Monday, February 21, 2011

A week of eating out

The past week has been a weird one for me. I have been especially lazy, without a camera and without a kitchen at work to bring in left overs. I used this as an excellent excuse to try to eat out all week. Finding places to eat seems like it would be tricky for a vegan in a city like Edmonton, but it is not as bad as you think! Some simple ground rules that I find make things a bit easier:

1. Stay away from the big franchises or any restaurant that has 'assembly artists' instead of cooks.
This maybe is a good rule for anyone looking to eat out. No offense to the lovers of places like Denny's and BPs etc, but the food is full of garbage, not fresh, and in the end, I just never feel satisfied.

2. When you feel stuck, go somewhere with an eastern menu
Sometimes, even when restaurants have vegan options, I find that they can be a bit limiting and I get stuck with salads and appetizers. Sometimes an easy way to avoid this is to eat east. Thai, Japanese, Indian, Vietnamese all tend to have more vegetarian options in my opinion.

3. Call first
If trying a restaurant, call ahead and ask. It seems easy enough, but I always forget to do this. It is really helpful to talk to someone at the restaurant ahead of time because you will get a clear picture of how veggie-friendly a place is. Even if they don't have much on the menu, if you ask and give a bit of notice, chefs will often make something for you.

4. review the menu
Another challenge I face is that people don't know what to make a vegan. Sometimes before I go to a restaurant, I go online and check out the menu. When I get there, I can ask if they can combine the veggie options to make something for me. I have used this tactic a couple times and while my non-vegan dining companions may think I'm the 'weird, picky orderer'. In the end, I get what I want and the kitchen learns something new for the next vegan that comes in.

5. Use your online resources
Lastly, if you are on message boards or the web, you'll find that there are lots of vegan sites that post about good restaurants. Try twitter, or just google the city you live in and vegan. You will be surprised at what comes up. I personally love Happy cow, it is an amazing resource and when you find a good spot, add it on to the site. Fellow vegans will appreciate it.

Hopefully this will help make dining as a vegan a little easier. Some places in Edmonton I have been dining at this past week:

Mucho Burrito: A little Mexican fast food chain that I go to if I need a little junk food fix. They have a vegetarian burrito that is really good and if you say you are vegetarian, you get free guacamole! Not bad if you ask me :) Sometimes fast food is handy, and I find that the food is pretty good here and it is not nearly as unhealthy as a big thing of french fries!

Cocodi: Ah, my home away from home... I love this restaurant. I would go every day if I could. Things that I love at this restaurant: Fattoush, Spinach Fatayer, Hommus, Baba Ghanoush and grape vine leaf rolls. While most of the entrees are not vegan, I find that the appetizers are more than enough to keep me happy. Plus the staff is great and the shisha is always ready!

Bistro India: I tried this place for the first time recently. It is located in a cursed location (Many restaurants have tried, but rarely stay longer than a few months). The food was so good. I had a vegetable and cashew dish and a bunch of lentil cakes with sauces. So, so good. I fully recommend this place. The staff was nice and the place was very nice inside.

Doans: Ah, sweet and salty tofu vermicelli.. I love you. A great meal and very affordable. Sometimes the service is a bit slow, but I have never had a bad meal. A lot of the dishes here are non-vegan, so read the menu before trying.

Wok Box: Wok box has upgraded their menu and pretty much any of their dishes can be made with tofu instead of meat and that is nice. Last time I went, I had the jungle curry and it was really good! I love pineapple and I am trying to incorporate more spicy foods. This definitely had a kick, but was seriously good. They also have veggie samosas and spring rolls and other snack options.

Tokyo Express: OK, I know this is another fast food chain, but seriously, I was eating out all week this week! A girl's gotta budget :) Tokyo Express has also changed their menu recently and have a number of veggie options now. I love their sprout salad and yam rolls. They also have a veggie combo which is pretty good.

Cha Island Tea Co: This little shop was my office last week. Have to thank them again for letting spend way too many hours there! While they do not have a vegan sandwich yet (I will continue to bug them on this one), they are now doing a soup every Wednesday. I checked and all the soups are vegan! They also have almond milk available for your tea and have vegan snack bars like Lara.

Well, I am off to the grocery store now. A week of eating out has really made me miss cooking. If you have any good tips for eating out as a vegan, send me an email. I am always looking to try new places. I heard about an Ethiopian restaurant on Whyte ave that does a veggie buffet, I may have to loook into that one next time I eat out.

Night all!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

What the hell do vegans eat?!

Well, I made this blog to document what I thought was going to be a brief experiment in not eating animal projects. One year ago, I did a 30 day vegan challenge after purchasing The Kind Diet and, well nearly 400 days later, I am still going strong.

I get a lot of questions about my choices and even more about how I stay healthy, what I eat.. and why I haven't lost weight. People are mystified about having a plant-based diet and I find it funny because I am mystified as to why people are mystified!

Most have my posts have been recipes that I have made and I am thinking now that I have been going a year strong, maybe it is time to share some vegan secrets to de-mystify the plant-based diet. Here are some answers to the common vegan questions:

  1. Why?!?! Meat and Cheese is sooo good OK, I have many answers to this question. As I had mentioned, I started a plant-based diet as a challenge for me. I stuck with it simply because I felt better and I ate better. When I was not vegan, I found that a busy life was an easy excuse to live on pre-made foods, processed foods and restaurants. Even though I tried to eat healthy, It was just so easy to be lazy about it. Eating vegan I found was a bit limiting in the processed food area. Eating fresh food, it is not limiting at all, but I could just pick up a box of man n' cheese if I was tired. Being vegan really forced me to rethink about what I ate.

    There is also the cruelty-free aspect of being vegan. While I have to admit, it wasn't the main reason why I chose to change my diet, it certainly is a nice perk. I think that people are so far removed from the food we eat, it is too easy to not think about what we are supporting when we eat animals. I am not going to get too deep into this topic as I know it is a touchy subject.. Maybe another day :) I am just not sure if we are meant to be eating animals.. and I am even less sure that it is ok to put a living thing through so much pain for our satisfaction that can easily be met without it.
  2. Where do you get protein from?I don't know how many times I get this question. I think pretty much every time some finds out that I don't eat meat. Please read closely... Meat and dairy ARE NOT the only sources of protein! Here are some samples of where I get protein: Soy milk, Tofu, beans, lentils, nuts, quinoa, whole grains, seeds, whole grain pasta, dark leafy greens (Spinach, Kale, Collards, Chard), peanut butter, tempeh, seitan, wheat gluten. That is just off the top of my head, so I am sure there are more that I eat. I am not sure who started this fear of not enough protein... (Dr. Atkins), but from what I have read, we are eating way too much now. To figure out how much protein you need, multiply you body weight (in pounds) by 0.4. (For example, a 130-pound person needs about 52 grams of protein per day). This is not difficult to get to, trust me. I found a good chart on plant-based proteins here if you want to check it out:
  3. I would love to try plant-based diet, but I couldn't give up Fill in the blank Well, maybe this is more of a statement, but it is one I get all the time. Like seriously, everyday. I guess I understand it. Before going vegan, I was a milk junkie. I drank at least eight litres a week. I also did not like soy milk. My favourite comfort food was cheese. The thought of giving these both up cold turkey seriously scared me to my inner core.

    I get it, from the outside, it seems impossible to give up something that we are addicted to. When I first went vegan, I specifically avoided food that I would normally want cheese in... this definitely helped get over the first two weeks. I don't recall having any real withdrawal, but it was easy to be tempted by a cheese platter or a good restaurant menu. I quickly learned the secret to giving up something that cause severe cravings: Look for the root cause of the craving... I read somewhere that people tend to crave very basic elements - salty, sweet, creamy, fatty. For example, if I am really craving cheese, I eat something that is salty and a bit fatty. The craving magically goes away without me even touching cheese. Does that make sense? Hopefully. I didn't believe it until I tried it, but it really does work. Maybe the next time you are craving something like fried chicken, try making a salty, crunchy non-meat alternative.

    Oh and, you really do forget what things taste like after a while.
  4. Taking out meat and dairy is too limiting, how do you make sure you are getting enough nutrients (Especially iron and calcium)First of all, being vegan is not limiting. In fact I think it is the opposite. Being vegan has opened my world to thousands of foods I doubt I ever would have tried if still eating meats. I am not completely sure why this is, but I think a big part of it is that people in this country tend to base meals around meat. Doing this already is limiting you as there are not really that many meats out there that we eat every day. Another big limiter is that we are slaves to marketing. As a vegan, I can't eat a lot of what gets marketed to me. Instead, I have had to look at other cultures for inspiration. Indian, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, south American, Italian, Lebanese, north African... the number of cultures out there that don't base diets on processed foods and meat is amazing. Because of this, I have really broadened my horizons in the world of foods.

    Some of the foods I eat now, that i had never thought of before going vegan include: Kale, Collard greens, Chard, Dandelion greens, chilies, yuca, beets, lentils, split peas, couscous, quinoa, Kamut, millet, polenta, seitan, tempeh, nutritional yest flakes, coconut ice cream, agave, brown rice syrup, adzuki beans, lima beans, turnips... ok maybe some of these you have tried, but really just eating outside your norm culture can really open your mind to new experiences.

    And my last one for now...
  5. If you are vegan why haven't you lost weight (AKA Are you just vegan to lose weight)
    Kind of seems like an inappropriate questions.. but people ask it in one way or another all the time. First of all, I did not go vegan to lose weight. I actually refuse to weigh myself, so I can't even say if I have really lost anything or not. I would say if I have, it is minimal. Many people who go vegan do end up losing weight. Sometimes because they are not eating enough, sometimes because they were eating very poorly before they changed their diet.

    I have made little to no effort to lose weight since going vegan. Maybe I should and maybe I will, but that hasn't really been my number one concern. I am trying to be a bit healthier.. laying of the junk, exercising more etc. maybe dieting will come along with that.

    Being vegan is not a weight loss plan, it is a way of life. To lose weight you need to take in less calories than you burn. Simple.. well.. on paper anyways. You can do this vegan or not. I did hope to eat more healthy after going vegan and I believe that I have done that. Before, I ate a lot of junk, a lot of pasta and cheese and very little vegetables. I still struggle with vegetables, but I think being vegan has made it so, so much easier to get a balanced diet.
OK, well... I think that is more than enough for one Sunday night. I hope to add on to this as these are not the only questions.. maybe even do something more detailed and researched, but hey it's a start right?

And for all the animal eaters out there... I don't think most vegans mind these questions, I know I don't.. Just be respectful about it. I did not stop eating animals to threaten your way of life. I did it for me. Instead of making assumptions, maybe give it a try. Make a vegan meal.. I bet if you think about it you already do...

Anyways, got a question... Bring it on! Ask me and I promise I will come up with an answer to post :)

    Creamy Coconut Carrot Soup

    OK, so this post is... two weeks late? I don't know why it is difficult to stay on an easy blogging schedule. I haven't been cooking much this past week so I guess I figured I could take some time off from he blog too. Shame, shame :)

    So, here we are in the dead of winter and I was really wanting a rich, warm soup. I didn't want to go to the grocery store (It was -20 C out!!). I went through my fridge and thought I could maybe come up with a carrot soup recipe.

    First, I was just going to find a recipe and do things the easy way, but nothing that I could find felt right. In the end, I made my own recipe and it was amazing! I based it off of a Carrot Ginger soup from the Everything Vegan Cookbook, but I changed so much, you'd barely know that I used it as a guide.

    Here it is:

    Creamy Coconut Carrot Soup 
    • 1 Tbsp olive Oil
    • 4 carrots, peeled and chopped
    • 1 Sweet Potato, peeled and chopped
    • 1 inch piece of ginger, minced
    • 1 onion, chopped
    • 2 cloves of garlic
    • 1/2 red lentils
    • 1 small green apple, peeled and chopped
    • 4-5 cups of vegetable broth (Four for a thick soup, five if you like it a bit thinner)
    • 1 can of coconut milk
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
    • 3/4 tsp Cinnamon
    • 1 tsp salt

    First step is to prep all the ingredients. Get everything peels and chopped and ready to go in the pot. Heat a large soup pot over medium heat and add the olive oil. Next add the onion, garlic and ginger and heat until the onions become soft and translucent. 
    Next add in the carrots,potato and apple and stir and heat for another minute or so. Add in the Cinnamon, Thyme and bay leaf then the lentils and broth.
    Bring the soup to a boil and then lower to the heat and let the soup simmer for about 15 - 20 minutes, until the lentils are cooked and the vegetables are soft.

     Once cooked either transfer the soup in batches to a blend, or use an immersion blender (that's what I used) to combine all the vegetables. Once smooth stir in the coconut milk and salt. Put the soup back on the stove and heat through.


    Although my finished pic is not great, I swear this soup is amazing. It is best served hot, but I also tried it cold and it was pretty good that way too. I think you could even add a bit more carrot and a bit less sweet potato (the one I had was really big) if you want a super carrot-y taste. However, I think the ingredients really complimented each other well.

    If you want to find something that will warm up a sub zero day, give this one a try.

    I am now searching and trying to figure out what I should make next... Cookies, maybe? If anyone is reading, please send me some suggestions!

    Posted by Picasa

    Tuesday, February 1, 2011

    A Rant... Damn you Oprah!!

    I am writing here because I need to vent. I just watched Oprah's vegan for a week challenge. Absolutely appalling.

    First of all, two of the three guest she brought on, did not even promote a vegan diet. Michael Pollan does have an interesting take on north Americans over-consumption of meat and the state of feedlots and where our food comes from. However, he doesn't promote a vegan lifestyle. Why would he be on the show then if the show is about vegan diets?

    Then she included a tour of a slaughter house... One the one hand, I think that was a great move. Her point on people being so detached from where food comes from I think was bang on. Even setting up a tour that would allow the slaughter house to ensure that everything was as sanitary and safe looking as possible still got the point across. My problem was, the meat product placement and the catchy phrases from the person giving the tour "The ground beef comes out here and then goes my children's table" Again, not a good fit for a show that is supposed to be highlighting the vegan diet.

    The third guest was a vegan author and she got very little air time to talk about her stance on being vegan. Her time to shine was when she went to the grocery store with a family to show them how to buy vegan. A full cart of processed junk. Vegan or not, if your cart is full of cardboard, I think something is very wrong. Not one product she showed was fresh. Everything was packaged, processed crap... and if anyone went to look for these items, they'd quickly discover they are also really expensive.

    So, my biggest problem.... Where was the food?? -- As someone who eats a vegan diet, she did nothing to portray what many vegans eat. In fact, I did not see any information on food and how vegans get their nutrition. The only time a meal was shown was a family eating processed crap which did not look properly prepared and was based on animal-based food choices. I am not sure if she was trying to show that when you are vegan you can still eat 'meat sauce' and pizza or if she just did not think it through, but either way it was not informative and if anything, probably turned viewers off of a plant-based diet.

    I think I safely say that most vegans do not base their diet on pre-packaged faux meats and cheeses. It is expensive and will never taste just like the animal products it is mimicking. Someone that is just trying to eat vegan for the first time is going to have the memory of what the animal-based version tastes like and probably won't like the faux meat version since it just can't taste the same.

    When I decided to be vegan, I didn't go near fake meat, cheese, and other plant based-items for quite a while. After a month or two, I could re-introduce them and my body adapted to the new tastes. The show really should have had a recipe that wasn't a bland 'meaty' plate. Come to think of it, there was no green on that plate at all! Bad, bad, bad...

    The show had a real opportunity to show viewers what vegan people eat. Show people that you can base your meals around whole grains and vegetables and get all the nutrients you need. People always ask me questions about what I eat, where I get my calcium, protein, iron etc from. The show didn't even look at this.

    Sigh, I could go on and on, but I won't. I don't know why I hoped for something a bit more... I shouldn't have.

    OK - End rant.

    I'll post recipes later. :)