the first rule of baking is that every oven is different when it comes to baking times.

I throw a minor hissy fit and then put the second batch in the oven. This time I sit and stare into said oven for the entire 14 minutes and they don't so much as slightly turn golden. 20 minutes go by and still nothing.

At this point I am so consumed by rage that I conjure up a conspiracy theory regarding my oven and those demons over at Maytag. I determine that they must be anti-vegans who are trying to mess up our cause, one cookie at a time.

Then I realize that when I went to turn off the oven timer in my earlier hissy fit, I had actually turned the oven off. Dummy.

I managed to salvage the partially cooked second batch and half of the burnt batch, but they were quite possibly the ugliest looking cookies that have ever existed on this earth. Onto the chocolate.

The book says to dip each cookie in melted chocolate and then smoosh them together. This turned into one hell of a messy affair. Doing it this way is definitely a two person job: one person to dip and one person to smoosh. Otherwise you end up with chocolate all over the place and your cookies look like this hot mess:



I found it much easier to spoon the chocolate onto each piece. Of course I discovered this after I had done the majority of the cookies so I was only able to salvage a lousy three to take a photo of and even those are pretty horrible looking.

Needless to say, they didn't make it to the campgrounds. I think I'd better stick to cupcakes and leave the cookie making to the professionals.

At least Saturday night was fun!

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