Monday, 4 March 2013

RECIPE: Vegan Bolognese

A couple of people were asking about this, so here it is:

1 package veggie ground round (Yves and Gardein do good ones)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, split lengthwise and chopped
3 small cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 medium green pepper, chopped
4 - 6 large Crimini or button mushrooms, thinly sliced
800mL (large can) crushed tomatoes
300mL red wine
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil for cooking
salt & pepper to taste

In a large pot, heat oil on medium and add chopped onions, celery and garlic.  Cook until translucent.  Crumble in ground round and dried spices (reserve parsley).  Mix well.  Add whole can tomatoes; swish wine in tomato can to get the leftovers, then add to pot.  Add pepper and mushrooms, stirring to combine.  Let simmer for anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours - the longer, the better.  If more liquid is required, add wine or vegetable stock.  Serve with spaghetti, linguini or pappardelle, or use as the red layer in your vegetarian / vegan lasagne.

Recipe doubles well!


Oh wait... I had a blog about this somewhere.

Right, back on the horse.

Or, not on the horse exactly.  Which is kind of the inspiration behind my renewed craving for whole foods, vegetarian / vegan foods.

I lived in the UK for 10 years.  I ate a lot of meat.  Most of it was recognizably the species advertised, but then, who hasn't eaten a dodgy burger or sausage sandwich from a van at a sports venue?  A late-night kebab?  Chances are good that whatever I ate wasn't great for me or the animal(s) that contributed their lives to it.  Chances are that I ate horse, or Chinese water buffalo, or whatever.  It's not the species that upsets me as much as the complete and willful ignorance I enjoyed while chewing.  The point isn't "OMG I just ate [insert offensive species here], but: did an animal suffer for me to enjoy this?"  I don't really see what the fuss is about unless you're ready to put your money where your mouth is and stop eating animals, period.

That said, since going veggie about two and a bit years ago, I've eaten meat.  Fish, beef, chicken, pork... just before Christmas I was all "fuck it" about it and ate anything put in front of me.  It's a slippery slope, but I've got my feet firmly on the ground again.  I have to say - the more I think about how my food comes to me, the less appealling the meat is.  Recent viewing of Hungry for Change, Vegucated, and a repeat of the Earthlings trailer (never been able to watch the actual film) has put me right off the stuff.  I guarantee no omnivore with a heart could sit through that trifecta and think "mmm, I really fancy a burger...".

And so, here I am.  A couple weeks into my new-old-new lifestyle that doesn't involve eating meat.  My "Shock and Awe" strategy:

The Shock:

- watch documentaries that spare no horrors about the processed food and 'animal as product' industries.  Let those images and facts sink in.  Unforgettable.
- take an honest look at my food sources and estimate the number of steps between producer and consumer, and the opportunities for unwanted additions / manipulations of my food.

The Awe:

- make the alternatives easy: is a revelation.  Whole Foods has an incredible selection of fresh and staple foods, plus a good variety of "cheater" foods (Yves, Gardein) to be used sparingly.
- make the most use of what I already have: Vitamix, well-stocked cupboards (aka "My Best Intentions"), and a great support network of friends with recipes and ideas.

So far, so good.  Cooking up a storm, more interest in food than I've had in months, feeling fitter, healthier, lighter than I have in a while, and I'm actually saving cash by preparing food at home.  What's not to like?


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