Friday, 5 August 2011

Why am I doing this again?

I left Vancouver two days ago by plane for Toronto (4 1/2 hours). Yesterday I travelled by train to Ottawa (4 hours), and I'm on the way back to Toronto (another 4 hours). In short, a lot of thinkin' time. In between catching up on True Blood episodes, anyway.

This thinking I'm doing ranges from the geeky music geniuses of which I am quite fond, right through to the bigger questions. I'd guess travelling does this to a lot of people. Different geography, disorientation, meeting new people or friends not seen for years. It's thrilling and exhausting. One of my reasons for taking the train to Ottawa was to inject some downtime into an otherwise frantic five-day break. Here I am at the halfway point, and the belly-button gazing is in full effect.

I would describe myself as a high-energy person. I flit between work and social and family and sport activities like a speed-addicted hummingbird. If something intrigues me, I want to dive in and explore it, live it and breathe it. I am impulsive, indulgent, and curious about everything. Before I gave up eating meat, I worried that the most likely reaction from my friends and family would be 'ah yes, another of her fads'. Maybe part of me thought that as well. Was I doing this as a reaction to something? As a test? The longer I ponder this, the less I'm sure about why this all got started in the first place. The first blog entry I wrote wasn't that illuminating, more a representation of what reasons others give when they go veggie. And anyway, I don't know that my thought processes back then have any bearing on what I'm doing now. I'm over six months into this now, closer to nine actually, and it feels like a good time to evaluate progress.

Above all, my decision was based on the urge to live more compassionately, less hypocritically. Spending a great deal of time ensuring the happiness of one domestic cat, while contributing to the cruel captivity and slaughter of countless other animals - it no longer added up. Conscientious carnivore that I was, I faced the facts - no animal wants or deserves an unhappy existence or stressful end. Once I made that connection, meat just didn't taste as good.

As for the health reasons, nine months in, I FEEL better. My body doesn't miss meat. I would agree that my improved health is a result of a combination of changes, not just vegetarianism, but it was the first step towards a more conscious life. At first, I did what most new veggies do - aimed my shopping cart squarely at the diary section. I ate more cheese, yogurt, CREAM... it was like I had an excuse! That all came to a head in London, where in menu terms 'vegetarian' translates as 'cheese with a side of cheese'. I love cheese. Cheese does not love me (a point proven by Jennifer last month). A card-carrying dairy addict since early childhood, I have all but eliminated it from my diet. Six months ago that would have been unthinkable. Now, meh - take it or leave it. Parmesan, goat's feta and goat's milk are still great resources for variety, but if I go a week without, well, I just do. I miss eggs, but I had a couple last weekend and they made me feel like crap. Like, REALLY bad. I don't miss feeling like that. So, here I am, a former uber-omnivore, baby steps away from being a full-on vegan. I'm satisfied that the animal products I do buy are coming from sources where animals are treated with respect and kindness.

The non-food question.

I bought a leather handbag from Roots this year, almost without thinking. It was perfect for what I needed. I love it - but a few months down the road, I don't know that I would buy it again. I could probably find one of the same size and style that didn't originally belong on the side of a cow. I have a lot of animal-product items that I have a deep and abiding love for. Mulberry and Radley handbags. Countless pairs of leather shoes and boots. A goose down duvet. Duck feather pillows - a lot of them. I own FUR (there I said it). I can't bring myself to ponder too long about the lives those foxes endured before ending up on my coat hanger. So pretty / ugly / luxurious / awful. I'm conflicted. Fortunately, living in Vancouver means the choice is made for me - wear it at my peril... so in the closet it remains. I stroke it occasionally. This makes me feel like a glamorous and horrible person all at the same time - like I said, conflicted.

That said, it makes no sense to chuck any of these items out as they're all still well within their usable lives. If I discarded them before their time, surely that's just adding insult to an injurious situation? I don't see that I'll need to replace any of these things tomorrow, but I'm sure that moment will come, and then what? I don't even like touching synthetic duvets, let alone sleep under one every night. Anyone got any good suggestions?

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Vitamixology 101

Yes folks, it's here. My brand new (refurbished) Vitamix 5200 variable speed blender. This thing had been recommended to me by two nutritionists and after seeing the possibilities on the website, I was convinced. Initially scared off by the price, I saved a whopping $200 by going through the Canadian dealer and getting the refurbished model. I was so excited to try this baby out that I didn't even take my boots off when I got home - straight into the kitchen! In preparation for its arrival, I had been stashing serving-sized bags of prepped fruit in the freezer so that I could do smoothies without ice (and daily fruit shopping). Christening the Vitamix was as simple as adding a frozen sliced peach, and another bag of mixed fruit (blueberries, grapes, raspberries and melon), as well as about a cup of water to help things move around. In less than a minute, the fruit was transformed into a smooth, rolling liquid of blueberry purple. A lot of it, in fact - three good sized servings out of two bags of fruit! I'm not going to say that it tasted better than any smoothie I've ever had - it tasted like frozen fruit that had been professionally blended. But, cost of the appliance aside, it's about $1.50 for a serving (as opposed to $5.00 and up in Yaletown). That kind of satisfaction tastes pretty good!

My first effort a success, I thought I'd up the stakes a little - making a savoury sauce for some quinoa spaghetti that I'd been looking to try. There is something so perfect about pasta and tomato sauce - but I've been warned off tomatoes (even though I got away with a bit in the cauliflower recipe). I decided to risk it a bit and use up the other half of the can I opened earlier this week. So into the Vitamix went:
  • half a can of diced tomatoes
  • a generous handful of fresh spinach (vitamin A, folic acid!)
  • half of an onion, peeled
After a few seconds on medium speed, the tomatoes were juice and a few spinach leaves had been sucked into the maelstrom. The onion sat heavily on top.
I gradually increased the speed until the leaves started to give way to the whirlpool beneath, and the onion succumbed. In less than a minute I had a very smooth, very spinach-y liquid that did not look as appetising as I had hoped. I poured it into a saucepan in the hopes that cooking it would soften the flavours (especially the onion). It did - and the whole thing became bland. Thinking about it, I wasn't actually that surprised. I looked through my fridge and cupboard for something that would rescue it, and decided on a healthy tablespoon of ready-made pesto. Voila! Spinach-loaded pesto. Not vegan - but parmesan is still on my list of permissible foods, so I'm taking it!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

What the hell ARE you eating?

Okay, so here's my first week of recipes and Vancouver eats, rounded up. Dining out has been an interesting experience - luckily there is no shortage of brown-rice sushi or vegan donburi in this town. Props to The Eatery, Rasoee Indian Kitchen, and Sushi Maro for keeping me going during the day. No shortage of inspiration for making my own lunches, just laziness / lack of time (ahem Game of Thrones!).

Anyway, on to the recipes! I don't care if you're an omnivore, a vegetarian, a vegan, a gluten-avoider, this shiz is good stuff. I recommend HIGHLY!

Friday Night Snack Platter
  • selection of houmous (what is the plural of houmous?)
  • goat's cheese (mix into plain houmous for extra points!)
  • rice crackers
  • cassava crisps
  • celery, cut into sticks
  • cucumber, cut into sticks
  • more extra points: peach puree and Prosecco for Bellinis

Also known as "Food Is More Fun in Fancy Snack Form", and credited to DK.

Combined as artfully as we were able on to my grandmother's three-tiered cake tray and accompanied by Bellini cocktails (NOT the shitty frozen Milestone's kind) and, naturally, comedy mustache sticks which DK found in her trunk. She makes EVERY meal fancy, that one.

Curried Cauliflower

(fair dues, this one is stolen directly from Serious Eats, with some lazy-cook adaptations. Thanks for the inspiration, JF!)
  • head of cauliflower, cut into florets no bigger than 2 in (speeds up roasting)
  • 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp dried coriander
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • pinch salt
  • half can of diced tomatoes
  • 1/4 c chopped fresh coriander
  • lime wedges to garnish (if you're fancy that way)
  • veg oil for cauliflower roasting and spice-reviving (maybe 1 tbsp)
Toss the cauliflower in a bit of oil and whack into a preheated (400F) oven. It'll take about 20 minutes to cook through. About 10 minutes into that, heat the rest of the oil in a pan until it's shimmering hot, then add the ginger. After the ginger is 'cooked', throw in the other spices and the salt, allowing the flavours to combine. The finished cauliflower is added to the spices and oil and covered well, before adding the tomato. Toss the chopped coriander in at the last minute before serving. Serve on a bed of rice or wilted spinach, or mix with quinoa like I did with the leftovers. Yum!

The No-go List

There's mounting curiosity about what I can and can't eat, according to this new food-sensitivity plan, so here's a recap of the stuff I'm now avoiding:

Protein Sources
  • meat & fish, obviously
  • tofu
  • soy beans (thankfully soy sauce is okay!)
  • eggs
  • cow's milk
  • cheddar
  • mozzarella
  • cow's feta
  • macadamia nut
  • brazil nut
  • sunflower seeds / oil
  • kamut
  • corn (fresh / dried / flour / oil)
  • white short grain rice (brown, basmati, and jasmine all okay)
  • wheat, in all its evil forms
Fruit & Veg
  • oranges
  • peas
  • green and red peppers (and yellow for good measure)
  • winter squashes (butternut included *single tear*)
  • potatoes red & white
  • carrot
  • tomato (though I seem to get away with small amounts of throughly cooked ones)
  • eggplant
Kind of scary at first - so many 'basic' ingredients that I am now studiously avoiding. However, there are a few bad-habit foods that are just off the menu now - tortilla chips & salsa, for example. A lot of processed stuff that I've given into when I lack the time. It's amazing when you think about it how much of our food doesn't remotely resemble what it looks like when it's grown. I'm starting to think that this is just a great strategy for eating naturally.

Another post coming straight up - what the hell AM I eating?

h x

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

A whole new me?

A bit of a timeline. Five or six years ago I became aware that my body didn't react well to eating carbs (eg pasta) with protein (eg meat sauce). I weaned myself off of certain carb+meat heavy foods and thought that would be the end of it. I tried a few different eating combinations over the years in an effort to get more energy and nutrition out of what I was eating. In the last year and a half (since I moved back to Vancouver - coincidence?), a series of symptoms that I would consider 'noticeable' have appeared. Things like rashes on my lower arms or across my stomach, headaches, energy/mood swings, and at the worst point, a shortness of breath (!!). I don't know if I never noticed some of these before (though the rashes/breathing were new developments), but I started to pinpoint that they would be most acute after eating certain foods. The main culprit was wheat, so I started to steer clear. However, a lot of the symptoms would appear almost at random. I resolved to deal with it - but life has a habit of getting in the way. After my recent vacation, I made a conscious decision to be more protective of myself. I seem to spend a lot of time looking after other people. So, it was time to get some answers and guidance to look after me. A couple of questions I had:

- what was the underlying cause for these (seemingly random) symptoms?
- was my conversion to vegetarianism having a detrimental impact on my health? Was I getting the nutrients my body needs?

I debated going to see my GP. Don't get me wrong, he's thorough, listens and approaches healthcare collaboratively, but my appointments are ten minutes long. I wasn't sure I was going to get what I needed going that route, and others' experiences of nutrition issues and GPs have been less than glowing. I did a bit of research and decided that I needed to seek someone with less of a medical angle - and discovered that there are wonderful people called Registered Holistic Nutritionists. In particular, I arranged to meet with Jennifer Trecartin, who is the RHN behind Her practice is based at Bar Method, which almost put me off when I arrived, surrounded by a bunch of ballet bunnies in Lululemon gear!

The first thing that struck me about Jennifer is that she is radiant - if this girl was drinking her own Kool-Aid, I wanted some too. After a friendly and animated case history, I submitted to a fairly exhaustive round of non-invasive food sensitivity testing, which resulted in a report of foods my body likes and does not like (a bit of an oversimplification, but you get the drift). The end of the report also summarises which essential nutrients I am lacking, and how my major organs are functioning. The good news? I'm alive and my approach to nutrition is overall quite good. The not-so-good news is that my system isn't processing a lot of foods I've been relying on to fill my vegetarian plate.

Not surprisingly, wheat products (especially beer) are true no-go foods. Dairy is largely out, except for some of the harder cheeses (goat's milk / cheese appears to be okay). Among the surprises: white rice (jasmine / basmati are okay), corn in all its many, delicious forms (hasta luego Mexican), eggs, and most of the nightshade family of vegetables including potatoes red and white. Ironically, the results showed that while my heart and soul have trouble digesting meat, my body certainly doesn't (with the exception of duck, salmon and halibut). Even more ironic? I should avoid tofu and soy products. There goes the name of this blog, then.

The test results showed a lack of vitamins B5, B6, and folic acid - nothing surprising for a new vegetarian who is just learning to love lentils. Liver, kidneys and gall bladder are reported to be in a 'compromised' state. Insert drinking joke here, but the end result is that I should be downing a whole lot more kale, spinach, and brown rice. Yay.

If I am to live by these results, I will be a wheat- and corn-free almost-vegan. In my mother's words, 'Well what the hell are you going to eat?!" Thing is, I've been feeling (sporadically) like absolute crap for the better part of a year. Despite loads of exercise, I'm not shifting excess weight. Symptoms I have never had before in my life have become a daily occurrence. I don't sleep more than three hours without waking up (and as an early riser than can sometimes mean getting less than 5 hours' sleep a night). Bottom line - a lot of what this test had to say MADE SENSE. Maybe there's a reason I have hated raw tomatoes since I was a small child. Or that I didn't eat eggplant until I was in my 20s. At any rate, I thought I owed it to myself to go with the results of this test and evaluate how I felt after a given period of time. Jennifer and I agreed that three months was reasonable.

It has now been just under a week. With the exception of some vodka (tee hee), half a tin of tomatoes and an accidental-hidden-wheat incident, I have stuck to the plan religiously. And you know what? I FEEL FANTASTIC. My body is working properly. I am 100% asymptomatic. My brain feels like it's running on overdrive - memory, sensory perception. I keep checking for a magic spider bite. That the change is so dramatic in so little time has me wondering if I'm starting to feel vegan powers up in here.

In answer to my mother, I'll post separately to show a couple of the recipes I've been digging into to 'keep me alive'. In truth I'm loving every f***ing minute of this, grinning a mile wide. You are what you eat, apparently.

H x

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Conscientious Carnivorism

More than six months in now, my commitment to living vegetarian feels stronger than ever. I'm still a rookie, but a passionate one. I was approached by a colleague a couple of months ago who was interested in my decision. He too had lived vegetarian for many years, but had started eating meat again from small-holding, independent farmers. Clearly passionate about his own opinions, we had a short but excited conversation about the merits of each other's choices. An article published in the Guardian some months ago (sorry, reference lost) posited that being a vegetarian or a vegan was akin to spoiling one's ballot; abstaining from meat meant abstaining from the argument against the worst treatment of animals. My colleague's argument is similar - by putting your money where your mouth is, and supporting farmers who have animals' best interests at heart, you are helping to reduce suffering. The more people who do it, the less reason there will be for high-intensity factory farming set ups. Makes sense, right?

So, I dance around the soapbox when I say this: to a point. A recent Atlantic Monthly article poses some interesting arguments against the "conscientious carnivore" standpoint. As a minority supplier for a minority demand, conscientious farmers are working on a small scale and charging a premium for their product. As demand increases, says the article, so will the pressure to streamline 'production practices', and the traditional aspects of animal husbandry will be squeezed out. The article states that fundamentally, conscientious farming and consumption is built upon the same principle as Big Bad Factory Farming. In my opinion, it makes some fairly sweeping assumptions in this regard, but there was a kernel in this piece that stuck with me: no matter how it happened, and what quality of life was afforded it, the animal that ended up on my plate for 30 years did not want to die. The article cites a secondary source which recounted the memory of a chef who 'harvests' (a charming euphemism) his own meat, and who finds it a horrendous act each and every time.

The line between animals-who-are-pets and animals-which-are-food is, in my mind, arbitrary. I'm the first one to admit that meat is f***ing delicious, but it's not something I can enjoy comfortably any more. I started this by caveating that there may be times in the future when I would enjoy meat - wild venison or salmon that was offered at a family gathering, for example. I'm finding even that prospect a bit unsavoury now. Restaurants like Memphis Blues, once a beacon of overindulgence, make me queasy these days. No matter how good an animal is treated during its rearing and mature life, if it's destined for a plate, it's destined for an unpleasant end.

Just over six months into this, and I'm in danger of becoming pretty militant. I'll try to keep my preaching to a minimum :)

Delicious London

So, I survived it. Six months into la vida veggie, I journeyed to the UK for a three week trip. By European standards, a vegetarian haven, but compared with ultra-accommodating hippy Vancity, I was in for a bit of a challenge. I'm not going to say that it was that easy, nor was it that hard, but temptation did get the better of me - on three occasions.

First, Borough Market. A trip to this food mecca was not going to be complete without a couple of raw oysters.
Justification: hand-collected, sustainable, no central nervous system (or as my Mum puts it, "no face").

Second, with far less noble justification, Percy Pigs. These porcine-shaped, raspberry-flavoured candy delights are well known by everyone who has ever worked in an office in London. A Marks & Spencer product (some would argue their best one), Percy Pigs are made, as are a lot of gummy candies, with gelatine - in other words, with bits of REAL PIG. A highly unfair reality, especially when you're slavering to chomp down on one of the happy piggy faces. I bought four bags to bring back to Vancouver, the expat equivalent of bringing a carton of cigarettes to an inmate.
Justification: I awoke one morning in my third week with a screaming wine headache and a completely empty bag of percy pigs on the nightstand. Yes, dear reader, I drunk-ate bits of real pig. I'm not proud. (Note: I stress-ate another half pack when I got back to the office with the remainder of my purchase. Whew, confession really does make one feel better.)

Third, and definitely most satisfying, were the potato cake-encrusted scallops I enjoyed as my main course at The Gallery, Fortnum & Mason. By any standards a superlative dining experience, it was made all the better when the maĆ®tre d’ gifted me three glasses of pink bubbles. The first course was a pea and broad bean risotto with a soft-poached (free-range) egg, followed by three huge scallop and potato globes and side salad. Dessert was a simple but glorious duo of sliced strawberries and clotted cream, and a pot of Earl Grey. Obligatory food porn at the bottom :)
Justification: delicious?

Vegetarian options really are available, and restaurants are more than willing to make substitutions and alterations to suit dietary requirements. Methinks London service is improving - can't think of any major upcoming events that might have triggered that?

Indulgent eating is a part of any holiday. I never thought I'd see the day, but I am writing these words: I am breaking up with cheese. Not permanently, I hope, but for a while. I've eaten more beautiful, delicious, mouth-watering British and French cheese in three weeks than I had in the six months before I left London in 2010. So, gluten-free, dairy-free vegetarian. Pass the fava beans...

Thanks to:

Wagamama: ubiquitous, delicious, several vegan & gluten-free options, and reasonably priced. Tourists to London, make this a must-do.
Imli: for being my go-to lunch and dinner place near the office. Super delicious Indian tapas!
Nikki & Duncan: for accommodating an entire veggie and gluten-free weekend in the Cotswolds (!!)

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Cupcakes cupcakes cupcakes!

A friend of mine is cycling the Ride to Conquer Cancer, from Vancouver to Seattle. Please visit her page, find out what she's about, and throw in some cash!
In an effort to raise funds, she's holding a charity bake sale at work tomorrow. Having premiered these little guys a while back, I know they'll be hot sellers. Note my mother's sense of humour (last photo).... Without further ado, I present Carrot Cupcakes, a variation on the Best of Bridge carrot cake (thanks again Mum!):

Carrot Cake / Cupcakes

1 c sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil (Canola works - olive does NOT)
3 eggs
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 c finely grated carrots (no knuckles)
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Mix oil and sugar. Beat well. Add eggs, one at a time and beat after each. Sift dry ingredients together and add to egg mixture. Beat all together until well blended. Fold in raw carrots.

Divide into cup-lined muffin tin (fill to just below the cup for cleanest / best shape results). Bake for 25 minutes at 325F. (For a full 9" x 12" cake, bake for one hour at 300F).

Cream Cheese Icing

This is another slight variation, as you want the icing to be quite sugary so that it doesn't melt off of the cupcakes.

8 oz package of Philadelphia cream cheese, softened
4 tbsp butter, softened
4 c sifted icing sugar
2 tsp vanilla

Beat cheese and butter together well. Add vanilla and gradually add icing sugar, testing as you go. Ideally a hand whisk should stand straight up in the bowl (if you're using an electric mixer, which makes this WAY easier, the icing should form stiff peaks). Transfer to piping bag with a medium gauge nozzle. I don't add icing until the cupcakes get to their destination, so I'll add some photos of the finished product from the office tomorrow :)

Happy sunny Sunday!

h x

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Recipe Round Up!

Greetings interwebs. I am completely high right now...ON LIFE!

I got up at 5:45am (!!!) and ran 14km (!!!) including Lions Gate Bridge north and southbound. When Nicola Street appeared once more I briefly thought I was going to die from exhaustion, but I made it home and collapsed on my floor. My face is still on the really-red side of normal more than three hours later, but on a more positive note, the satisfaction in a run well done will last much longer. In a brief lapse between Paul Stirfry visits (three days running now - oops), I'm making dinner tonight for me and my sister, so I thought I'd take a moment to get some of my recent recipes up for those who have asked...

Easy Peasy Vegan Marinade

I throw this on all manner of veggie / tofu combinations, and I've started making it in small batches so I have two or three meals' worth in the fridge to save time and grating effort. The measures here are for that amount, so size down as needed.

1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
1 tbsp fresh crushed garlic (2-3 cloves)
2 tbsp cold-pressed sesame oil
1-2 tbsp gluten-free soy sauce (Tamari brand is good)

... and if you're feeling a little nutty, a dollop of crunchy peanut butter.

If you're using this for tofu, I recommend combining cubed tofu with some marinade for around an hour before you cook it - and make sure the pan isn't too hot when you put it in, or you'll get an oil shower (I learned the hard way).

I'm going to try to add some heat to the sauce this week in an attempt to make my own version of Paul's addictive entrees.

After-Work Risotto

As previously mentioned, I'm putting in a fair few hours down the ol' mill these days. When I do get the urge to make my own dinner (admittedly not very often recently), I needed some new go-to recipes that are time-poor, flavour-rich, and don't come out of a box or jar. Thank you quick-and-dirty risotto (courtesy of the beeb's Good Food site, natch)! Bonus: it avoids the calorie-laden pitfalls of more time-consuming versions. Double bonus: gluten-free

200g arborio rice
800g hot vegetable stock (see note below)
50g frozen peas (or more if you really like peas)
50g freshly grated parmesan
the juice and zest of half a lemon

You can follow the instructions on the BBC site if you like, but I'm always a bit more fast and loose with risotto. The trick is to put some music on so good that you won't want to do anything except add stock, dance and stir the pot until all the stock is absorbed. I've reduced the veg stock by 50mL because the frozen peas are full of water, so they'll make it up without it getting watery. When all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is yielding nicely, take it off the heat for a minute or so before you add the lemon juice and 2/3rds of the parmesan (leave the other third and the zest to sprinkle on the finished dishes).

This serves two according to BBC, but I serve it with a salad so I have one serving left over for lunch the next day ;)

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Adventures in Yaletown: Paul Stirfry

I've been working a lot lately. Working a lot means not having a lot of time to plan, shop for, cook, and experiment with recipes, which in turn means relying on the plethora of restaurants in and around the office in Yaletown. Tough life, I know.
Apart from the obvious hit to the bank balance, eating out has become a small source of frustration for me. As well as avoiding meat, I'm trying to keep my wheat intake to a minimum. I won't commit to saying I have an allergy, but what is clear is that my body doesn't like wheat, responding with rashes on my arms and face that last for a couple of hours, stomach pain and headaches, and at the worst, shortness of breath. I never used to react this way, and I still forget sometimes (usually when I'm hungry and options are limited). I've been told that I should keep a little bit of wheat in my diet because the less I have, the more intolerant I'll become, and the more severe the reactions will get. So, it's not off the plate entirely, but suddenly I'm scouring menus for the wheat-and-meat-free options. As a colleague said at lunch a week or so ago, "I'll have the ..., hold the fun". There's only so much salad a girl can eat, you know?
Which is why I am delighted, thrilled even, to have paid my first visit to Paul Stirfry on Nelson between Seymour and Richards (borderline Yaletown, but I'll take it). A sort of takeaway / noodle bar / pho house as imagined by a caffeinated graphic designer, my first impression was that it was trying a bit hard... then I had lunch, and I understood - a place with food this good has to look the part.
The menu is chock full of cleverly named pan-asian plates, including a highly customisable Build Your Own suite of options. Items are clearly marked GF and V (very handy!). The Red Head (spicy veggie stirfry) caught my eye, and was in front of me (with tofu and quinoa) within five minutes. My five colleagues were served in similar fast, friendly fashion, and apart from a very generous serving of Pho broth, bowls were clean all around almost as quickly.
Similar in approach to Wagamama in the UK, the emphasis is on fresh, flavourful, and healthy ingredients. The open kitchen behind the order counter was full of happy, busy staff, and within the hour we were there, around 15 people came and went with eat-in and take-away options. Everything smelled, looked and tasted wonderful, and for the first time in at least a few weeks, I didn't have to substitute / enquire about the ingredients in my lunch. I had to stop myself going back for dinner... but I will be returning to try every possible combination - definitely my new favourite eatery!

One question ... who the hell is Paul?


Sunday, 30 January 2011

Hello Sunny Vancouver

Inukshuk, English Bay

View off Second Beach, Stanley Park

Heron on Lost Lagoon, Stanley Park

Diurnal raccoon, Stanley Park

um... ducks.

Happy Birthday!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Well, that was nice.

Warning: this post isn't strictly about being a veggie. Sorry about that. Well, I suppose that if you are the kind of person who believes in the interconnectedness of every single act in the universe, it might be.

I started 2011 on a bit of a mission: live consciously and kindly (Yes, that's where the vegetarianism comes in). But it goes beyond that - putting others' needs before mine, and being aware of how my actions impact the world around me. Sort of a bass-akwards self-centered approach to life, I guess.

It's easy to be kind somewhere like Vancouver. People smile, make eye contact, and generally engage with others. What happened to me this week has been sort of extraordinary, even still...

After a long day, I stopped by the bank to get some money out of the machine, then headed to the bus stop (I usually walk, but it was raining and I was feeling tired and pathetic). As the bus drew up, I folded my umbrella and prepared to board, only to be met on the step by a young guy in an obvious hurry somewhere. He shot off, and I found a seat. Well, to be precise, I found a wallet on a seat. He had been the only one on the bus apart from the driver, so it had to be his. A cursory inspection revealed this to be the case. When I asked what the protocol was, the driver actually told me it would be more likely that I would find its owner than Translink, whose lost property process is "very slow" (good PR, bus driver man!). Urged on by my fellow passengers, I had a quick dig through the pockets and discovered a bus pass, bank card, cash, gym membership, an ID card from Venezuela, various mementos and a card to a local language school, but no telephone or address details. I resolved to call the school in the morning and try to track him down.

Arriving home, I realised that the $120 I had withdrawn from the bank machine was not in my bag or my coat pockets. Retracing my steps, I couldn't recall removing the money from the machine, as I could my card. In all likelihood, I had left the sodding cash in the sodding cash machine. Palm, meet forehead.

Here's the philosophy bit.

There have been times in my life where I have had no money. Like, $10-to-buy-a-week's-food no money. Thankfully these times have been very few, and more than balanced with times when I haven't had to think about money too much. And, standing at my kitchen counter swearing to no one, I realised that it's my own stupid fault. My attitude to money (for better or worse) has always been a bit easy come, easy go. So, I didn't get any more upset, and although it nagged at me that $120 represented a nice new pair of shoes or jeans, it wasn't a life-changing sum of money for me. But it could have been for someone else - or indeed me, at a different point in my life. The conclusion I drew was that someone might have taken it, ultimately because they needed it more than me, and it was the universe's way of balancing things out. Or, by some tiny miracle, it would come back to me. Don't ATMs suck the money back in if it's not taken after a couple of minutes? Not one to dwell, I fired up Netflix and put my feet up.

On Tuesday morning, I called the language school and reported the found wallet, and was told that the message would be passed on. I kept meaning to pop down to the bank to ask if any cash had been returned, or at least check my statement to see if the money had been magically returned to my account by the ATM. The day got away from me, and just after lunch, my phone rang. It was Jose, the owner of the wallet, calling from the lobby of my office building. I met him and returned the wallet, met with profuse thanks and blessings. He said that I had saved his life, as that was all he had to live on. Then, he left - my part in helping another human being was over.

Several hours later, an ATM statement revealed that the original $120 withdrawal had indeed been subtracted from my balance. Dang it. I made a mental note to avoid book and shoe stores for the next few weeks to counteract the hit on my chequing account, and withdrew another $120.

Home, sleep, new day at work. My phone rang at around 10.30am. It was the bank (CIBC, who have never done anything except ROCK, imo). Apparently, $120 was left in an envelope by 'a middle aged woman', who had found it sticking out of the ATM. She left no contact details. The bank had looked through the ATM's history and narrowed the withdrawal down to my transaction immediately before hers.

The cash is back in my account, and there's a smile on my face. There's also a smile on Jose's face. There's probably a smile on my Good Samaritan's face. Not even a month in to this new way of thinking, result! Everybody wins!

Okay, so my decision to be nice may have had nothing at all to do with that cash coming back to me. But it did profoundly affect Jose's. And that kind lady's decision to be nice made my week. So, here's to being, well, nice...which brings me back to the vegetarian thing.

I read an article this weekend which gave me pause to think about my decision to go veggie. The argument is essentially that by going meat-free, I am opting out of the conversation around the improved treatment of farmed animals. After careful thought, I have to disagree; surely it's a matter of supply and demand on the largest scale? Yes, choosing ethically reared meat is a better option than eating cheap, factory farmed meat - for all involved. I wholly support the decision to eat 'happy meat'. But in reducing total demand, fewer animals are needed as 'supply' (a horrible thought). I used to comfort myself with the thought that the delicious steak on my plate had a good life. These days, I like the idea that it's still running around somewhere. Nice thought, no?

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Taste Test: Yves Veggie Nuggets

Like anyone, I get into my little ruts with meals, especially when I'm short on time. Part of my decision to stop eating meat was driven by my desire to eat a wider variety of higher quality food. That's why I wrestled with the idea of vegetarian 'convenience' foods, or meat replacements - it wasn't the point.But I was picking up my weekly shop on the way home one night and Choices Market were giving out free samples of these little guys. They look and feel like any chicken nugget I've ever eaten (the breading is more crumbly than fast food ones, but similar to comparable cook-at-home varieties). A tip of the hat is deserved for the thought put into their shapes - oblong and "the boot" (or, as it was noted on the web, "Minnesota", which is just delightful).

Taste-wise, they're somewhere between a chicken nugget and a mozzarella stick with the cheese missing. Crunchy on the outside, tender in the middle, they're a great alternative to any processed chicken product of dubious or fast-food-chain origin.

Nutritionally, we're on to a winner... I compared the nutritional info available on Yves, McDonald's and Bell & Evans websites and calculated that Yves is appreciably lower in fat and cholesterol, and higher in fibre than both of the chicken varieties. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Yves Veggie Nuggets contain more protein per 100g than McDonald's "all breast meat" nuggets do (curious, considering Bell & Evans "all breast meat" nuggests had considerably more).

It's worth mentioning that the Veggie Nuggets contain eggs, so they're not vegan. I wasn't able to read anything on their website about the origin of their eggs. More research to come!

At this point I'm still enjoying the novelty of veggie cooking, but it's safe to say that may wear off in time, or at least on occasion. Having a few 'cheater' items is a sort of insurance policy, especially after a night of G&Ts.

Final verdict: tasty, nutritionally and ethically angelic, considering the 'fast-food' category. Four out of five zucchini!

Thursday, 6 January 2011

No cravings, just controversy

To the vegetarians before me: As I've said, if I've not openly mocked your abstaining from meat, I've at least challenged it. And I know I'm new, but sweet Jesus, don't people have an opinion about others' dietary choices! So for any offense or weariness caused by having to justify yourself to me, I am sincerely sorry.

I've made two references to going veggie on Facebook in the last week, both generating a flurry of comments from friends on both sides of the meaty fence. I'm sure commenters' intentions were nothing more than lighthearted jest, but it didn't take long for my omnivore friends to incite the rage of their herbivore counterparts.

One comment hit a chord - "politics has no place in the kitchen". Is vegetarianism political? I suppose it depends on someone's reasons for it. I'm not sticking it to The Man here. I don't have any immediate urge to hold up a placard outside the Art Gallery or an abattoir, or lobby the Legislature to ban burgers. As a proclaimed vegetarian, am I putting up my tent in the patchouli-scented, tie-dyed section of the political landscape? Nonsense. Using that logic, as a woman who expects equal pay, I should be burning my bras.

I have not done this to set an example or make people feel guilty for eating meat. I have control over my impact on those around me, human and animal, and I want to do better by my fellow beings, as well as my own body. My decision is, well, mine. That's the beauty of where and when we live. It strikes me as odd, therefore, that people should get so riled up about the choices of others.

I'm through the looking glass here, suddenly very aware of the pressure placed on someone who doesn't fit the norm. Don't get me wrong - I'm not stupid enough to suggest that this is anywhere in league with actual discrimination. I mean instead that I have a newfound respect for those who have forged the path that I am now walking. And a little more perspective on the knowing looks that long-time vegetarians give me when I say I've been veggie... for a week.

So, a call for respect on all sides. Meat-abstaining friends, continue to show patience to the meaties. Vegans, long-time and occasional vegetarians: we newbies thank you and need you. There's strength in numbers, and we're only trying to join in the fun. Meat-eating friends, be tolerant of us veggies. We're not hurting anyone. In fact, that's kind of the point.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Big Ol' Mouthful of Humble (Veggie) Pie

I am a vegetarian.

I never thought I would say that, let alone commit it in writing. I've been a happy omnivore for my 30 and a half years. But as of 31 December 2010, I am gonna try really, really hard not to eat meat.

"Meat" being beef, pork, poultry, game, and fish. I'm still clinging rather desperately to the dairy-and-egg lifeboat, reasoning that shocking myself into veganism will be at best unsuccessful, at worst potentially unhealthy. I'm still learning to love legumes, for Pete's sake.

I've met a lot of vegetarians. The subject usually rears its head at meals with colleagues or new friends. When someone casually mentions that they abstain from meat, you can count the seconds before someone (usually me) asks "Why?". A lot of people would give a lot of different answers, and for a long time I would nod respectfully and then order the steak, 'rare enough that a good vet could save it'. I mean, we have canine teeth for a reason, right? I suppose you could define my opinion of vegetarians as somewhere between really missing out and just plain sad.

I'll probably get into my reasons for making the switch at a later point. Suffice it to say that it's a combination of things, ethics and health being the two main ones.

I know it's not always going to be as easy as the first few days have been. I will face temptation and (most likely) willpower reduced by the consumption of a beer or two. It's early days, I've already faced my first few jibes and jokes, and for the most part, incredulity. I am, after all, the girl who started Meat Club at work.

Why blog about it? Blogging is kind of 2008. I'm going to use this as a support mechanism for weak moments, or maybe a confession booth for when I do give in (I can't imagine I won't). It might give my friends and family a chance to understand why I would make such a heinous decision. Heck, maybe someday it just might inspire someone to eat less (or no) meat! Alas, a lofty goal. In the meantime this'll be somewhere to hang my interwebs hat, share recipes and cool Vancouver veggie finds, and occasionally moan about really wanting a burger.

Thanks for reading :)