Monday, November 26, 2012

A triumphant return!

So tonight marks the first "real" dinner that I've made since becoming pregnant and not being able to think about food. I was inspired this afternoon.. and boy was the hubby happy to have someone else make dinner for once! I've got a pretty big sweet tooth this pregnancy (not so much with my first one), so I wanted something that had a sweetness to it, but was still full of good stuff. This stew was my answer... feel free to customize as you see fit - don't have any purple yams? Just add in sweet potatoes, or even regular potatoes... with stews, it all works!

Butternut Squash Stew
Yield: 12 ladle-sized scoops (about 6 servings)

1 L vegan butternut squash pre-made soup*
1 small purple yam
1 large orange yam
1 very long carrot, or two regular sized ones
1 cup (250 ml) red lentils
1.5 cups (375 ml) water
1 cup (250 ml) frozen corn

*I used Pacific Foods brand - it's vegan and fairly tasty on its own.

1) Chop up the yams and carrots into small, bite-size pieces. Isn't that purple yam pretty? I'd planned on using more of it, but the other ones rotted. So sad! Interestingly, they smelled like guava when they began to rot. Note to self: do not store yams in a plastic bag in a cupboard near the dishwasher!

2) Put the soup, chopped veggies, red lentils, and water into a large pot.

3) Stir, cover, and bring to a boil.

4) Uncover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 35 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5) Add the frozen corn, then simmer for another 5 minutes.

6) Serve hot! I had some Persian bread on the side, which was very tasty.

The stew was not only appetizing to my still somewhat-nauseous tummy, but hubby liked it too. You could also try spicing it up a bit with some paprika! Or add a bit of curry powder for another flavour dimension. Soups and stews are a lot of fun since you can really add anything you want. Happy cooking!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Vegan Miracle!

Sorry for being rather absent from the blogosphere for the last few months... I've been so nauseous that I could barely think about food let alone write about it! Yes, folks, I'm pregnant! But there's a whole lot more behind that statement....

To really understand why I believe my pregnancy to be a "vegan miracle," you need to know a little more about my history. When I was a teenager, I never had regular cycles. I remember going through entire summers without seeing good ole Aunt Flo, which really, was awesome back then. I mean, who really wants to get a period every month, especially during bathing suit season? Every 3-4 months, that's way easier! Unfortunately, what was excellent as a teen and young woman became a bit of a liability when my hubby and I decided it was time to start a family. After trying for six frustrating months and only experiencing one period during that time, we decided to see our family doctor. He looked at my history and decided to refer me to a fertility specialist. 

I didn't quite know what to expect when we made our first appointment with Pacific Centre for Reproductive Medicine, but was very pleasantly surprised when we walked in the door - the office was gorgeous! All beautiful wood and calming greens and whites. Really pretty. And luckily, the doctor and the rest of the staff were pretty nice too. He looked at my history, decided to send me for some blood work, and also did an ultrasound of my ovaries. Turned out that not only was my thyroid very off - I was barely producing any thyroid stimulating hormone (that explained the tiredness and joint pains I'd been experiencing), but my ovaries also looked like I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). With PCOS, basically my ovaries do not ovulate normally - they create lots of little "cysts" with immature eggs inside of them, which is normal, but normally at least one of those eggs will mature and burst out of the cyst... which is when ovulation occurs. My eggs never matured so I was just left with a bunch of little cysts - not painful and not cause for concern, but they did get in the way of trying to conceive naturally! We corrected the thyroid issue with medication that I'll be on for the rest of my life, but the PCOS was a little more difficult to deal with. There really is no "cure" for PCOS, so the doctor decided to try me out on the first step in combating infertility caused by "lack of menses." This first step is called clomid, and it's basically just a pill that you take for a few days at a certain time of the month that gives your ovaries a kick-start to ovulate. After a couple of tries with getting the dosage right, it finally started making me ovulate and a couple of months later, I was pregnant with my son. Awesome.

When my son was one year old, we decided to start trying right away for a second since we'd had a hard time getting pregnant that first time. Everyone had always told me that likely I would have no problem getting pregnant a second time since my body "knew what to do now." Boy were they wrong. We tried for a couple of months on our own, but I still wasn't getting a period (and I'd stopped breastfeeding), so we went back to clomid. After raising the dosage on the clomid repeatedly over several months, we finally faced the reality that it had stopped working for me. Apparently, this is not uncommon, but it was sure inconvenient!

After that, we went on to try Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) - which is basically artificial insemination - our own eggs and sperm, but no fun part. We tried a few rounds of this, none of which had any success either because I only produced one egg or produced five or more - apparently my ovaries were "fragile" and very sensitive to changes in the medication dosage. This did lead my doctor to believe that I would be a good candidate for in vitro insemination (IVF) since apparently my ovaries were good at producing multiple eggs with higher dosages of the medication. So, we tried that as well - I made 17 eggs, 11 of which were fertilized. First round, we transferred two fresh embryos. I did get pregnant, but miscarried very soon after. So we tried again with some "kidsicles" as we liked to call them. We transferred another two and again I got pregnant and miscarried very early. Well at this point we were understandably rather depressed about the whole situation, so we took a break for a few months. Eventually we decided to try one last frozen embryo transfer but this time with three embryos for a better chance... and nothing took at all in that last one! We were out of embryos (some didn't survive the thawing process), and my body was a mess. IVF involves some pretty heavy dosages of hormones and I decided I needed a real break to get my body healthy. We weren't sure where we were heading with still trying to have a child (we never gave up hope that it would happen someday for us!), but I knew it would be a while before I would feel ready to face the prospect of more infertility treatments, which seemed to be the only possible course of action for us.

So this brings us to this past year in the spring. Have a look at this post for my story about why I became vegan... and the other back story is that I just really wanted to do some good things for my body. So after a couple of months of eating exclusively plant-based, I had a near-normal cycle - just 32 days. This was entirely unheard of for me, so I said to the hubby, "maybe it will be normal next month too - why don't we just try and see what happens?" Well, famous last words... it happened! Just one month of "trying" completely naturally and I was pregnant. We were shocked, to say the least!

Now I'm sure there are some naysayers and skeptics out there who won't believe that going vegan is what made it possible for me to get pregnant naturally. Well, here is a list of why going vegan is EXACTLY what helped me get pregnant...

  1. Skeptic: you'd stopped trying and it always happens when you're not really trying. Fact: we hadn't stopped trying - we'd never given up hope and were actively trying the month that I did get pregnant. 
  2. Skeptic: you must have lost weight on your new vegan diet and losing weight helps you get pregnant. Fact: while I did end up losing about 10 pounds before becoming pregnant, when my cycle originally normalized I had lost no more than five pounds, and probably less. Five pounds is so little that it would have no effect on my fertility. 
  3. Skeptic: you weren't so stressed when you were trying naturally as you must have been when you were doing infertility treatments. Fact: we conceived during the first week back for a new school year. If that's not a stressful time, I don't know what is!! 
  4. Skeptic: you weren't eating much processed food and that was probably impacting your fertility. Fact: while I might have eaten marginally more processed food as a non-vegan, really it was just marginal. I was never a huge processed food eater. 
  5. Skeptic: you were exercising a lot more with boot camp three days a week. Fact: while I was definitely exercising more around the time I got pregnant, I don't think this was what helped. When I got that first near-normal cycle of 32 days, I hadn't yet started boot camp. I'm sure the exercise helped because really, how could it not, but it wasn't the only thing that helped. 

Convinced yet? I could probably go on and refute anything the skeptics could come up with, but the fact remains that at least for me, cutting meat and dairy out of my diet helped my own natural hormones to work properly. Makes you wonder what is in our meat and dairy, eh? I've found at least one other blogger who had a similar experience to me... you can read her story here. We'd spent over $10,000 on trying to get pregnant, but all it took was changing what I ate. Go figure!

So, suffice it to say that I am thrilled with the unforeseen side effect of my plant-based diet, and still in a state of shock. I think it might become more "real" once I start feeling those first little flutters of movement. I'm due around June 4, 2013, so as of this posting I am at 12 weeks, just about to start in on my second trimester. The nausea is starting to dissipate slowly, so hopefully I can get back to cooking and posting here soon! I'm trying to remain as vegan as possible during the pregnancy, but have definitely been tested by this "all-day" sickness since NOTHING has looked good to eat and my body apparently isn't able to currently digest beans and legumes (I tried them - it wasn't pretty). I have indulged in real cheese and several Filet o'Fish (oh the shame!), but my hope is once my body becomes more receptive to food in general that I can get back to full-time veganism. I bought a book called The Everything Vegan Pregnancy Book by Reed Mangels which has been very informative. She also includes lots of recipes, so I plan to start trying some of those out soon!

And now I think I'll leave you to let this all sink in... there's a bowl of vanilla soy frozen dessert calling my name! 

Monday, October 01, 2012

No-Chop Lentil Pilaf

As a vegan, you tend to eat a lot of vegetables. And consequently, you tend to chop a lot of vegetables. You get to be very intimate with your cutting board and knife! Tonight, I wanted a break from all that chopping, but I still wanted our meal to be nutritious and as whole-food as possible. I came across this recipe that used Beluga Lentils, and I just happened to have a bag of pre-cooked ones in the freezer. Plus, the recipe could be made to be chop-free, which was perfect! So here is my adapted version of Cookgirl's Black Beluga Lentil Pilaf recipe.

No-Chop Lentil Pilaf
Yield: 5-6 meal-sized servings

2 cups (500 ml) sprouted brown rice (or a rice of your choice)
3 cups (750 ml) water
1 clove garlic, minced (I got around the chopping for this part by using pre-minced garlic!)
1 tsp (5 ml) cumin
1 cup (250 ml) raisins
2 cups (500 ml) pre-cooked beluga lentils (or another lentil of your choice)
1 cup (250 ml) frozen green peas
Salt and pepper, to taste

1) Rinse rice and place in a large pot. Add water, minced garlic, and cumin. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low and let simmer for 25 minutes.

2) If raisins are getting a little old and crusty, which mine were, put them in a bowl and cover with water to let them "plump." Leave them in the water while the rice cooks, and don't forget to discard the water before you use the plumped raisins.

3) Once the rice is done, mix the lentils, raisins, and frozen peas into the pot. Let sit for about five minutes with the lid on, until the peas have thawed and everything is warmed through.

4) Season with salt and pepper as desired.

I like the colour the bright green peas give to the dish, and I also like to add something green in whenever possible. Green = good for you! The sweetness of the peas and raisins is a nice counterpart to the more savoury rice and lentils. I did find the dish to be a bit dry, so if that bothers you, you could mix in a bit of vegan margarine. We served it with a bun on the side, which was very tasty. This was also a really nice fast dish that makes a lot - perfect for freezing or leftovers!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Bandidas Taqueria: A Restaurant Review

So normally I do recipes. But last night we went out for dinner for my birthday and had such a perfect experience that I had to share. Bandidas Taqueria is located near Commercial Drive and 12th Ave in Vancouver. Their food is Mexican-inspired, all vegetarian, and they easily veganize everything too. They even make their own vegan sour cream, which was very yummy, and try to purchase local ingredients as much as possible! The atmosphere is excellent - high ceilings, neat art from kids at 4 Cats Art Studio,  and good music. They are family-friendly as well - didn't bat an eye when I ordered something slightly modified from their kids menu for my son who is incredibly picky. My husband thought he spied some games for kids to play too, on his way to the bathroom. Luckily, my son was perfectly behaved so those weren't needed (and that in and of itself would have been birthday present enough for me! We've had a few less-than-stellar restaurant experiences lately with him).

It's a small place and quite popular, so we had to wait about 10 minutes to get a table on a Friday night. Not too bad really. There is very little inside waiting space, though, so it might have been more of an issue if it had been poring rain or really cold. It's not the best area of the city - expect to see a number of homeless people. But the restaurant makes the trip well worth it! You can park on the side streets near the restaurant in free 2-hour parking, but watch for the "Resident Parking Only" signs!

The service was excellent. Being on Commercial Drive, you'd expect the servers to have a certain funky look to them, and they did, but I find in a lot of places on Commercial that their cool look translates to poor service (that kind of "I don't care" attitude). At Bandidas, however, they were very attentive and super friendly.

Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of what we ate because I was so ravenous and ate everything before the idea of taking pictures of it dawned on me! Everything was beautifully presented - it looked like art on a plate! But here's what we ate:

Son: a plain flour tortilla folded over with cheese in the middle to make a quesadilla - exactly how he likes it!

Hubby: Connie's Baked Burrito with walnuts ground, apple salsa , cheese, roasted red pepper sauce, purple cabbage and pinto beans, baked with enchilada sauce and cheese - hubby said it was very tasty and was so big he almost couldn't finish it!

Me: Four tacos (although next time I'll just get three - they were very filling). They allow you to mix-and-match the tacos, so I tried one of each of these:

  • CONNIE’S: Walnuts ground, apple salsa, Daiya cheese & roasted red pepper sauce.
  • LEONA GAYLE: Smoky-sweet chipotle tofu (organic), pinto beans, Daiya cheese, roasted red salsa, romaine lettuce & vegan sour cream.
  • STELLA: Kale, butternut squash, roasted salsa, pinto beans, Daiya cheese, & vegan sour cream.
  • RONNY RUSSELL: Roasted yams and onions, fresh guacamole, black beans, green salsa, purple cabbage & toasted pumpkin seeds.

My favourite was the Ronny Russell. The others were very tasty, but this one blew my mind! I will likely just order three of that one next time and call it quits. I'm not a big fan of Daiya cheese, either, so I probably would order without it next time too if I chose one that included it. I don't think not having it would take away from the flavour of any of the tacos because the other ingredients are already incredibly flavourful! All of the tacos were served on their made-in-house corn tortillas which were delicious.

We finished off the meal with a vegan chocolate chip coconut cake. It was fluffy, sweet and delicious. Even my son who doesn't normally like coconutty things loved this. It was also really nice to have the option of ordering a vegan dessert that didn't have Indian spices in it. Don't get me wrong - I enjoy Indian spices from time to time. But it seems like 90% of the vegan desserts out there are flavoured with Indian spices. It just gets very repetitive. 

So, overall, I would give this restaurant a ten out of five if I could... but since there's no such thing as over 100%, I'll go with a five out of five. Definitely give it a try - you won't regret it! And now, I'll get back to my dreams about going back there for their breakfast menu, which also looks amazing. They substitute eggs with butternut squash and tofu for vegans. Heavenly!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Nacho Nacho Vegan!

Tonight was nacho night. We haven't had nachos in forever, and not at all since we've gone vegan. The one thing I hear the most from people when we talk about going vegan is, "I don't think I could do it. I could never give up cheese." Well, I have to admit, it was difficult to give up that ooey gooey deliciousness that is cheese. But, becoming lactose intolerant this past year did help! Not so much fun to eat something that doesn't make you feel well. Actually, that's how I feel in general about non-vegan food - it doesn't make you feel well, whether you realize it or not. Just try going vegan and see how much better you feel! For me, that was a big indicator that the food I had been eating was not good for my body. (Keep in mind, I was on the "healthier" end of the non-vegan spectrum - it's not like I ate tons of junk and processed stuff all the time. I was eating chicken breast, steamed veggies, skim milk, etc. - all that supposedly "healthy" food.)

But, you do get to missing some non-vegan food. And cheese is definitely one of those foods. There are vegan "cheeses" out there, like Daiya, but I don't particularly like them. They seem to try too hard to be cheese, when all they really are is mostly chemicals that melt into a sticky gooey mess (and not gooey in a good way). I came across yet another amazing recipe from Oh She Glows! for "Cheeze" sauce and decided that it might be a good thing to try with nachos. I made the recipe exactly as printed, but I would add less salt next time as I found it a little too salty. I'm pretty sensitive to saltiness, so others might find it to be okay. I might also add a little less dijon mustard as it was pretty tangy, but not necessarily in a bad way. Overall, it was a pretty good substitute for cheese sauce. I made a double recipe so we'd have lots:

Looks pretty "cheezy," doesn't it? I assembled the nachos using organic blue corn tortilla chips with flax, one diced red pepper, one diced green pepper, about 1 cup/250 ml cooked black beans, and a bunch of frozen corn. I broiled the nachos with toppings on in the oven for about 10 minutes or so - keep a watch on them so they don't burn. Then, I poured the hot "Cheeze" sauce over top. I have to say, it was pretty yummy. The hubby and I basically finished off this entire tray:

I don't feel too bad about eating so many nachos since they were mostly bean-veggie topping with not too many chips. But I was wondering about that cheeze sauce - how did it stack up for calorie and fat content compared to real cheese sauce (using this basic recipe). Using the recipe analyzer at, I discovered that it is actually really similar to real cheese sauce in terms of calories, protein, and fat content (the recipe I used for real cheese sauce was supposed to be a lower-fat version of the more processed types). But, in terms of good points, the real cheese sauce only has three: high in calcium, phosphorus and riboflavin, plus two bad points: high in saturated fat and sugar. Meanwhile the cheeze sauce has many good points: no cholesterol, very low in sugar, high in dietary fiber, high in iron, very high in niacin, very high in pantothenic acid, very high in phosphorus, high in potassium, very high in riboflavin, very high in thiamin, high in vitamin B6, high in vitamin E, and NO bad points. In my mind, this makes the cheeze sauce a much more worthwhile use of my calories. So, perhaps not our most low-calorie dinner, but we seriously don't plan on eating it very often. Not sure if you could go vegan 'cause you'd miss the cheese? Give this sauce a try - but be openminded (it won't taste exactly like cheese because it isn't cheese!) and remember that you are putting good things into your body when you eat whole-food plant-based. Be kind to your body - it's the only one you've got!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ode to my Sister-in-Law

A few weeks ago we had dinner at my culinarily-talented sister-in-law's place. She made us this yummy concoction with kale, sesame oil, and millet that I've been thinking about for a while now. Since I don't have her on call as our personal chef, I decided to try making something similar on my own. It ended up being a pretty quick four-ingredient dinner (five if you count the water), and was almost as good as hers. She really is quite the pro in the kitchen!

Sesame Kale with Millet
Yield: about 3 servings

1 large bunch kale
1 cup (250 ml) millet
2.5 cups (625 ml) water
1 Tbsp (15 ml) sesame oil
Pinch salt

1) Rinse the millet with running water. Put millet and 2.5 cups of water into a pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.

2) Wash the kale well. Watch out for bugs! Found a few aphids on mine. Not sure if I missed some, but hey, extra protein! 

3) Chop the kale into small pieces. I find the easiest way to chop the kale is to first place it spine-up on the cutting board:

Then, run your knife along the spine on each side. This should easily separate the leaves from the spine. The spine is tough so it's not great for eating - discard it.

Once your kale is chopped, it should look like this:

4) Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the kale and cook it, stirring constantly, for a couple of minutes. It's done when the kale looks tender and shiny green.

5) By this time, your millet should be done. Fluff it with a fork.

6) Toss kale with sesame oil. Using just 1 Tbsp makes it very lightly oiled and gives it a light sesame flavour. Use more if you prefer a stronger sesame flavour.

7) Assemble the dish by first laying down a bed of the sesame kale. Then add millet on top. Sprinkle with sea salt to taste.

Millet is a yummy grain. It's quite soft and has a pleasant flavour. It's not that popular in Canada, but is the grain of choice in much of Africa. It's got about as much protein in it as wheat, but is gluten free. I was a little hungry a couple of hours after eating this meal, so I might add something with more protein in it on the side next time.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Forbidden No More

A few weeks ago I discovered Forbidden Rice (sold by Lotus Foods). My local Whole Foods sells it in the bulk section. Forbidden rice is amazing! I am seriously in love with it. It's this beautiful rich deep purple, almost black colour. So gorgeous. It has a similar nutritional profile to brown rice, but with lots of additional antioxidants* due to its rich colouring. The flavour is slightly nutty, and the texture is chewy. Legend says that the only ones allowed to eat it in imperial China were the Emperor and his family... but lucky for us, we get to play king (or queen!) for a day now! 

I was looking for a good recipe to try this week with my forbidden rice and came across this one by Giada Di Laurentiis on the Food Network. It looked interesting so I thought I'd give it a try, with a few modifications. So here's my version of Giada's recipe for:

Forbidden Rice with Peaches and Peas
Yield: about 6 meal-sized servings (more if using as a side)

3 1/2 cups (875 ml) water
2 cups (500 ml) forbidden rice
1/2 tsp (2 ml) sea salt
2 1/2 cups (625 ml) snap peas
2 large peaches

1/4 cup (60 ml) toasted sesame seeds

1 Tbsp + 2 tsp (25 ml) seasoned rice vinegar
1/8 cup (30 ml) flaxseed oil
1.5 Tbsp (22 ml) agave nectar
1 Tbsp (15 ml) soy sauce

1) Rinse rice and place in a saucepan. Add 3.5 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes or until tender. Let sit for five minutes, then fluff with a fork and transfer to a large salad bowl.

2) Cut the snap peas into 1" sized pieces.

3) Pit the peaches then slice them.

4) Spray a large non-stick frying pan with oil, then heat to medium-high. 

5) When drops of water "dance" on the pan, add the snap peas. Cook, stirring frequently, for two minutes. They should be shiny and starting to get soft.

6) Add the peach slices and cook for another two minutes.

7) Add the hot peas and peaches to the same bowl as the rice.

8) Whisk together the rice vinegar, flaxseed oil, agave nectar, and soy sauce until cloudy-looking.

9) Pour the dressing over the rice mixture and toss well.

You can eat this "salad" either warm as we did this evening, or at room temperature which is what we'll likely do tomorrow. The flavour was good, but it seemed to be missing something. The hubby had a brilliant idea - putting toasted sesame seeds on top! So that's what we did for the leftovers we'll have for lunch tomorrow. The sesame seeds added a good additional flavour, and they also contrast nicely against the black, green, and peachy colours of the other ingredients.

I'm already dreaming of other recipes I might try with forbidden rice... I've heard it makes an amazing rice pudding. I'll let you know if I try it!

* A note on antioxidants... when I asked my Grade 11/12 students today what an "antioxidant" was, almost nobody in the class could give me an answer. Finally, a tentative student put up his hand and said, "um, they prevent cancer?" He was basically right. I find that there are many "healthy food" words thrown around and a lot of the time, most people have no idea what they actually mean. Antioxidants prevent free radicals, which are these nasty bad guys that go around our bodies wreaking havoc, from causing harm. Free radicals have been associated with a number of diseases, most notably cancer. Consequently, antioxidants are probably best known for helping prevent cancer. But beware of supplementation - taking antioxidants in supplement form is not the same as getting them from real, whole foods. Supplementing can actually do the reverse for you and cause you harm. Always go for the real stuff! Not only is it much tastier, but there are all kinds of other nutrients in antioxidant-rich foods as well! Antioxidants are usually found in foods with beautiful, deep colours like berries, or this forbidden rice. Colour is a great way to choose your food - if it looks pretty, it's probably good for you!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Thai it!

Okay, yes, that was a very cheesy title. Er, I mean silly, since vegans don't eat cheese. Maybe I should just stop now.

I decided to experiment tonight with a Thai coconut curry. It was a night to use up veggies in the fridge and throw together a quick dinner with what I had on hand, so I had the following to work with:
- 1 package pressed tofu (which I cubed)
- 1 Japanese eggplant (which I sliced into thin slices)

- 1 very large box of snow pea tips - it's taking us forever to get through this thing! Thanks Costco!

- 1 package spinach noodles

- 1 can light coconut milk (I love Trader Joe's!)

- 1 jar Thai green curry paste

Here's what I did to put the meal together:
1) Heat a large skillet and spray with cooking oil.
2) Add the eggplant and saute for a few minutes until they start to go softer and begin to get translucent. Add a bit of water to the pan if they start to stick.
3) Add a bunch of the pea tips. Basically you want so much that you can't add any more in to the pan. They shrink down A LOT, so use as many as you can fit. Saute them for a while until they start to shrink.
4) Add the tofu cubes. Toss with the eggplant and pea tips.
5) Add the coconut milk and about 1 Tbsp (15 ml) of the curry paste). Stir to coat everything in the pan, then simmer on low for about 5-10 minutes.

6) Cook the spinach noodles, or another noodle of your choice as per package directions. When done, drain off water and toss with the mixture in the skillet.

Here's the final product:

The whole dinner probably only took me about 20 minutes to make and was quite tasty. It makes around 4-6 servings, depending on how big your serving is. Vegan cooking doesn't always have to be a long, drawn-out process. Sometimes a quick meal with whatever you have on hand is both easy and delicious!

Sunday Brunch Pancakes!

I love pancakes. Luckily, so do my son and husband. They are one of our favourite breakfast-for-dinner options, and I always make lots so I can freeze them and send them to daycare with my son for his lunch. Or, you can also just pop a frozen pancake in the toaster oven for a quick delicious breakfast. Mmmm... pancakes.

I have been using a recipe from this cookbook called Cooking Without Mom (1986, Hen Party Enterprises) that my mom gave to me when I first moved out on my own. It's a neat little cookbook that has seen me through a lot, but my favourite recipe in it has always been the pancakes recipe. When I decided to go whole-food vegan, I tried a few vegan pancake recipes online, but none ever came close to being as good as the ones from this cookbook. I wanted to make some pancakes this morning for brunch, but got discouraged by the idea of trying yet another pancake recipe that wasn't going to cut it. And then, I had the brilliant idea of whole-food veganizing the original recipe that I love so much. Luckily, it worked! The finished pancakes were light, fluffy, and oh-so-delicious. And, they had oodles of good stuff in them too with no added sugar or fat.

The Best Vegan Pancakes Ever
Yield: 11 1/3-cup sized pancakes

2.5 cups (625 ml) whole wheat flour
1/2 cup (125 ml) quinoa flour
2 Tbsp (30 ml) baking powder
1/2 tsp (2 ml) salt
2-3 tsp (10-15 ml) cinnamon
2.5 cups (625 ml) unsweetened non-dairy milk
1 cup (250 ml) water
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla
1 small or 1/2 large ripe banana, mashed
1 flax "egg" (1 Tbsp ground flax meal + 3 Tbsp warm water)

1) Whisk together flax meal and warm water. Let sit for 5-10 minutes until thickened. Whisk again before adding to wet ingredients.

2) Combine flours, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon until evenly mixed.

3) Mix together "milk," water, vanilla, mashed banana, and flax egg.

4) Make a well in the dry ingredients, add the wet all at once, then mix until just combined but still lumpy.

5) Preheat your non-stick frying pan(s), using low-medium heat (about a 4 if your stove has numbered dials). I always use two non-stick pans so that I can cook more pancakes at once. Non-stick also prevents you from having to use oil. Always remember to use a plastic flipper to avoid scratches, and get a new pan once you start seeing cracks in the non-stick finish. You'll know your pan is preheated enough once you drop a few drops of water onto it and the water "dances."

6) Use either a 1/3 cup (80 ml) measuring cup or a ladle to portion out the pancakes. Drop them onto your preheated pans, making a circular shape.

7) Let cook for about 2 minutes. You'll know they are ready to flip when they get bubbles all over and the edges look dull. They should be golden brown once you flip them.

8) Cook for another minute or so after flipping until the other side is golden brown.

9) If you are making a lot and not planning to eat them fresh off the pan, heat your oven to about 200-225 F. Put a cooling rack onto a cookie sheet and place your pancakes on top of this in the oven. It will keep them warm without letting them get too soggy.

10) Serve pancakes hot with a topping of your choice. Here is my finished pancake with maple syrup. Sometimes I do a fruit sauce for a topping, chop some fresh fruit on top with maple syrup, and sometimes I put almond butter on top. All delicious ways to eat these pancakes!

A note on quinoa flour: quinoa is high in protein and iron, so it's excellent for vegans. I tried making some pancakes using all quinoa flour, but the taste was so overpowering that it just wasn't appetizing. I'm experimenting with how much I can put into a recipe without my son saying, "Mommy, this tastes funny." A half cup in this recipe worked - couldn't taste it, but it still adds some nutrition. You might be able to get away with more quinoa flour and less whole wheat. Alternatively, if you have no quinoa flour on hand, all whole wheat will also work. You could also try different flours, like spelt or kamut. I will probably experiment with these alternative flours at some point in the future!

Another tip for this recipe: you can also add in finely diced apple, blueberries, raisins, or vegan chocolate chips. Add no more than 1 cup. The diced apples are my favourite! Enjoy!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Pleasure Trap

So it's been a while since my last post. The hubby and I do a one-week-on-one-week-off schedule for making dinners, and this was my week off. Likely I won't post much during my off weeks, but the hubby might do some guest posts!

Since I had some time freed up this past week from making dinner, I decided to do a little baking. I love to bake, and it's been really fun trying my hand at veganizing recipes for a variety of baked goods (my favourite way to replace an egg - mix 1 Tbsp ground flaxmeal and 2-3 Tbsp water; let it sit for about 5-10 minutes until thickened). I had some bananas that needed to be used up, and was feeling like oatmeal raisin cookies... so I decided to make some Banana-Maple Oatmeal Cookies from the FatFree Vegan Kitchen. Susan has some great recipes on this site, and the vast majority have no added fat - just the naturally occurring fats in the whole-food ingredients. Here's what the cookies looked like:

They were tasty, had a cakey consistency, and didn't make me feel too bad about eating a couple. But eating cookies made me think a little about something I learned in my Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition: the Pleasure Trap. Ever wondered why we eat things we know are bad for us? Read on...

The Pleasure Trap is a concept created by psychologist Doug Lisle - check out a lecture from him here on YouTube. He also wrote a book on the subject (with Alan Goldhammer) called The Pleasure Trap: Mastering the Hidden Force that Undermines Health and Happiness - check it out for a much longer and detailed explanation of what I will discuss below.

So, here is my understanding of the Pleasure Trap. We are hardwired to seek pleasure, avoid pain, and conserve energy. When we eat high-caloric foods, we get a zap of pleasure because not only does it taste good, but it was a really easy way to get our caloric needs met (so we conserved energy in doing so and avoided the pain of malnutrition). Dr. Lisle says our bodies can distinguish even small caloric differences - that's why an apple tastes better than a piece of lettuce, for example. Our body knows that apples have more calories than lettuce, and consequently  innately prefers apples to get our caloric needs met easier. Most foods in a standard western diet are high in caloric content, so it's easy to get our caloric needs met (avoiding the pain of malnutrition) with food that tastes good (causes pleasure) without putting forth too much effort (conserving energy).

So, that's one side of it. Let's move on to discussing the Dietary Pleasure Trap. There is an awesome graph here that will give you a visual of this concept. Basically, there are three pleasure zones - the subnormal, normal, and enhanced pleasure zones. When we eat natural whole foods, we are getting our caloric needs met, they taste good, and we're in the normal pleasure zone. This is where we want to be. But, when we eat those high-caloric processed foods that are not good for us, we get a boost into the enhanced pleasure zone. If we keep eating those high-caloric foods, we are kept in the enhanced pleasure zone so long that eventually it becomes normal for our bodies, so we fall back into the normal pleasure zone, always looking for another jolt that will take us back to enhanced pleasure. So we keep eating more and more high-caloric foods, and consequently keep getting fatter and fatter, and sicker and sicker. But, we just can't quite seem to reach that enhanced pleasure zone anymore! So, the cure for that is to change our diets back to whole, natural foods. When we do change our diet, it is initially such a shock to the system that we drop to the subnormal zone. This is why when you start to eat right, your body says, "whoa, something is seriously wrong here! I miss meat! I miss cheese! I miss doughnuts! I miss chips! Give them to me and I'll be happy again!" But, in reality, what you need to do at this point is just stay strong and tough it out. The transitional period will only last for a few weeks - it sucks, but you'll get through it. After those few weeks, your body will re-adjust to the normal pleasure zone and you'll feel better than ever! Natural, whole foods will once again taste amazing, and you should find yourself craving that bad stuff a whole lot less, if at all.

I know learning about this helped me to understand my motivation a lot. I can feel the shift to enhanced pleasure now when I eat something I know isn't all that great for me, like those cookies. But I also now know enough that when I do feel that enhanced pleasure, I back off and let my body come back to normal so that I don't cause myself to desire that enhanced pleasure too much. I feel satisfied after just one cookie, for example, rather than four or five! Navigating the Dietary Pleasure Trap can help you take control of your health and do what is right for your body. Good luck!

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Christmas in September

Yesterday was a hot hot day, so I thought a nice summery salad would be in order. For inspiration, I visited Oh She Glows, which is an awesome vegan food blog. Definitely check it out! I decided to adapt Angela's Back on Track Wheat Berry and Bean Salad, which I also like to affectionately call "Christmas in a Bowl." It's a super pretty salad with lots of Christmas-y red and green colours. The original recipe called for navy beans which I didn't have, so I decided to use some beluga lentils that I had pre-cooked in the freezer. If you're not familiar with beluga lentils, they're a pretty little black lentil that kind of looks like beluga caviar when cooked, hence the name. If you don't use lentils in your cooking on a regular basis, I encourage you to start! They are excellent sources of protein, fibre, and iron. My favourite kinds are French puy lentils (yummy just cooked on their own as a side dish), and red split lentils (which mash up well and work nicely in pureed soups). I came across the beluga variety at Whole Foods and of course had to try them!

Wheat berries are the whole wheat kernel without the hull. They come in a few varieties and two colours - red or white. The ones I used for this salad were the soft white spring variety,which take less time to cook than the hard kind and don't need to be soaked overnight. For hard wheat berries, just soak them overnight like you do with beans, then boil/simmer for about an hour. Soft wheat berries just need to be boiled/simmered for 60-90 minutes. Wheat berries stay nice and chewy, so they work really well in salads.

Here's a great post by fellow blogger Desiree at Eat Drink Be Happy on the book Wheat Belly by cardiologist (note: he's not a nutritionist!) William Davis. I agree with Desiree's review of this book - wheat is not evil! If you're not celiac or gluten-sensitive, consuming wheat is totally fine and even good for you, as long as it's wheat in it's whole form. Wheat berries are wonderfully full of nutrients, including lots of protein and fibre. It would be a shame to take them out of your diet simply based on the recommendations of someone with little to no nutritional training! Here's a tip when you read books on diet: always check the credentials of the person writing the book (are they a nutritionist? do they have real training in nutrition?), and look for the claims in the book to be backed by peer-reviewed studies. Those two checks will help you determine whether the book is really a reliable source of information.

And so, here is a yummy, nutritious, wheat-filled recipe:

Christmas-y Wheat Berry Salad
Yield: about 8 cups

1 cup dry wheat berries, cooked and drained
2 cups/500 ml cooked beans or lentils
1 English cucumber, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 large tomato, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup fresh parsley, diced with large stems removed
Sea salt + pepper, to taste

Dressing Ingredients:
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp mustard of your choice
1/2 tbsp soy sauce (MSG free and low sodium!)
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1) In a medium bowl, soak the wheat berries overnight in cold water (if using hard wheat; if using soft, skip this step). The next day, drain the wheat berries and place in a medium sized pot, covered in three inches of water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium and simmer for one hour (may need 90 minutes if using soft wheat). Drain and cool.

2) In a large bowl, mix together the diced vegetables and minced garlic.

3) Add in cooked and drained beans or lentils and stir.

4) In a small bowl whisk together the dressing ingredients. Set aside.

5) When the wheat berries are ready, drain and rinse. Stir into the salad. 

6) Add the dressing just before serving and stir well. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Doesn't it look Christmas-y? Or maybe that's just me wishing for some cooler weather... my school has no air conditioning and it's been way too hot this past week. Someone please remind me in a couple of months that I asked for cooler weather!

Thursday, September 06, 2012


I wasn't sure if I was going to blog about tonight's dinner, but the hubby thought it looked pretty so I decided I would share. It was really just an experimental night. I had some lasagna noodles that I wanted to use up (since we don't really do lasagna anymore - not a fan of the fake vegan cheeses), so I thought I'd try putting something together. Let's just call it...

Colourful "Lasagna"
Yield: 1 9x13 pan (about 6 servings)

2 large yams (the orange-coloured kind)
1 large Japanese eggplant
3 cups (750 ml) cooked black beans
6 whole-wheat lasagna noodles
Nutritional yeast - a little or a lot
2 cloves garlic, minced
about 1 cup (250 ml) vegan pasta sauce
about 5 oz (142 g) fresh leafy greens (e.g., arugula, spinach, kale, etc.)

1) Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions.
2) Peel and chop yams into small-ish pieces - this makes them cook faster. Put them into a pot of water, bring to a boil, then lower heat slightly and cook until they are softened (about 20-30 minutes). Mash them when done.
3) Chop the eggplant into half-moons. Saute the eggplant and garlic together with a spray of oil. Add the pasta sauce and cook until everything is relatively broken up and saucy.
4) Once everything is cooked, it's time to assemble! Spray the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish with some oil to prevent sticking, then add the layers as follows:

  • A single layer of lasagna noodles (3)
  • Half the leafy greens
  • Half the mashed yams
  • A sprinkling of nutritional yeast
  • All of the eggplant sauce
  • Half the black beans
  • The other three lasagna noodles
  • The rest of the yams
  • Another sprinkling of nutritional yeast
  • The rest of the black beans
  • The rest of the leafy greens

5) Cover the dish with aluminum foil, then bake at 425 F for about 10-15 minutes until the greens have wilted a little.

And here's what it looked like - lots of pretty colours! And it tasted pretty good too.

It's one of those recipes that you can really make your own. Don't like black beans - switch them out for some lentils, another kind of bean, or maybe some soft tofu. You could do more of the eggplant tomato sauce layers too if you'd like. Have fun experimenting - I know I did!

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

The one that started it all...

Tonight's recipe is the first one I made when I decided to go vegan back in May 2012. It was so incredibly yummy that I thought to myself, yes, I can do this! The original recipe is from Susan at, but I've adapted it a little more to my liking.

When I was grocery shopping last weekend, I came across this clamshell of heirloom beans. I have to say, I am a sucker for heirloom veggies. They're just so pretty! So, I decided to make this recipe using one pound heirloom beans and one pound regular green beans. The heirloom beans definitely added some nice colour (especially those gorgeous purple spotted ones!), and a slightly different texture. Yum!

Green Bean Casserole
Yield: apparently it's supposed to yield 6-8 servings, but I think those would be tiny servings as a side dish - we eat this as our main course and usually polish it off as two large servings since it's so yummy! I also don't feel too bad eating so much of it because it's basically all veggies, with lots of excellent plant protein too.

2 pounds (900 g) fresh green beans
6 large mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons (30 ml) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (190 ml) vegetable broth
1 tablespoon (15 ml) dry sherry
3/4 cup (190 ml) unsweetened almond milk
2 slices whole grain bread
1 tablespoon (15 ml) Earth Balance margarine (the best vegan brand!)
1/4 cup (60 ml) nutritional yeast*

1) Bring a large pot of water to a boil. While it's heating, wash beans, then cut the ends off. Chop into bite sized pieces.

2) Add the beans to the boiling water. Cover and cook for six minutes. Drain the beans in a colander, then spray for one minute with cold water to stop the cooking process (incidentally, this is called "blanching" the beans). Let the beans continue draining in the colander to ensure as much water as possible comes off of them.
3) While the beans are cooking, wash and chop the mushrooms.

4) Spray a large non-stick frying pan with vegetable oil. Add the minced garlic and mushrooms to the hot pan. Cook until mushrooms are very soft and begin to extrude their juices.

5) Combine the vegetable broth and flour. Whisk them until their are no flour clumps. Add the broth/flour mixture to the pan and stir quickly - it will thicken almost immediately. Reduce your heat to low and add the sherry and almond milk. Keep stirring a couple of more minutes while the sauce thickens and simmers.

6) Combine the sauce and beans in a large casserole dish.
7) Using a food processor, pulse the bread, nutritional yeast and margarine until crumbly.

8) Spread the bread crumbs evenly over the beans in the casserole dish.

9) Bake at 425 F for 15 minutes, until bread crumbs are golden brown.

10) Let it sit for a few minutes, then serve! Yum!

* A note on nutritional yeast: 
Never heard of this stuff before? It's a staple for a vegan diet. Here's a description from Wikipedia:
Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast which is sold commercially as a food product. It's sold in the form of flakes or as a yellow powder similar in texture to cornmeal, and can be found in the bulk aisle of most natural food stores. It is popular with vegans and vegetarians and may be used as an ingredient in recipes or as a condiment.
It is a source of protein and vitamins, especially the B-complex vitamins, and is a complete protein. It is also naturally low in fat and sodium and is free of sugar, dairy, and gluten. Sometimes nutritional yeast is fortified with Vitamin B12.

It has a slightly cheesy flavour, so we often use it if we want something to taste kinda cheesy, without the cheese. Here's what it looks like:

The other reason we like to add it into our meals is that it contains vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is typically found in animal products, which is one of the reasons opponents of the vegan diet say that being vegan isn't natural (humans need to ingest B12 to live). However, animal products only contain B12 because animals eat "dirt-y" food. B12 is actually produced by bacteria in soil. When animals eat the plants from that soil, they invariably eat some of the dirt that the plants were growing in, thus ingesting the B12, then transferring it to their muscles, milk, or eggs which are then eaten by humans. When we used to not wash our plants so much, we also could get B12 from the soil our plants came from. But, now that we wash our vegetables so well before we eat them, we don't get B12 from plants anymore. So, really, it's not that you can't get B12 from eating plants, it's just that you need to eat dirt-y plants which most of us don't because of concerns surrounding pesticides and other contaminants. Most vegans take a B12 supplement to ensure that we're getting enough. The vegan diet is not unnatural; it's more accurate to say that the way we grow and prepare our vegetables these days is unnatural!

Most omnivorous people I know take at least a multivitamin, if not a variety of other supplements, because their diets do not provide them with proper nutrition. That seems pretty unnatural to me. My vegan diet provides all of the nutrients I need without supplementing (save for B12 and vitamin D since I live in a not very sunny climate). I think it's much more natural to get your nutrients from plants, which are real food, than from pills! And if you give this recipe a try, you'll see it's also pretty yummy to eat vegan too!