Monthly Archives: November 2015

10 mistakes I made when I first went vegan (and you might make too)

soy based snack

I’m not a naturally talented person. In fact, almost everything I do, I started out terrible at. I’m not the type of person who adapts to things quickly and I definitely learn through making a lot of mistakes. Veganism is one of those things. I was totally sloppy when I first started — not necessarily in keeping vegan (I’ve never had a voluntary lapse, but I have been tricked), but in how I dealt with others and the world around me.

I want to share this because mistakes are part of what makes us human. I think vegans sometimes feel lonely or like they lack support, because even when they find vegan resources online and in magazines, a lot of those “communities” are quite exclusive and can sometimes not feel accessible to all vegans.

So before you read this list, remember: you’re not a bad person or a bad vegan if you’ve done any of these things! The fact that you’re trying makes you awesome, and the fact that you keep trying makes you brilliant.

Pretending to be apologetic (and getting walked over as a result).

When I first went vegan, I worried that my friends (mostly non-vegans, obviously) would freak out and start to categorize me as “that vegan.” Wanting to avoid this, I pretended to be a lot more moderate in my beliefs and threw a lot of more hardcore, radical vegans under the bus in order to distance myself from the actual ethics of the movement. I’ve since become a lot less apologetic, because I’ve realized that posing as a vegan apologist won’t make anyone more sympathetic toward your choices. It just makes it easier for people to walk over you and invalidate your choices, because you’ve shown that even you won’t stand up for yourself.

Not telling my loved ones sooner.

Though I went vegetarian while I was living with my parents, I went vegan when I was living in Toronto. My parents have always been afraid of me losing weight and questioned my foray into vegetarianism from day one for that reason, so I didn’t bother telling them I was a vegan. I even lied and said I might eat meat during holidays and family gatherings (no, I never went through with this). The problem is lying hurts everyone and fails to make your own intentions clear. When I finally admitted to my parents that I’d been vegan all along, it came across looking like I didn’t really believe in veganism. If I’d let them know earlier, they’d have had time to adjust and learn how to help accommodate my different needs when I came over. It’s been a couple years now, and they’re only just starting to learn to read labels differently and not to buy certain materials of clothing in gifts for me. Don’t be ashamed of your choices — even if your family doesn’t react well to it, the sooner you tell them, the more time they have to adjust (trust me, they will adjust).

Thinking “lactose-free” is the same as “dairy-free.”

Was this just me? I don’t know. I’m stupid. But seriously, some brands make it very difficult to tell the difference — like Veggie Slices, a lactose-free cheese that is soy and dairy-based. Casein/modified milk ingredient can still be found in plenty of foods labelled “lactose-free.” Hell, I’ve even seem a brand that created an almond and dairy milk. What’s the need for that? Fortunately, there’s a lot of dairy-free alternatives found in conventional grocery stores, so look for the actual magic words (“dairy-free”) and assume that “lactose-free” still means “came from a cow.”

(But again… maybe it’s just me and I’m just kinda stupid).

Giving into too many health/superfood trends.

When I first became a vegan kale was just starting to become cool, and boy was I convinced I needed it in everything. A lot of the biggest mainstream vegan food resources in blogs and magazines are more diet-focused than ethics focused, and because you generally help out your ad revenue by capitalizing on trends, they tend to focus (with a bit of hyperbole) on the newest, trendiest “superfood.” I’m not saying those foods aren’t good for you, but when you first delve down the vegan rabbit hole, you’ll probably hear a lot about things like acai bowls and spirulina. Not only will this probably cause a bit of strain on your wallet, it will probably be a little intimidating. These trends can make veganism seem really, really complicated — it isn’t. Don’t eschew a food just because it’s popular, but just know that you can be healthy with veggies, starches, grains and legumes.

Not questioning brands re: their vegan policies and lists.

I still make this mistake — I assume that when a brand tells me something is vegan, they mean vegan, as in no animal testing (including third-party testing) or bi-products. When I first became a vegan I didn’t know that there was a difference between companies that test their final products on animals versus companies that source ingredients that were tested on animals prior. And some brands also advertise their products as “vegan” when they actually still contain animal ingredients — Wet ‘n’ Wild does this, as does my (former) favourite cosmetics line, GOSH. Then there are brands like The Body Shop, which have claimed to not test on animals but have sold their products in China, where animal testing is required by law. It’s always best to keep suspicious in these situations, and go to a third party for your research. My favourite for cosmetics is Logical Harmony, which makes the distinctions between brand policies very clear and helpful.

(But also remember that if you accidentally buy something that isn’t vegan, you’re not a shitty person. People make honest mistakes. That’s what makes us people. Stay true in your intentions and learn from your mistakes).

Trying to find a direct substitution for everything.

I probably spent the first year of my vegan journey trying to find the perfect vegan cheese. Unlike a lot of vegans, I don’t like Daiya, and I find cashew cream to be really hit-and-miss. There are a few that hit it out of the park for me (but like I feel like spending $9.00 on a pack of Chao cheese!) but for the most part I’ve realized that there’s absolutely no need to find a vegan cheese and more need to simply enjoy pizza, burgers and pasta with other toppings, and let the veggies do the topping for you. Or maybe you’re not hip on tofu scramble. So what? You don’t need to directly replace eggs — the same goes for carrot lox, honee and banana ice cream. If you don’t like something, you don’t like it! Look at veganism as a new opportunity to find cool new foods that turn your crank instead of trying to simply replace x with y. You’ll probably find that you save money that way, and you’ll surely open your food horizons.

Planning group outings poorly (and ending up really, really hungry).

I live in Toronto, one of the most diverse food cities in the country, and yet, I still used to panic every time my friends said they wanted to go out. One thing I felt a lot of in the early days was guilt, that if I said, “Hold up guys, I need to know where we’re going so I can check the menu” everyone would hate me and accuse me of being a killjoy. Sometimes, calling restaurants ahead of time (during the day, avoiding the rush when they’ll be more available to help you out) and see what type of vegan options they offer (provided you can’t find anything on the menu online). Sometimes the vegan options aren’t always on the menu! When all else fails, and I’m being completely serious here, remember to always keep an energy bar or something non-perishable (and non-squishy) in your purse or backpack, and don’t drink alcohol if you don’t have any food available.

Not eating enough.

Even though I thought I was eating a really balanced diet when I first eliminated meat from my diet, finding food that was as rich in calories as its animal-based counterpart proved to be a challenge. Beans and chickpeas pack a protein punch and many plants such as broccoli are rich in calcium, but you have to eat a lot more in order to meet the same calorie intake. What I ended up doing when I went vegetarian (and I’d pretty much gotten the routine down by the time I went vegan) was changing up my eating schedule. I have a much larger breakfast now and have medium-sized snacks throughout the day (sometimes I don’t have an actual lunch, but instead have a series of what I guess could be described as small meals that keep me full until dinner. That’s when I pig out).

Only skimming labels.

See: my “lactose-free” confusion. While eggs and dairy are often listed as allergen warnings at the end of every ingredient list, I have come across a small handful of examples where this isn’t the case (and that’s just in Canada. I have no idea about the U.S.). You also have to keep an eye peeled for honey. Also, sometimes it’s easy to be swayed by a label that claims something is “veggie,” like meatless faux-meats, but some still contain eggs and dairy products (the brand Veggie Patch is one of them, and Burger King’s “veggie” burgers are definitely not vegan-friendly). Remember, green-washing is a thing, and you can easily be fooled into thinking something is plant-based. You’d be surprised, once you actually read labels, how much stuff actually has  milk in it.

Convincing myself that I was alone.

I felt incredibly isolated as a vegan for a very long time. I was convinced that I didn’t belong in the vegan “community” because most people who were interested in veganism only seemed to talk about it from a dietary or health point of view, while those who tackled it from an environmental/ethical standpoint seemed shut out to the sides in small, niche groups. Make no mistake: communities like Reddit and Tumblr are filled with every kind of group, and if you just dig a little you’ll find people who are receptive to your questions, fears, curiosities and problems. It isn’t until recently that I’ve found Reddit’s r/Vegan community (yeah, I’m a bit gun-shy with Reddit) which happens to be one of the most welcoming, open and kind-hearted subreddits on the site. I go there for not only intelligent and perceptive-shifting discussion, but also for a sympathetic ear when people are annoying me out here in the non-vegan world. Trust me: there are people who have gone through almost everything you’re going through with regards to your big change. We’re here for you, and we want to support you — because more vegans means more peace and kindness!


A few tips on caring for tattoos (in a vegan-friendly way)

There’s no sadder feeling than writing up a 1,000+ word blog post only to have to toss it out because you were all wrong, and the mascara you were singing the praises for wasn’t at all vegan.

Sigh. Yep, that’s about all I can do right now. Apparently I still haven’t taken my own advice and tend to believe brands when they say their product is “vegan” when it actually contains beeswax and carmine.

Note to the general public: bees and beetles are actually living things.

So now I’m back to using the mascara that I’ve actually said is kind of crappy, Too Faced’s Better Than Sex mascara (note to everyone: NOT better than sex, because I’ve still never had to pay for even the most mediocre sex I’ve had).

What I’ve decided to do instead of blather on about mascara is blather on about something else I love — tattoos!

I have six tattoos, and doing the math I think there’s just under seven hours of work on my body — which is funny, because I know people who have just one tattoo who have technically undergone more hours of work than I have.

I got my first tattoo shortly after my 20th birthday. I remember being so nervous I shook at my desk all day before it. My friend Sam held my hand the entire time, and I was in a ton of pain, but kept a smile on my face. I think it was up until my third tattoo (the giant CBC logo on my shoulder) that I still found tattoos to be incredibly painful. Starting with my fourth tattoo, I’ve stopped really feeling anything other than mild annoyance (I actually found my most recent tattoo rather pleasurable).

I have no plans for when to stop. I adore tattoos. For me, the art will always be the first priority. I’m not going to just get more tattoos for the sake of more tattoos (not that I think there’s anything wrong with that). Right now I have no ideas for other tattoos, but I’m sure they’ll come around eventually.

I have a great relationship with my tattoo artist, Darryl. He’s done the last four pieces on me, we have a wonderful rapport and I like supporting his new shop.

Here are a few tips for vegans with regards to tattoos:

  • Check for vegan ink! A lot of tattoo inks are not vegan, but fortunately there’s a pretty large selection of vegan tattoo inks and transfer paper. Talk to your artist about inks, and always offer to buy and provide. Showing up unannounced with vegan ink isn’t the nicest thing you can do, so cover this at the consult.
  • Aftercare, aftercare, aftercare! Stay away from fragrance and heavy soaps. I love my Dr. Bronner’s (the “baby” version is fragrance-free) for this.
  • Always protect your tattoos from the sun. I buy vegan sunscreen online. For the summer, I love Lush’s Sunblock, which leaves a nice, thick, strong layer of sun protection.
  • Moisturizing your tattoos shouldn’t stop once the healing is done. Your tattoo is art, so treat it like that! I love to quickly shine up my tattoos with Lush Ultrabalm, but if you want some extra portability, go for the Merry Hempsters hemp tattoo balm. Bonus —  I also love their hot and cool muscle rubs (why haven’t I picked up their “bumps and bruises” rub yet? Bumps and bruises are, like, my thing).
  • About once a week, I give my body a nice deep moisture treatment with almond oil. I rub the most on my knees, elbows and tattoos. That’s a way better visual effect than a heavy moisturizer, has no artificial scents that irritate your skin and makes you extra cuddle-able all day.
  • Tattoos are on your skin and are not exempt from any skin problems like the rest of your body! My biggest issue is flaking skin, which can make my tattoos look dull and yucky. A few years ago I switched from using typical bath sponges to using a more abrasive (but all-natural) shower brush. I give myself a gentle scrubbing which exfoliates my skin, removes flakes and gives me a good wake-up!

Anyway, here are a few “glam” shots I threw together of my tattoos. The most recent one, my ballerina, is still healing, so forgive the little bobos!

Tattoos 1 Tattoos 2 Tattoos 3 Tattoos 4 Tattoos 5


Peppermint mocha brownies with white chocolate drizzle (vegan and gluten-free)

Brownies

When I went back to Starbucks after my two weeks off, I saw that they had switched over to their holiday drinks (I know, apparently I missed the whole grossly-offensive cups thing). And of course, they have those wonderfully cute snowman cookies and donuts and all those other great things I can’t eat.

So I made these brownies, because fuuuuuuuck that.

These peppermint mocha brownies have a moist but light texture, and a flavour that’s chocolatey without being so overwhelmingly sweet.

Best of all, since the holidays are all about sharing, I also made these as allergen-friendly — they’re free of gluten, soy, nuts and are fructose-friendly. Wahoo!

I’ve been asked a few times, mostly by people I know in real life and not in Internet-land, why I occasionally make things like gluten-free and nut-free recipes despite not having any intolerance to those things myself, especially because I’m a huge proponent for not giving into fad diets if you don’t have a diagnosed health reason to do it. The reason I do this is actually the same reason I started my blog in the first place: I love to share.As a vegan I know exactly how it feels when there’s food around that I can’t eat because no one took the time to consider me. I’ve been the one person bringing my own food to potlucks for years now. For that reason, especially around the holiday season, I like to make sure that I can create yummy food that we can all share. The best way you can show someone you care about them during the holidays is to think about them when it comes to planning, and I show that in my food.

Peppermint mocha brownies

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 25-30 minutes
Vegan, gluten-free, nut-free, fructose-friendly, soy-free

Brownie ingredients

  • 1 cup gluten-free flour blend
  • 3/4 cup brown rice flour
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup vegan chocolate chips (Enjoy Life brand is soy-free, gluten-free and nut-free)
  • 1/4 cup-1/3 cup hot brewed coffee plus one pinch of extra coffee/espresso grinds
  • 1 1/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1/3 cup ripe avocado flesh
  • 6 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp peppermint extract
  • 1 extra large flax egg (2 tbsp flax meal+3 tbsp water)
  • 1/3 cup crushed candy cane bits

White chocolate drizzle ingredients

  • 1/2 cup cocoa butter
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup, brown rice syrup or other liquid sweetener
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp peppermint extract

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees fahrenheit
  2. Prep your flax egg and let sit for at least five minutes
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together your flours, xanthan gum, baking soda, salt and a pinch of your coffee grinds (we hand-grind our coffee in our home, so we can always just whizz up a few beans for situations like this).
  4. In another large bowl, add your cocoa powder and your chocolate chips. Once your coffee is hot (and I mean piping hot), pour it over the mix. Hand-mix this thoroughly until it is mostly-liquid (a few chunks is fine).
  5. Add in your coconut sugar and continue mixing until all is incorporated.
  6. Add in your flax egg and avocado flesh. If your avocado is a little underripe (you can easily scoop it out with a fork but it’s difficult to mash) I’d recommend whizzing it through the food processor in order to give it that whipped, buttery texture, or else you’ll have avo bits all over your brownies.
  7. Once that is all mixed, add in your extracts, give ‘er one last mix, and add to the flour bowl.
  8. This is where it gets tricky. It’s going to be a texture similar to heavy mashed potatoes, but don’t give into the temptation to use an electric mixer. Over-mixing this will not result in a nice texture for the brownies. Strong-arm the crap out of this, folding and mixing until everything is nice and soaked up. Fold in your candy canes, spread throughout a pan lined with parchment paper, and pop in the oven for 25 minutes.
  9. After you pull the brownies, let them cool while you mix the white chocolate drizzle. In a double-boiler (I rigged up my own using a Pyrex measuring cup in a pot of boiling water), melt down your cocoa butter, extracts and syrup. Pour in whatever shape you like (if my sister’s reading this: yes, I fully expect you to pour it in the shape of a penis) and sprinkle on any last candy canes you wish!

Enjoy these unique little treats. My suggestion for how to best enjoy them would be to feed them to a baby boomer and them softly whisper “happy holidays” and watch them lose their shit. Heh.

Oh, so I’m now three days into my vacation! On Monday I wrote two recipes, saw a huge surge of traffic on my blog (thanks, Reddit), biked 29.9 km, did a few boulder problems, bought my first batch of carrot lox (gotta say, I’m not a big fan) and chilled out at my favourite Toronto vegan haunt, Bloomer’s. So warm and comforting and jackfruity. I swear, I’ve never eaten a jackfruit sandwich where everything didn’t fall out from between the buns and onto the plate, but that’s the best part! You get to eat it twice!

What are some of your favourite holiday tastes you haven’t been able to have in awhile? Perhaps I can work some of my vegan magic and make a good cruelty-free snack for everyone!


Eight things every vegan is sick of hearing

Grass Car

Listen up, non-vegans! Last week I opened up my hearts to vegans, especially new vegans, on how to deal with their non-vegan friends, and it was pretty well-received.

But if you were wondering when I was going to make something for you, unlike my food, yes, I’ve finally made something for you!

Also unlike my food, it isn’t very nice

Hah, just kidding! I can’t keep up the tough-guy act for very long. Look, I love you all. And I even love those of you who eat meat (that doesn’t mean that I like the fact that you eat meat). But for the number of times my lifestyle has suddenly been put on trial with arguments that are never anything new, I’m thinking perhaps a few people need a crash course on how to deal with their friends’ veganism.

I hope you guys read this post as it’s supposed to be: funny. At least, I think I’m funny! Look, I know I, like other online vegans, am supposed to be flowing with love and harmony and oh-so-accepting for fear that I come off as “shoving [my] beliefs down others’ throats.” But you know what? Sometimes it’s hard to be nice! Just picture being asked the same questions or hurled the same accusatory one-liners over and over again — it can get a little frustrating.

Anyway, I’m not the only vegan who goes through this, so here’s a bit of a crash course for you. Consider this:

“Where do you get your protein?”

I could sit here and list off tons of great protein-rich, plant-based foods that you, too, can add to your diet. But you know what’s a more valuable question? If I live in Canada, wherever did I get the guns I’m sporting through each of my sleeves?

“I just know way too many vegans who have gotten really sick.”

And I know a lot of people who drive cars and have gotten into accidents. I know a lot of people who drink alcohol and have gotten dangerously sick from it. Look, not everyone does veganism the right way, and some people are a little too eager to cross over into veganism and don’t transition properly, or don’t understand their body/dietary needs well enough. But I find it concerning that concern for my health only comes up when people find out I don’t eat animals.

“What if you were on a desert island and your only option were—”

I live in Toronto and I’m scared of flying. This situation will literally never happen to me. Hah, okay, but for real though, I’d eat you first.

“I wish you loved the immigrants who pick your vegetables as much as you loved animals.”

Yes, I’ve seen that Reddit/Tumblr/George Takei post too. I guess it’s kind of funny the first time you see it. But can I ask you something? Do you actually care about the immigrants who pick your vegetables? I mean, there’s no way you don’t eat any vegetables? You know what’s kind of shitty? Pretending to care about labourers only to suit your agenda. Personally, I buy local as much as I possibly can when it comes to produce and don’t mind paying an extra couple of bucks for produce that I know was gathered by people who were paid fairly. In some cases, it’s harder to avoid. You know what else is difficult? The lives of slaughterhouse workers. Anyway, I’m not trying to say it’s possible to be perfect, but what I am saying is that feigning moral concerns for the sake of an argument is, well, ridiculous.

“As long as you don’t shove your beliefs down my throat.”

What is your definition of that? Is it me asking you to come to a pig save rally? Or is it just saying something like “almond milk?” Look, I realize that veganism feels really different and it feels like your lifestyle is being put on trial. But I’m not going to let you forget that I’m a vegan because it makes you feel uncomfortable.

“Plants have feelings.”

I’d craft my response to this, but usually all that suffices in person is a blank stare with a disappointed frown.

“Veganism is expensive!”

It can be, but hey, I’m not going without to fund my lifestyle. If you want to give in to every superfood trend (which is not just something some vegans do) or blow all your grocery budget on faux-meat, if you want to live like a food blogger (*sweats nervously*) or sub every former dairy product with cashews (which are, apparently, solid gold) then yeah. It’s going to be expensive. But I spend no more on groceries than I used to. It’s really all about what your priorities are. Meat is expensive, too, y’know.

“Soy tho”

It’s in almost everything you eat, bruh.

Well, that was kind of mean. I feel like going and downing a big jar of chia pudding to calm my angry nerves.

Just kidding! Let’s all take this with a smile and a sense of humour. For every time I’ve had to hear that vegans are soooooOooooOOooo annoying, surely y’all can handle a post like this, right?

(Of course I can. And don’t call my Shirley).

In personal news, my first vacation in more than a year starts today! My last job didn’t really give me vacations, and I’ve never taken time off between jobs. What do I have planned? Well, technically, nothing. I am stay-cationing hard-core. But more accurately, I’ll be living in the gym, going to dance class almost every day, taking long bike rides and, surprise, cooking! You can expect me to create a lot of great recipes and take some great photos over the coming weeks from all I develop on here. As promised, there’s some Christmasy sweets, some great new smoothies, creative breakfast ideas and some more hot drinks. I’m so excited to share everything with you! I’m also awaiting the arrival of my Vegan Egg (!!!!) in the next week or so, so I’ll definitely be posting about my experiences with it.

And here’s some excitement: I’m planning a video! I’m not huge into video creation myself (I do work for a publication that covers the business of online original content, so I write about YouTubers a lot and feel no need to mix my worlds like that) but I thought it would be fun to share my thoughts with you on my favourite vegan mascaras. Yep, I’m becoming a (one-time) beauty vlogger. Good thing my skin cleared up. Heh.

What are some of the most annoying lines you’re used to hearing about veganism? I’m curious to know — I feel like I’ve had it pretty tame compared to what I’ve heard from others!


Light and creamy pasta bowl

97458

You know how everyone has those little words that freak them out? Like most people can’t stand “moist” (I, on the other hand, don’t see an issue with “moist” and don’t think there is any other word to describe a good chocolate cake). For me, it’s “cream” and/or “creamy.” Perhaps because I’ve only ever been exposed to it used in a really crude, yucky way.

Anyway, I’ve decided lately that it’s time to take back “creamy.” After all, where would my relationship with Oreos be without it? Or a good, smooth chocolate smoothie? (See? I just used “smooth” twice there because I couldn’t use “creamy.” The grammar gods are weeping). Or, well, this pasta dish?

I ate a lot of pasta in university (surprise, no one) and I’ve always tended to prefer light, veggie-ful pasta to overly rich and creamy ones (I’m not an Alfredo kind of girl, sorry). However, as the temperature drops and the wind picks up, hey,  I’m open to a slightly, let’s say, thicker alternative.

Now, I might seem crazy, making a creamy pasta bowl and then creating another dressing to go on top of it. After all, I used to constantly preach to my old roommate about not wanting to over-sauce things, letting the veg do its work.

But dammit, this is one of those peanut butter and jelly-level dream teams. I can’t let it slide. No way, no how.

This pasta actually didn’t even take all that long, because every element is very much a “do the thing while the other thing is cooking” process.

The creamy tomato sauce recipe will actually make enough to serve four, but I only made enough pasta for two, so I saved the rest and used it on lunches.

If you’re wondering what the spice beau monde is, it’s actually a seasoning mix. You can usually find it at indie bulk stores (sorry, my fellow Canucks — I’ve never found it at Bulk Barn). It has a peppery, onion-y, celer-y (heh) taste and goes great in dips, on tofu and anything holiday-inspired (I think it might make a good stuffing seasoning). By all means, if you don’t feel like breaking your neck to find beau monde, you can come up with your own seasoning mix or just use whatever your little heart desires.

Light and creamy pasta bowl

Prep time: <10 minutes
Cook time: 25-30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings, plus two extra servings of tomato sauce and dressing
Vegan, nut-free, refined sugar-free, soy-free and gluten-free options

Creamy tomato sauce ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups tomatoes (any kind, I used cherry), chopped/halved
  • 2 tbsp Earth Balance
  • 1 tbsp vegan cream cheese (I used Daiya, which also happens to be soy-free and gluten-free if that is a concern for you)
  • 1 tsp dried parsley flakes
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast, optional

Pasta bowl ingredients

  • 2 cups uncooked fusili or penne noodles (use GF if necessary)
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup tomatoes, chopped/halved
  • A couple handfuls of spinach, arugula and/or kale
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Optional toppings: hemp hearts, sunflower seeds, vegan parm (I used Oh She Glows’ nut and seed parmesan recipe)

Savoury lemon and tahini dressing

  • 1 heaping tsp tahini
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • A small drizzle of olive oil
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp beau monde seasoning
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. Combine all of the tomato sauce ingredients in a blender and blend on high until smooth. It should turn out that kind of flamingo-pink shade, like salmon mousse.
  2. In a medium saucepan, boil your water and cook your pasta until al dente
  3. While the pasta is cooking, heat a small amount of olive oil in a large skillet on low-medium heat. Add your minced garlic and tomatoes, sauteeing until fragrant (I try to time this step so it syncs up with the pasta finishing up).
  4. When your pasta is done, drain ‘n’ strain, then add to the pan, mixing in the tomatoes and garlic.
  5. Add the creamy tomato sauce and toss in the greens, then cover with a lid and let cook for a few more minutes, until the greens are wilted.
  6. Transfer to bowls and add our toppings, including the dressing. No, really, it’s okay mixing sauces!

So I’m not the only person on the Internet who likes beau monde, right? I just never see it in recipes. I have a few other recipes that I’m working on which incorporate it, so stay tuned for those.

I’ve pumped out quite a few savoury recipes since my relaunch, but I think I need to get into some sweet creation. The good news is, I have a vacation coming up (yay!) so I can get to creating and photographing some exquisite new creations for you to all enjoy. What’s something you’d like me to try and veganize? Butterless butter tarts, perhaps? Okay, I can’t make that promise, but I can try.


How to deal with your non-vegan friends when you go vegan

I think most vegans — largely new vegans, but I even see this with longtime vegans — say the hardest adjustment they make when they first transition isn’t the physical/food aspect of veganism, but the social aspect.

Non-vegan friends and family members have a really difficult time seeing things from a vegan’s perspective. They’re not really bad people for it, but they sometimes have a tendency to make vegans feel like bad people. It’s really easy to feel excluded — because you want to stand up for yourself, but you don’t want to become known as “that vegan.” As much as you don’t want to end up being preachy and alienating your friends, you end up feeling like you’re constantly having to defend your decision, which others read as “preachy.”

It becomes a cycle, and it’s really easy to get bummed out.

My friends by now are all very accepting of my veganism, and most of the questions I get about it have evolved from irritating questions that are really just attempts to start arguments to legitimate curiosities that I’m always happy to satisfy. They’ve come to really respect my choice and (maybe this is just false hope here) really think more about their own choices. I’ve had a few friends express a will to shift their diets and lifestyles to a more cruelty-free alternative, and that feels really, really awesome.

I’m not saying my way is the best way, but all I can say is that I feel like I’ve created a good balance of sticking to my guns and my morals while getting my friends off my back.

Here are a few things to remember:

  • The reason they feel like you talk about it constantly is because, no matter how much or how little you talk about it, you’re probably talking about your diet 100% more than you used to. A meat-eating diet is essentially an invisible diet, nor is it a political statement, and people aren’t used to it being talked about. When you put a label on your diet, it is no longer invisible, so for outsiders who don’t understand, it feels like they’re being bombarded.
  • The reason they get defensive is because your lifestyle forces them to think about their own. It’s sometimes hard for me to think back to how I felt about food before I was a vegan, but I can safely say that until a vegan is around, when you’re a lifetime meat-eater, it’s hard to think of, say, chicken, as chicken, or steak as being from an individual cow. Veganism is a very bold challenge to beliefs that, in some cases, have been held for a very long time. It’s natural for people to feel defensive over that.
  • Don’t sell yourself out. Don’t lie or betray your own values for the sake of “not being that vegan.” If you chicken out (heh!) and say things you don’t actually think (like, “Oh, I don’t actually agree with all those activist types, I just do it for my health”) it’ll get way harder to actually stand up for yourself after that.

That said, here are a few lines I’d recommend using if your friends ever get to you a little too much. Some of them vary in how harsh they are, some incorporate sarcasm/humour but all of them make one very strong point: you do not have to answer to anyone else!

  1. “Look, I’m trying not to be too aggressive about my beliefs because we’re friends, but you have to realize that when you put my life choices on trial, it’s hurtful and irritating.”
  2. “I realize that this new choice of mine is very different for you, and it might force you to think differently about what you eat. But I’m really not interested in an argument right now, because it won’t accomplish anything other than upsetting me.”
  3. “Judging from your reaction, I feel like my choice is very upsetting to you. I’m sorry that you’re so upset by it, but I think you need to work out whatever issues you have with it on your own.”
  4. “Isn’t it interesting how people say vegans love to shove their beliefs down others’ throats? Because you seem very concerned about my diet.”
  5. “Trust me, I know it sounds like veganism is all I talk about. I’m just really passionate about it. I’m sure you can relate to feeling so passionate about something.”
  6. “I’m sorry, but I’m not going to answer that question. It’s not your job to change my beliefs.”
  7. “I have no obligation to humour you because you might feel insecure about my choice.”
  8. “Can we just fast-forward to a few months down the road when you’re all used to me being a vegan so I don’t have to answer so many questions?”
  9. “I’m fine with my choice — are you?”
  10. “If you have genuine curiosities or are thinking of going vegan, I’m happy to answer some questions. But please realize how exhausting it is for me to have to deal with so many questions.”

Best of luck, fellow potato-heads. What’s the weirdest question you’ve ever been asked since going vegan? How have your friends reacted? Has anyone here lost friends over it? (Well, you have a new friend now: me)!


Seven favourite vegan lifestyle, household and beauty products

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One of the elements of vegan transitioning that seems the most difficult but is actually the easiest is trading in your personal products for a cruelty-free alternative.

It seems difficult for a few reasons:

  • They are, admittedly, a bit pricier (or at least have fewer cheap alternatives) than conventional products.
  • They’re harder to find.
  • Most people without a science background have no idea what is a vegan ingredient and what isn’t!
  • Even if you don’t see any animal ingredients, the companies may test on animals.
  • Animal testing policy is really difficult to figure out across the board. While some companies don’t test themselves, they may commission other companies to test their sourced ingredients on animals. A lot of companies, especially cosmetic companies, post this info on their web site (and some of these are incorrect — Wet n’ Wild lists its products with beeswax and lanolin as “vegan”), some you have to ask in an email.
  • Greenwashing is very much a thing. Plenty of conventional products realized several years ago that “natural” and “eco-friendly” products were a great moneymaker, so they threw on labels like “natural” and “eco” despite the products lacking any certifications such as organic or vegan certifications (vegan certifications, by the way, are not mandatory in most markets). Some even just change their packaging to look more green and natural.

Wow, that does seem hard when you look at it.

Here’s the good part: once you figure out what you like and what is best for you, all you have to do is buy it once your last one runs out. No worries about cooking all the time, figuring out what your body does or doesn’t like, enjoying the taste (please don’t eat your soap even if it’s organic).

A lot of products are very versatile, too — like, I love Dr. Bronner’s because I can use it as a soap/shampoo, but also because I can use it to wash my dishes or floors!

Here are some things I like to keep around the house:

  • Lush Ultrabalm: every vegan (and most non-vegans) favourite go-to balm. Crusty elbows and feet? Ultrabalm. New tattoo? Ultrabalm. Removing extra-long-lasting eyeshadow? Ultrabalm. Dry hair ends? Ultrabalm. Marriage falling apart? Can’t help you there.
  • Dr. Bronner’s pure castile soap. You can get an unscented variety or one of its many mild fragrances, and can buy it in a range of sizes from a personal, shampoo-sized bottle to an actual fucking industrial jug. One store I live near also has bulk refillers for Dr. Bronner’s, so you can keep your same bottle. You can use Bronner’s for cleaning yourself or other things, like countertops and floors (for floors, dilute a little Dr. B’s and about 1/4 cup vinegar in warm water).
  • Re-usable glass or aluminium straws. I’ve started keeping a straw (and the brush that my straws came with) in my purse/pack at all times, because it’s just one more way to take a small (yes, small) chunk out of my carbon footprint (I’m also pretty obsessive about getting food in mugs/plates to stay rather than take-out, of course, the most eco-friendly thing you can do is just eat less take-out)! I use them at home too. The straws I use are from Glass Dharma. Oh, and I guess you could also just use crazy straws… and keep those with you wherever you go.
  • Speaking of things I keep in my bag, I’ve also officially become the type of vegan who carries her own hand soap so she doesn’t have to use the kind of soap provided in public bathrooms (this actually serves double duty because I find most soap in public bathrooms smells like medicine and I hate it). What I usually do is buy a small size of Lush’s shower gels (The Happy Hippy is my favourite for hands). I also keep hand sanitizer at my desk because I work in an office and germs are a thing that people care about, you know? A great cruelty-free brand is EveryOne, and I use its hand sanitizer gel in Peppermint+Citrus.
  • One great option for around the home that’s cruelty-free and creates way less waste is finding a reusable alternative to dryer sheets/fabric softener. I’ve been using these delightful hedgehogs by Kikkerland to help keep my clothes from clumping together. You should replace them when you notice the picks getting duller, but that takes a long time.
  • For candle addicts, soy wax candles are everywhere these days (but read the ingredients carefully because I have found some that mix soy and beeswax). One of my favourite brands is Paddywax Apothecary. I keep a large Rosemary & Thyme candle for the living room and a small Amber & Smoke for the bathroom. Not that I don’t always smell like a rose or anything. *sweats nervously*
  • Shoes are so tricky, especially “nice” shoes, but Will’s Vegan Shoes is a great resource for classic shoes of all styles that are no more expensive than their animal-derived counterparts.

Thanks for reading. It was really important to me that I share this post because this really can be one of the trickiest parts of going vegan — you have to think of things in a whole new way. I still make mistakes all the time! Last month I bought sea sponges for my period, being lead to believe by a sales person that they were plant life, but turns out sea sponges are actually sentient animals. I’ve also mistaken some products for vegan when in fact they’re tested on animals. No one expects anyone to be perfect, but making an effort is the best thing we can all do.

If you’re a new vegan, long-time vegan or a transitioning vegan, what’s been the hardest part for you? What are some of your favourite alternative products, and what are some things people might not know aren’t vegan-friendly?


Vegan vanilla buttered bourbon

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One thing I absolutely love about winter is ducking into a pub after the sun has gone down and enjoying warm, orange-hued lighting, sipping warm boozy drinks with my partner and eating comforting food. Last week, I shared our awesome loaded lentil pie, something inspired by our favourite Toronto pub, Porter House. It was so nice to feel like we were in our own personal little vegan pub (we also did up some shoe string fries, because yummm).

Even though I don’t drink a ton of alcohol (I can’t remember the last time I got drunk-drunk), to me no nice homemade meal is complete without a cocktail — probably because it’s just another opportunity to experiment with tastes! I recently picked up a book, Winter Cocktails: Mulled Ciders, Hot Toddies, Punches, Pitchers and Cocktail Party Snacks. love a good winter cocktail! The thing is, a lot of the drinks actually aren’t vegan. I knew there was a good chance most would contain milk or cream, which is no problem for substitution, and a lot contain honey (again, no problem), but some contain egg white (ewww!) and, of course, there’s plenty of butter.

Buttered rum isn’t something I had a lot of in the peak of my drinking days. Why? Well, surprisingly, as a university student, I went four years without buying a stick of butter (odd, because my partner and I go through Earth Balance with a lot of vigour and enthusiasm). What can I say, I was a sucker for cheap Pam sprays.

You’ll also notice that this isn’t buttered rum, it’s buttered bourbon. Blame us for not having rum around — but it actually tasted really nifty. Mind you, I’m a bourbon fan. You could ditch the bourbon for dark rum if you like.

Vegan vanilla buttered bourbon

Prep time: <10 minutes
Yield: 4 drinks

Ingredients

  • 6 oz bourbon (or dark rum if you’re into classics)
  • 3 cups boiling water
  • 4 tbsp maple syrup or agave (more if you’ve got a sweeter tooth/need to take the boozy edge off)
  • 4 tbsp Earth Balance or other vegan butter
  • 1 vanilla bean

Instructions

  1. Put on the kettle like you’re makin’ tea!
  2. Divide your syrup and bourbon evenly into the mugs
  3. Make your vanilla butter: Cut open your vanilla bean, scrape the insides, and add it to your Earth Balance. Using a fork, whip the butter slightly until all is combined and even.
  4. For extra fun, add the pod to some vodka for infusion adventures!
  5. Pour your hot water into your mugs, stir, then add one TBSP of the vanilla butter to each!

What I love about the vanilla bean butter is it’s so versatile. Because there’s only two of us and we aren’t big drinkers, we ended up using the rest on toast in the morning — so good! Something about early winter is so comforting but still lighthearted: warm oatmeal, peppermint treats… yeah, I can live with that!

What are your favourite winter drinks? Anything you’d like to see me make? They don’t have to have alcohol (like I said, I’m not a big drinker myself). I might try a cool new hot chocolate recipe soon. We’ll have to wait and see what kind of inspiration this whacky weather gives!


Gratitude

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Every now and then I have a bad spell in my mental health, what I call the “despair days.” I had a streak like that a few weeks ago — I was frustrated all the time and having a hard time communicating.

But more often than the despair days I have days where everything seems to go my way — and I don’t just mean “good things happen to me and I don’t ever have a hard time with stuff.” It means that I’m able to roll with the punches with good humour, to pick myself up more easily and to always look forward with optimism.

Right now I’m on a solid streak of “good days” — several weeks long, actually. I’m not high on ’em or anything. I’m well aware that these days could disappear sooner rather than later (especially if I get doored on my bike again, heh). But I’m going to soak them up and enjoy them any way I can.

One thing I need to do more often when I’m having these kids of days is to make a keepsake of them, to create a little snapshot of this moment when I felt so good and happy. I could take an annoying, smiling selfie (because my selfies are awesome), but I could also make a list of things I’m grateful for.

I think gratitude is something we all like to think we practice on a daily basis simply by living. If we’re asked, “Are you grateful for having access to food?” you’d probably say yes.

But sometimes the hardest thing is being thankful for something when it isn’t quite “relevant” at that moment, which is I think where practicing gratitude comes in.

I’ve been making an effort lately to practice gratitude more often, to actively remind myself of the things that I’m thankful for in my life so that someday, when I’m having a hard time remembering, I can easily go back to those moments.

I don’t know, it’s a nice thought.

Here are a few things I’m really, really thankful for:

  • My partner, and the fact that I get to wake up next to him every day. We said when we decided to get a two-bedroom apartment that we’d probably like to spend a lot of time apart, but (and yes, this is partially because we haven’t quite set up the second bedroom/reading room yet) we actually have just as much fun being in each other’s presence. My partner has a very calming way about him. He makes me smile very easily and knows me so well; he is gentle with me and loves to foster my best qualities. He lets me shine, and I am grateful for that.
  • My cat! I know that’s silly, but Benny fills my heart with so much love. It helps that he has a personality that is just so sweet and endearing. He really loves us and interacts with us a lot, so it’s like having another roommate around most of the time. Having a little pet in your life who can easily make you smile is such a gift!
  • My neighbourhood. The Danforth is only about a mile away and a nice walk past some beautiful houses. It’s a quiet neighbourhood, and even the Danforth itself is only mildly bustling (it’s no Bloor West). I can get to any veggie stand, grocery store, hardware store, kitchen supply store, or, my new favourite cafe, Goat Coffee Co. (so. in. love). Having a neighbourhood I can take walks through safely is not something I take for granted — that’s what I missed most when I moved from Bloor and Sherbourne to Kingston Road in the middle of Scarborough.
  • My job. I’m one of the few people I know who can say she’s doing what she wanted to do when she was a little kid. My supervising editor is incredibly supportive and always wants to help me grow as a writer — not just to benefit the publication but to benefit me and my career. I genuinely love what I get to do day to day (and I’m pretty decent at it)! There are obviously times when it does feel like work, but everyone has that.
  • I’m grateful for my bike and the fact that it wasn’t totally destroyed in the dooring incident.
  • My health and the state of my body. Okay, so aside from ploughing through someone’s car door on Dundas during rush hour, I’m doin’ alright, physically! I treat my body fairly well — I feed it when it wants it, I exercise when I have energy, and I let it rest. I’m one of those lucky people who rarely gets sick, which I’ll attribute largely to good genetics but also partially to the veggie-heavy diet I eat. Certainly makes things less stressful when I know I probably won’t get sick in the next few weeks.
  • I’m grateful for this Vine.
  • Being able to be a vegan. I’ve found myself with dependable employment, with a supportive partner and family, with access to all sorts of food and the time/knowledge to cook well for myself. I think everyone who is able to should try to be vegan, but I’m aware that it’s not so easy for some people and I am a very privileged person in the grand scheme of things. So I’m very grateful to have found myself on this path.
  • Music. Music has always played a big part in my life. My mother is a piano teacher and it was playing in my house constantly, so naturally I started lessons at a young age. Even though I stopped in high school and never planned on pursuing it at a post-secondary level, I always kept up with my technique and tried hard to keep playing just for fun. I have a digital piano in my apartment now and I probably play it at least once a day — which was what my Mom really wanted for my sister and I, to always be able to enjoy music, even if it wasn’t our whole lives.
  • My blog! I’m so happy that I can express myself eloquently (ish) on this platform and that people are actually listening. It gives me a strong feeling that I’m not alone in the world when it comes to the way I think and experience things.

Wow, that felt really, really good! I encourage all of you guys to do the same — what are you grateful for that you don’t necessarily think about all the time?

(PS — easily passed my “two weeks, no Starbucks” goal. Pah. Babytown frolics. I don’t think I’ll be that eager to walk back through its doors).


The lessons you learn from being an unpopular blogger

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Oh, sweet, naive, 17-year-old Bree. How right you were.

We can all say it: my blog ain’t that popular.

I don’t want to say “my blog doesn’t do well” because I think it serves the purpose I created it for. And I certainly don’t want to say “my blog is not good” because, hell yeah, I think it’s good!”

In terms of views, my blog has its up days and its down days. Its up days delight me, but they’re still not that high. I’m at a loss for how to promote the blog, but perhaps the reason I haven’t pulled the trigger on anything is because I’m actually okay with growing my audience the way I’ve been growing it. The blog is a side project for me and the investment is not huge. A few people click on from Facebook, a few from Reddit, a few from a few choice keyword searches that make me giggle.

I’m still gaining followers on a one-at-a-time level, and I’ll admit I like this stage. Should my blog ever become “big,” I would become, as much as it would totally blow my mind, I’d be a little bit sad about no longer being able to reply to each individual comment, to respond to inquiries so quickly, to see every single person who has shared my recipe.

I don’t know, I’m thankful for this stage, because it’s teaching me a lot.

In fact, I’m about to share some of the lessons I’ve learned with you!

Themes are investments. Pay for a theme.

Unless you, like, donated a kidney to a web designer (or are a web designer yourself) you need to pay for your theme. Free themes are free for a reason. You can’t expect a talented web designer to create art for free. And you can never underestimate the power of a theme (or, more accurately, you can’t underestimate how badly a mediocre theme can drag you down). The Internet is very much a visual place, and the aesthetic (not to mention accessibility and clarity) of a blog is part of the experience. In the same vein, fonts are worth the investment. If you have a real commitment to changing up your blog’s aesthetic a lot, it’s worth it to take some online courses (many are free!) in basic skills for Photoshop and Illustrator, and even in HTML and CSS (I practice with CodeAcademy).

Consistency is key.

Before I took a break from posting in the summer, my numbers were doing okay. Just okay. I still didn’t have a ton of engagement, but I was getting an increased number of “likes” and comments. Moving to my own domain had taken a bit of a bite out of my traffic, but it was slowly building. Now, since my break (which I still maintain was a good thing) I’ve been trying my darndest to re-generate the same interest in my blog. It’s getting better with every week that I consistently post, but it’s still not where I like it to be. Unless you’re a household name already like OSG or Thug Kitchen, you really can’t afford to let people forget who you are. The more you simply put yourself out there, the more you can increase interest over time. If your readers start to view you as a flake, you’ll lose that loyalty.

Even if you’re not a journalist, think like a journalist (sometimes).

Blogging and journalism aren’t different worlds entirely — I’d say they’re different countries, easily travelled to by a mid-priced plane ticket, in the same world. No, in journalism I don’t have to worry about putting so much of my personality in to my blog, and in my blog I don’t have to painstakingly fact-check, interview and transcribe (which, for the record, is still the most cringe-worthy aspect of my career). But one thing on my blog that I take away from my journalism career is the need for style consistency — do my headers always look the same? Do I use the same writing conventions? Develop your own style guide and stick to it. It just looks better!

Being yourself doesn’t mean being lazy.

Putting my own personality into the blog has been a struggle. I’ve never been a fan of my own personality, and as a journalist I’ve always been taught to try to avoid putting any kind of personality to my writing. When I worked doing blogging for a company, I actually was told I had a really hard time not just conveying personality but conveying personality the right way. While authenticity is important, what a lot of bloggers won’t admit is that being “yourself” doesn’t mean being 100% candid (like anyone who’s ever been to art school learned, there’s a difference between being “real” and being “realistic”). Just like you won’t show up to a job interview wearing your sweatpants (even if, like me, you really love sweatpants), you have to construct your identity online, be smart about it. For some people, that’s too hard. For me, I’ve learned that learning how to convey a certain style has been incredibly important to me.

The ultimate goal should be to foster community.

My good pal Jordanna at the House of Muses gave me great advice: end every blog with a question or point of discussion. It felt laboured or forced at first, but that quickly went away. The difference between blogging and journalism is that ultimately, you want blogging to be about the person (whereas journalism is about news). Since I’m still at the stage in my blog life where I can be more personal and interactive, I need to take advantage of that. Conversation breeds more conversation, and this can sometimes be the best source of inspiration for your blog. It lets people know that you’re actually listening to them, and that they’re just as much of a part of the blog experience as you are.

Well, another weekend has arrived. Tonight we’re going to go watch my friend Peter perform with Toronto Dance Theatre’s production, Echo by Christopher House. Tomorrow I’m taking a few dance classes, and then after that… who knows? Nintendo? Pilates? Singing to my cat? Probably all of those. I hope you garlic lovers have a great weekend too — let me know about your plans below (see what I did there)?