Monday, June 27, 2011

Vega Sport Review & a Free Giveaway!

I have to prelude this post with the disclaimer that I am ideally a fan of whole-food based nutrition. Having dedicated myself more seriously to LFRV-ism over the past week, it's obvious that I will always pick the banana over the vegan supplement. That being said, I do also respect and recognize the place that supplements and protein powders hold for some people, especially vegan athletes. I've used them in the past, and when they're organic, natural and plant-based, I think they're great!

So last week, the lovely people at Sequel Naturals sent me a couple packs of their Vega Sport to try out. (They ship both in the US and Canada!) As you may know, Vega was designed by plant-fueled triathlete, Brendan Brazier, and if there's a guy who knows vegan fitness nutrition it's him. He's got pre-workout, during-workout, and post-workout nutrition down to a science. As a triathlete, he's worked really hard to find optimally-absorbable vegan supplements and powders for any person on any diet.

His stuff has been on the market for quite some time now. In fact, I have a very fond memory of Vega, because it was one of those quirky vegan fitness products I discovered in Andrew's apartment when we first met (and I was still an omnivore). Little did I know that he would turn me into a vegan fitness enthusiast too. Since then, we've used the traditional Vega Whole Food Health Optimizer off and on, and it's always been both tasty and handy. Mostly, it allowed us to sleep at night because we could be 100% sure that we were getting all the vitamins and minerals we needed on our diet.

Since then, Vega has expanded to include a specially designed Vega Sport (which I'll get to in a moment) for workout optimization; the Shake & Go, a mix you can just blend with water to get an optimal nutrient (and probiotic!) boost when you're on the run; and the Smoothie Infusion which is the perfect protein, fiber, and Omega 3 blend for all your smoothie making needs. One of the reasons I've always found Vega so great is that aside from being nutrient packed, all of the ingredients are sourced from a recognizable food item, so reading its product labels is a piece of cake.

The Vega Sport I got to try comes in two varieties:
  • Performance Protein, a natural plant-based protein blend designed to improve your workout, while reducing inflammation and recovery time. I tried it in vanilla (also comes in berry flavour) after my workout.
  • Pre-Workout Performance Optimizer Beverage, designed to sustain your energy, enhance your focus, and increase your aerobic and anaerobic capacity during your workout. It also replenishes your electrolytes, reduces inflammation and any joint or muscle pain during recovery, and helps improve your body composition in part by reducing body fat. I got to try the Acai Berry flavour before my workout (it also comes in lemon-lime).
The verdict? Both of them were really tasty and blended easily into our pre- and post-workout smoothies! I didn't make a crazy fancy smoothie for the occasion, just the usual banana, blueberry, water and spinach type combo and they were a lovely addition. I can't really attest to whether or not they worked their magic, but considering I definitely jumped right back up from those workouts, I'm assuming something worked.

And now, onto the giveaway!!!

Seeing as how my blog recently turned 2, I finally got my own url, and that I haven't hosted a giveaway since I said goodbye to my first dehydrator, I figured it was high time to get back into the gratitude wagon. So to say thanks to all my readers and followers, one of you awesome peeps will received a vegan goodie bag from me!

As the die-hard smoothie maker I am, I've included one sample pack of each blend of the Vega product spectrum, other great smoothie boosters like Amazing Grass Superfood mix, organic wheat grass powder... and what would a giveaway be without chocolate? I've also included a yummy bar of MacaSure and chocolate covered sacha inchi seeds. I may also add more yummies if I'm in the mood ;)

For a chance to win, please leave a comment and tell me something you're grateful for. Anyone can enter, you don't have to have a blog or anything special like that.

I (or my kitten) will randomly pick a winner on July 1st, which also happens to be Canada Day, eh! When I'll announce the winner, I'll need some contact info to get in touch with them and ship the goods!

Enter away, and good luck!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tempeh Tuna... Even Fooled the Kitty!

Before I get into the whole tempeh biznazz, if you haven't tried Laury's Vegan Pistachio Almond Ice Cream, stop reading this blog post and go make it, stat:
And while I'm not getting to the topic of the day just yet, have you entered my giveaway yet? You've only got a couple more days!

Anyhoo, in my constant endeavour to find new ways of preparing vegan protein for my weight-lifting spouse, tempeh is something that comes up every once in a while. Even as a raw foodist, I've already discussed why tempeh is still okay in my books and you'll find quite a few tempeh recipes in my Recipe section... but what to do this time?

Since Andrew isn't a huge tempeh fan and he's the one whose going to eat the thing, I found a sneaky tempeh "tuna salad" recipe (cleverly called "Tempuna") in my trusty Green Door cookbook. Since only happy and delicious vegan things come from the Green Door, I knew this would do the trick, and it did! Not only does this recipe make a fantastic addition to salads, it also makes a wicked protein for any wrap or sandwich. Because I've slightly adapted it, I've allowed myself to post the recipe, so here's what I came up with:
adapted from the Green Door Cookbook
1 block of tempeh
3 stalks of celery, diced
1/2 red pepper, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1/2 tomato, diced
1/4 C fresh parsley, chopped fine
1 C plain soy yogurt*
1 tablespoon of stone-ground mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons of Bragg's Liquid Aminos
1/2 teaspoon of cracked black pepper
dash of salt, optional
rosemary, thyme, or other herbs, optional

*I'm sure Veganaise could work, though I'm sure that would also make for a serious calorie difference, if you care

1. Steam (or boil) the tempeh in water for about 15 minutes (this helps it take in the flavours and break down easier).
2. In a large bowl, crumble the tempeh and add in all the diced veggies, herbs, and pepper.
3. Stir in the soygurt, mustard, Bragg's, and add salt to taste if necessary. Make sure it's all well mixed.
4. Enjoy! (This recipe actually tastes better the next day/after it's had time to absorb all the flavours in.)

I've made this in smaller batches quite a few times now, and I've experimented with it every time. Try different flavourings, like adding curry powder, or some peanut butter, lime, and a liquid sweetener for a more Thai peanut sauce type option. The possibilities are huge!

Heck, even the kitten fell for its pseudo-tuna goodness! Then again, ever since mommy has gone LFRV, he's been picking food out of my salads, including pineapple, greens, tomatoes, and lots of other raw fruits and veggies too, so he may just be weird...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Chocolate Orange Creamsicle Gone Raw... with cookies

When I saw that Lisa and Nicole had organized a new Raw Recipe Challenge, I knew it was time to roll up my sleeves, put on my apron, and sign up for my first ever recipe blog challenge. The challenge: A Raw Vegan Ice Cream Sandwich. The problem? I'm about the world's worst decision maker ever.

Step 1. Brainstorming

Here was the short list of what I considered creating:
  • A marzipan cookie with blueberry lavender ice cream (I already had the blueberry lavender ice cream down pat) but too dainty
  • A superfood cookie (goji berries, pistachios, mulberry) with a plain vanilla ice cream (it could have been really colorful and pretty) but potentially too expensive for recipe testers
  • A beet-juiced reddened maple cookie with maple ginger ice cream in honour of our upcoming Canada Day but too... patriotic? and maple syrup is an iffy raw ingredient.
  • A chocolate chipotle cookie with a vanilla spice-kissed ice cream... but potentially too spicy (we had made something similar before and was made for our spice loving palates, so the public didn't take it super well)
And the list goes on and on and on...
    I could have settled for good ol' cookies and cream, chocolate chip cookie with a rich coconut vanilla ice cream, or even oatmeal raisin, but Andrew gave me a suggestion that rang true. So I settled on something I've never done before:
    A Chocolate Orange Cookie with an Orange Creamsicle Filling.

    The result? It worked! The honest result? I'm not over the moon about it, but still pleased. In all fairness, and as I mention pretty much every time I talk about raw desserts, I'm neither a super huge fan of chocolate (even less so when it's flavoured) nor am I big on raw desserts.

    So why in the world would I make this you asked? Well, having dedicated the past week (and my forseeable life) to 811, this didn't exactly fall within the guidelines. My second reason? I'm still a total foodie at heart and love to make desserts for my favourite primate, so I usually go to him for guidance on what to make since he'll be the one eating all of this anyway!

    Step 2. Making the Cookie
    1 C almonds, ground into flour
    2 heaping tablespoons of cacao powder
    3 small fresh dates*
    couple dashes of salt
    zest of 1 orange**
    juice of 1/4-1/2 a small orange

    *I used Mazafati dates, that were fresh & sticky enough that they didn't need to be soaked. They're about 1/2 the size of a Medjool for a measuring idea.
    ** Zest it well, 'til it's begging for mercy! That's where all the flavour is!

    1. Grind almonds in a food processor or Vitamix dry blender until it forms a flour.
    2. Add in the rest of the ingredients, but only the juice of 1/4 of the orange, and blend until it forms a soft dough ball (if you're using a Vitamix, switch to the wet blender). If it's still too dry or not orange-y enough, add the other 1/4 orange's juice (or another date if it's not sweet enough or still too dry).

    3. Chill the dough ball in the freezer for about 30 minutes (I added this step because mine was really sticky to work with).

    4. After 30 minutes, use the world's most brilliant tip I just learned from Nicole tonight: Flatten the dough out on a piece of parchment paper, place another piece on top, then using a rolling pin, roll out the dough into as thick a layer as you like. Take off the top parchment sheet and use a cookie cutter/mug/mason jar cap to cut out round cookie shapes. Transfer the cookies on the parchment paper back into the freezer while you make the ice cream to harden.

    Step 3. Making the Ice Cream
    2 frozen bananas
    2 dried apricots, soaked
    1/4 C cashews
    1 heaping tablespoon of orange zest
    1 heaping tablespoon of coconut butter, soft/melted
    1 orange (I had chopped it and frozen it)
    1/2 vanilla bean pod
    dash of salt

    1. Throw everything into the Vitamix/high speed blender and power away until you get a soft serve like consistency.

    2. At this point you can either a) use your ice cream maker to turn it into ice cream b) pour it into an appropriate container and stick it in the freezer until it becomes ice cream, though this might not make it as creamy textured (might take another 30 minutes or so).

    3. In my case, use your mom's fabulously '70s ruby red Danvier ice cream maker until you get the desired texture.

    Step 4. Assemble & Savour

    (I just realized that there is no translation for the French term "déguster" in English.)

    To assemble, take the cookies out the freezer and spread however much ice cream you wish onto the bottom layer. (I used about 2/3 of the recipe because I wanted one big sandwich!) Place another cookie on top and gently press down. Refreeze the cookie sandwich for about another hour if you can wait. We couldn't and tried half after about 20 minutes and it melted really fast... Also, the orange flavour actually comes out more if you wait longer.

    The verdict? Andrew said the texture was great, like those Klondike ice cream sandwiches. Thing is, some ice cream sandwiches tend to have disproportionately hard cookie for how soft the ice cream is, so when you take a bite, the ice cream globs out the other end (I've been disallowed to use the term I actually thought of for that). This one worked out great though! Taste-wise, he liked it but said the cookie part was a little sweet/cloying (which is saying a lot for him) probably because of the dates, so there's room for improvement there if that's an issue for you!

    All in all, this has totally inspired me to try another dozen ice cream sandwich recipes, making both my inner chef and Andrew's tummy of an accord. Hope you enjoy it too!

    Tuesday, June 21, 2011

    Sun Food for the Summer Solstice

    Happy Summer Solstice!

    Yes, we are indeed at the height of summer! Today is the longest day of the year, and it has many names Midsummer, Summer Solstice, Litha, to name a few. From now on, we enter into the waning of the year, when the days will grow shorter and shorter so get out there and bask in the sun while you can!

    In Pagan lore, the Holly King, who represents the waxing year, triumphs over the Oak King, who represents the waning year. For all those of you who have read  A Midsummer Night's Dream, it's a time when elves, sprites, and fairies are out in great numbers, so magic is bound to happen tonight! Being the day when the light is strongest, Midsummer symbols are yellows and gold, fire, the sun, oak trees, fruits and sunflowers. We unfortunately never got to planting our sunflowers this year, but if you have some around, make a bouquet and celebrate!

    I met up with Andrew for lunch today for a high noon Solstice meal. I tried to aim to make everything with yellow or lemony foods. I made a tea of lemon balm, mint, and stevia (with raw honey for him) to drink. His meal was falafel (they are balls so sun shaped I figured...), pineapple, carrot, and tomato lettuce warps and sun drop cookies (lemon, cashews, one banana, and honey). I celebrated with this yellow beauty that I know will feed me time and time again over the next few summer weaks:

    Pineapple Soft Serve
    1 ripe banana
    1 1/2- 2 C frozen pineapple
    Instructions: Blend 'til smooth and soft serve-y!

    It's so simple but the whole concept of freezing the pineapple instead of the banana has rocked my world. Some people get pretty serious bloating from frozen bananas (I can) and this totally got rid of that issue! Deeelicious.

    There's something about summer that just really psyches me to be 811. It's been 3 days straight and I feel like fantastic. When it's this hot, I want to stuff my face with fruit, and I can! Just to give you an idea, I started my day with 1/4 of a watermelon. Lunch was 3 bananas, blueberries, and spinach, followed by that lovely pineapple soft serve, and who knows what dinner may hold... I love when eating is really fun. Yay, fruit! Yay, summer!

    Have a bright and sunny day!

    Sunday, June 19, 2011

    Falafel Madness

    The first night my parents came over to visit a few weeks ago, we had them over so I could make a raw feast for them. Given their taste for foods from all around the world, I knew I wanted to introduce them to their first 100% raw meal by doing something a little more exotic than just raw pasta or the like. After scouring my brain for my own recipes and a couple raw cookbooks, I settled on the following:
    Marinated Peppers & Portobello Caps*
    Soaked & Sprouted Quinoa with Saffron, Pepitas, Sundried Tomatoes, and Raisins
    Matt Amsden's Falafel Balls served with Mango Chutney

    *marinated in ACV, EVOO, Bragg's liquid aminos, maple syrup, and herbs 

    I also served cucumber and tomato canapes with peppered raw cheese to start and a spring mix salad with walnuts, cranberries, tomatoes, and cukes served with a vinaigrette with the main meal. The result:

    They loved it. In fact, they loved it so much they talked about it for the following three days. They raved about how good it made them feel (and enthusiastically agreed to eat vegan the entire time they were with us) and how it was enough food but never left them stuffed (except that night at Zen perhaps.) They were even full enough after the raw meal I made for them that I never got to bust out my raw desserts!

    That was also my first time making those Rawvolution falafels and they were a definite hit. As a superb source of protein, I've made them for Andrew twice since then, usually in the form of awesome over-stuffed falafel wraps... a salad that fits into your hands, what more could you ask for? It also makes for great food to take a walk with, like ice cream cones, which is quintessential as summer begins. If you have Matt Amsden's book I highly suggest you check these out, especially with the chutney, the combination is fantastic.

    Aaand, I just tried to cuddle with my cat and he accidentally headed butted me in the face causing a minor nose bleed. I guess I have to wrap it up (hehe) then. So, enjoy the rest of your weekend!

    Happy Father's Day to all family men out there!

    Thursday, June 16, 2011

    All grown up!

    So my little blog has finally grown up. It's three years old and I finally decided to finally let it get its own URL. I'm still trying to figure out the transition, and if there's even anything to do at all... I'm already totally confused (either that, or it's so simple, I'm not even seeing it). 

    It'll be super easy, just come over and join me at and all the goodness will continue from there! For all those of you who already have my blog in any kind of list or bookmark bar or favourites section on your blogs, your feed will only update if you switch over to my new address, so I'd love you if you made the switch too! 

    And just to keep you interested, I feel a blogoversary giveaway coming on so stay tuned! Thanks for all your support :)

    Wednesday, June 15, 2011

    Layover Saviour: Live Organic Food Bar, Toronto

    I should have entitled this post "The Kale Chips that Never Were." Last night, I got really excited to make a bloggable kale chip recipe made from one bunch of kale, EVOO, balsamic, tahini, and sea salt. After massaging all those lovely things together, one-third of the batch mysteriously disappeared. After about an hour in the dehydrator, another third evaporated into thin air... and then, well, I figured it was silly to dehydrated 1/3 of batch of kale chips, so I figured I might as well eat them too. (p.s. half dehydrated kale is delicious)

    So with that off the table and in my tummy, I wanted to give a shout out to Toronto's Live Organic Food Bar instead. Last weekend, we took another quick trip to London for Andrew's mom's annual spa day. The deal: she invites all the women of the family including sisters, spouses, and nieces to get pampered for a day because she's awesome like that. The upside: Umm, who would complain? The downside: an 8 hour bus ride (oh wait, that's a complaint).

    Side benefit: a 2 hour stopover in Toronto allowed us to hop onto the subway and check out Live. As we started approaching the GTA, Andrew heroically agreed to take the bullet and be the anti-social guy talking on the phone while on public transportation to place our take-out order. Since moving back here, the two raw restaurants I've been wanting to check out in T-dot have been Live and Rawlicious. Conveniently, our choice was made for us since Live was the one we could get to in time.

    I only have a couple crappy iPhone pictures to show for it, but this ended up being our stash:

    I had been dreaming of raw collard rolls for a while so opted for their Spring Rolls: a glory of kelp noodles, carrots, cukes, celery, and sprouts dipped in a fantastic almond chili sauce with black sesame seeds, and a killer red cabbage slaw salad. These were not photographed because they were scarfed down at a polluted downtown bus stop, after our 2 hour layover became a 3 hour layover (curse you, Greyhound) because they oversold seats. They were amazing though and definitely made that extra hour go by in a breeze, because I was filled with happy.

    Andrew picked the Reuben sandwich, a sesame kale carob bread with a walnut sunflower patty, guacamole, more of that awesome red cabbage slaw, and a sesame hemp aioli. It also came with dill pickles and root veggie chips, which were pretty fantastic. The sandwich was tasty, I'm not quite sure what made it a "reuben," but who cares.

    Raw falafels were also purchased for Andrew to eat the next day while I was to be off spa-ing , but I never got a real taste of them. The tiny bite I did sneak in that night left me pretty non-plussed, so I don't think it was that huge a loss.

    We also found another raw chocolate bar, Giddy Yoyo, which we picked up in orange flavour. I just checked out their website, and am even more psyched to find out that our chocolate was made by what appears to be a beautiful, healthy, and thriving couple of happy wood elves (Andrew's expression, not mine). I have to say, I generally just prefer really dark non-raw chocolate, but this one was great. I've always really enjoyed the grittiness of raw chocolates... and I think they may have converted me. (Also, what is it about happy-looking Canadian couples and the desire to open up a raw chocolate business? Giddy Yoyo aside, Living Libations is pretty faboo too... the difference being, instead of a smooth chocolate bar, they make hardcore awesome raw jungle chocolate of foodgasm).

    Finally, Andrew also picked up a couple raw cookies/bar treat things, which I wasn't a huge fan of. In all fairness, I'm rarely a fan of raw desserts (arrogantly enough, I like the ones I make, but maybe I have a picky raw dessert palate?) I found them a little texture and taste bland. Andrew seemed to be entertained by them though.

    The restaurant itself was super cute though, and I would have loved to actually sit down and have our meal there. As I mentioned though, we were really pressed for time (or so we thought.) I definitely give them 2 thumbs way up, and we'll be back for sure whenever we're in the city!

    Monday, June 13, 2011

    The 5 Workouts that Make me Want to Cry

    Sometime in the middle of last week, I signed up for Gina's annual Summer Shape Up Challenge. This year's is an awesome 4 week routine (with optional meal ideas) and I've been loving it so far. In fact, I love her workouts so much that I mentioned her first Summer Shape Up Challenge (a full-on 12 week program she came up with in 2009) in an earlier post I wrote about the 5 best workouts of my life.

    Having just launched into a new SSU series, I thought I'd talk about the flip side of that coin by sharing exercises that I just dread. Conveniently, a lot of these are features in Gina's latest SSU so I guess I'll have to conquer my fears! I know, I know. They're really effective. You have to work up to them. It'll all pay off in the end, but as much as I love weights or bootcamp style workouts, whenever these babies appear in my routines, I kind of want to run for the hills:

    1. Burpees: Push ups, planks, jumping up and down, all of these moves I love individually, so why does combining them turn into something so evil? Sure, they raise your heart rate very quickly and are super effective, but they're so difficult (that's the point I know). I know people like Katie can do insane things like 155 burpees, but I'll keep on trucking and struggle to complete my one minute's worth. P.S. I have no idea what this photo is about. When I put "burpees" into Google images, this was the second hit... so here you go!

    2. Stability Ball Passes: They. hurt. And not in the good way. I think I've tried not to cry every time I've done these. I'm glad routines usually make you only do about 10-15 of these because I can do about 3 cycles of 12 and that's pushing it. I always make fun of people who make weird noises at the gym (grunting, sighing, whooping, etc.), but oh the temptation to become "one of those people" when I have a set of these in store!

    3. Pigeon Pose: My hamstrings have a message for you, pigeon pose: "We hate you." Sure, they'll be honest: It's a love-hate thing. I get into pigeon pose, they want to scream and cry, and curse the Yoga gods, but then I also feel really good, those endorphins get released, and I keep coming back for more... It's an abusive relationship I tell you.

    4. Mountain Climbers: Does anyone climb mountains like this, seriously?? Because I've never seen it. I thought these were hard to begin with, then we went to an acro-yoga class where we would bust out power yoga for 3 minutes, then launch into 1 minute of mountain climbers, over and over and over again. You wonder why I only went back twice.

    5. Lateral Raises: These definitely aren't as bad as they used to be, but there's still something about the muscles they target that makes me feel weak. When I first started working out seriously with Andrew by doing the Body for Life program, and had no arm strength, these were a killer. When I did them, I kind of felt like this:

    The feeling hasn't gone a way, so I still resent them.

    Ah, those painful exercise, we all have them and yet we learn to love them! What are yours?

    Saturday, June 11, 2011

    To Die and Go to Vegan Heaven: Zen Kitchen Take 2

    When I knew my parents were coming into town, Andrew and I knew right away that we had to take them to Zen Kitchen. After the fabulous first experience we had there back in August of last year, we knew that if anyone could convince friends and family that vegan fare can be more than just dahl or tofurky, it would be Zen Kitchen. Once again, thank you so much to all the folks at Zen for giving us another memorable experience in fine vegan dining.

    In any gourmet restaurant, I always take such joy in the unique dynamic created between those who experience their love for food by eating it (the customer) and those who are show their love for food by creating it (the chef). Last time I wrote about them, one of biggest draws I noticed was Zen Kitchen's ability to combine "taste, textures, and timing" to perfection. Once again, they did not disappoint. We all truly appreciated the frequent attention the waitstaff and the chef herself gave to us and other diners. It showed that they really cared both about our experience, but also in the quality of their service and their food.

    While we looked over our menus, our waitress started us off with a teaser of the amazing things to come: a raw endive leaf with an edamame hummus and sea veggies. I don't know how she does it, but Chef Caroline has the amazing gift of turning the simple into the wholly complex by pairing very usual tastes and textures in unique and unexpected ways. It was fresh, savory, salty, and perfumed all at the same time, and that was just the start.

    As my dad would say, we spent most of the evening looking at the menu "avec des yeux plus gros que le ventre" (literally, with "eyes bigger than our stomachs"), and quickly started off by ordering the two tapas plates to share. The first was a sampling of rice paper veggie rolls with a sesame-sprinkled Thai peanut sauce, dengaku tofu skewers, house-made picked veggies (daikon and kimchi), and dehydrated kale and potato chips. The dish was as beautiful and colourful as it was delicious. My long love affair with asian and asian-inspired cuisine (especially Thai peanut sauce) made this a definite win for my palate. I also learned that dengaku is a type of Japanese miso cuisine that involves grilling a food twice, once on its own, and once coated it with a layer of sweet miso sauce. There was sweet, there was salty, sour, bitter and pungent. There were also textures that were crunchy, that were resilient, that melted in your mouth, that had bite, that were plying. Perfection.

    The second tapas plate was sesame-crusted and flash-fried exotic mushrooms, served with a tamarind and sweet chile sauce. Did they win my heart over with house-made sweet and sour sauces? Did they make me profess their undying love to them with a delicious blend of at least four of five different mushroom of complementary textures and sizes? Yes. Double yes. And I do love you, Zen Kitchen.

    These two plates were so good, I could have very well been satisfied to stop there and let my taste buds continue their happy dance until breakfast the next day. But we moved on to...

    ... my Gluten-free house-made ravioli filled with caramalized onions and smoked tempeh in a putanesca sauce, served with seasonal vegetables. See, I've actually been craving tortellini and/or ravioli since going vegan, because apparently no one ever thinks to make a cheeseless version. Of course, they knew this and chose to satisfy my every whim. In all honesty, my one critique was that it was a little light on the filling and heavy on the pasta dough, but warm and delicious none the less.

    Andrew went for the Chef's Whim, as is often his habit in gourmet restaurants. It seems to be a habit that never fails him, as he was offered a beautifully arranged (yet poorly photographed) and perfectly spiced curry of Puy lentils and roasted vegetables, a Heaven-sent chickpea pakora, fragrant cumin basmati rice, and spiced mango-mint chutney. This was a dish worthy of Orientalist fantasy.

    My mom opted for the Mushroom Risotto, served with exotic mushrooms, cannellini beans, and vegetables. I never really understood the whole "risotto" thing. To me, it's always just been creamy rice, but even Zen Kitchen had a way of making it the most fragrant yet comforting risotto I have ever tried.

    And my dad's dish, Sope... oh the Sope, I thought was the crowning achievement of these entrees. Pictured above on the right was the most gorgeous platage of colours that arrived to our table that night. Sope, a leavened corn tortilla topped with refried beans and a mix of brightly hued veggies, was served with equally festive sides of flambeed mushrooms in a chipotle-tequila sauce, a house salsa and guacamole, sour cream, and spiced rice. The Sope would qualify as one of those foods that to the Chinese is more about illusion than it is about taste. While it was a thick corn tortilla, I could have swore is was a grilled potato pancake. Fantastic!

    And how does one refuse dessert after all the wonders that have transpired? My dad and I chose to split our desserts, and my rise to culinary dessert bliss began with the most moist, dense, and plate-lickingly delicious spiced mexican chocolate cake I've ever had. It was served with a rich chocolate sauce and berry coulis, which was the perfect complement for it to bathe in while I oo-ed and mm-ed over its warm embrace. Once again, I am so rarely a chocolate person but this cake would have converted me to the god of chocolate in a heartbeat.

    When I gave my half of paradise to my dad, he offered me his tres leches sponge cake. Now, I mean this as a total compliment, but I usually hate sponge cake. When I see dogs foam at the mouth because they have rabies, that's what I feel sponge cake tastes like. It's wholly a textural thing, and it's not mine at all... and yet. The cake was light, airy, and felt like eating the clouds you imagine Care Bears to dance upon. Its frosting was wonderfully creamy, topped with a caramel sauce and poached pears. All the tastes were so light and delicate, I imagine this to be a dessert fit to be shared with fairies.

    I only had a bite of Andrew's lemon pie served on a nut crust and coconut whipped cream. However, despite my dislike for foamy cakes, foamy whipped cream has always been a passion of mine. I haven't really been able to indulge in that since my childhood days of July 4th Reddi-Wip out of an aerosol can. Again, Zen Kitchen's ability to take any omnivore's delight and turn it vegan is beyond comprehension.

    Full and satisfied, I know Zen Kitchen dazzled my family with a new perspective on vegan cuisine. It achieved its highest purpose and gave us yet an unforgettable vegan food adventure.

    Thursday, June 9, 2011

    Oral Hygiene & Your Health

    I haven't posted two days in a row in a while, but I learned a whole bunch of neat things from my awesome new dentist today that I thought I'd share with you.
    • A mouth with a low pH (aka. a more alkaline mouth) decreases your chances of getting cavities, so stick with those raw fruits and veggies
    • As I recently mentioned, dried fruits kind of play the opposite role as they are of the perfect sticky yumminess for cavity gremlins to feed of off
    • Starches as well as sugar creates acid when in contact with plaque, which results in tooth decay (so yesterday's post about sugar and starch sensitivities might not that be far off!)
    • Gum sensitivity doesn't necessarily mean your oral hygiene is off, but can indicate that you have hormonal imbalances (who'da thunk?)
    • Your mouth can give away how flexible you are. True story. After looking at my file (jaw measurements, how much I can open and close, etc.) my dentist asked if I was crazy flexible, which I am... weird.
    • Grinding your teeth in your sleep can allow you to use force of about 500 pounds per square inch to wear away at your teeth! That is not a good thing, and has caused my gums to become absurdly sensitive! (to put it in perspective, the average dog has a bite of about 450 per square inch!)
    • Nutritional deficiencies and diseases often first show signs through oral symptoms that we might be ignoring or taking for granted.
    • When you find out your dentist has a blender in his office to make organic protein shakes for himself and his staff between appointments, you know that office is a keeper.
    • Ignoring dental and gum-related problems can transfer to the rest of your body and affect major organs, including your heart, so take care of those teeth!
    • Xylitol (rather than the toxic fluoride) is great substance to prevent cavities and lower tooth decay. I'd heard this from a natural dental technician when we first moved to Ottawa, which was one of the reasons I started chewing Spry Peppermint Gum a couple times a week. (Don't over chew gum because then you over stress your jaw muscles.) Otherwise, you can find xylitol-based toothpastes through natural brands like Green Beaver, Jason, or Tom's.
    • Because digestion begins in your mouth, ignoring oral hygiene can lead to digestive issues all the way down your GI track.
    • The inside of mouth's are icky. (okay, they didn't tell me that, but they showed me a lot of these things by asking me to hold a mirror up, and up close and personal, it ain't that pretty... even if your teeth are healthy).
    Did you know all those things? I certainly didn't! If anything, they've really convinced me to keep my teeth clean. It's served me well until know! In fact, I met and bonded with one of my best friends in university because we would both always brush our teeth while wandering our dorm hallways!

    Weekend is almost here! Hang in there, all you worker types :)

    Wednesday, June 8, 2011

    2 Years Raw: Lessons & Musings

    First off, brace yourselves for a long and detailed post.

    It dawned on me today that I've now been a (mostly) raw vegan for 2 years and counting. 2 years? How did that time go by without my noticing? I don't have an exact "raw anniversary," but I know that it all began around May-June 2009. I know that by July 2009, I became committed, and by August I've officially been calling myself a raw foodist.

    I also realize that since that date, I've definitely had my ups and downs with that choice and I wanted to share them with you today. (Disclaimer: I do not blame my diet for any of these lows. Overall, my love for food and health have been higher than ever over the past few years. I only blame myself and the sub-optimal choices I've made leading to these lows.)

    For starters, I've never been a big proselytizer when it comes to dietary choices (okay, except when it comes to choosing organic and unprocessed foods). What I do want is to contribute to your ability to make the healthiest and most informed choices for yourself, our environment, and those around you. In what I do, I just want people to know what has and still does work for me, what has made me feel fabulous and what has made me feel like crap, so you can learn from my successes and my mistakes.

    To put it out there right off, I haven't followed the raw diet to zealous 100% perfection. While veganism is something I ethically and morally stand for, raw foodism is something I do simply because it makes me feel healthiest (and sure, it's also environmentally beneficial because of a lack of processing). In fact, for the best post I've ever read on the decision to be vegan vs. a raw foodist, read Gena's post about it because I couldn't have said it better myself.

    On a raw diet, I've reached higher energy levels and periods of happiness and confidence in myself than I could have ever imagined. I've development a higher awareness of food, my body, and life in general (both for good and bad). During first my six months with raw foods, I honestly felt fantastic. Sure every girl has a bad day, but I was almost always on an physical, emotional, and self-confidence high. I needed to sleep less, I always had energy, and my workouts were a breeze because I had so much to let off. I was frighteningly productive and was always putting out my A game.

    At that time, I was almost 100% raw, eating at regular intervals ending around 7pm, and focusing very heavily on fruits & veggies (very limited amounts of bananas and no dates), a few nuts and dried fruit a day, very moderate amounts of natural sweeteners aside from fruit (so honey, maple syrup, agave, etc.), about one cooked vegan meal a week when we visited the 'rents (usually steamed veggies and organic tofu/tempeh type dishes), very occasional sprouted legumes and dehydrated goodies, and no grains.

    Since then I've fallen into some pretty bad patterns, namely the "just because it's raw means I can eat as much as I want" trap (which might be true for some, just not me), re-introducing and then re-rejecting everything from bananas, dates, grains, natural sweeteners, pulses, dehydrated foods, lots of raw gourmet, etc. Moving to a very veg-friendly city also allowed me to eat out a lot more than we ever had in the past, and legitimized a higher consumption of cooked foods, especially grains. Over the past year, my daily raw intake fluctuated anywhere between 20-80% a day, and most days I did not feel good.

    I'm not trying to make this sound like a sob story by any means, nor am I trying to make it sound like I totally fell off the health wagon into despair. Far from it. I do realize that my diet is still extremely healthy, I still never get sick, and I still love to be active, but over the last little while, things haven't been working quite as well as they used to when I first gave this a shot, and whether it's a lesser quality of sleep, weight gain, etc. something isn't working out 100% right and I'm trying to figure out why by voicing the truth of my personal journey to you. Thing is, when you feel like 110% every single day for long enough, the minute things start to look down, you freak out.

    So after two years, here are some of the highlights of what I've learned on my raw journey that might be helpful to you if this is the path you're choosing to get into:
    • Raw = fresh foods, not dehydrated foods, not dried foods, not high amounts of nuts nor seeds. I definitely think all of those things are part of a balanced raw vegan diet, but they are supplemental foods to all the fresh things you're eating. I've also learned the hard way that eating too many dried fruits and natural sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, agave) leads to the potential of serious cavity development (a major let down, especially when I've always had perfect teeth).
    • Just because it's "raw", doesn't mean you can eat it in absurd quantities at all hours of the day. This works doubly for badly combined and/or dehydrated foods.
    • When you go raw, your body generally becomes more sensitive to miscombined or non-raw (including dehydrated) foods, so if you stray you will react more to them than before. I found that my body really easily reacts to foods now, even when they're vegan (aka. my face puffs up like popcorn when I eat grains, there is a small child in my stomach when I eat badly combined raw desserts).
    • Most of why I feel good is not necessarily because of what I'm eating, but how and when I'm eating it (i.e. how many times, at what times of the day, amounts, etc.)
    • Realize where your boundaries are. This might sound silly, but I realized that I enjoy food. The beauty, textures and tastes of the widest variety of foods possible are too much of a joy to me to become "100% anything" (that being 100% raw, 100% fruitarian, etc.). I realize there are some tastes and texture you just can't achieve through raw food, just as there are some tastes and texture you'll never know if you don't try raw food. If I want a piece of vegan cake once a year, I'm going to have it. If I want to go out for a nice meal somewhere once a month with friends or family, I'll do that too. Again, these are exceptions, not the rule.
    • Eating late just doesn't work for me. I have to stop by at least 7pm-ish because then any food inside me just becomes a food baby rather than digested matter.
    • The grazing all the time method of eating doesn't work for me. I just don't have the metabolism designed for that. I've done best eating 3-4 meals, because it allowed me to recognize proper portion sizes and when I'm actually hungry rather than just bored or in the mood to eat for the sake of eating.
    • I can't really do grains. God knows, I love them (shout out to Nature's Path Mesa Sunrise and/or Heritage Cereal, Little Stream Bakery's Quinoa Loaf, and the Green Door's Herb and Onion bread), but they drain my energy, like to try to settle in my tummy for life and make my skin look puffy and sallow.
    • Sweeteners that aren't fresh fruit make me antsy/dizzy/my teeth not happy/gain weight/some combination of those things.

    In conclusion, I still think going raw was the best health decision I ever made. I wouldn't change it for anything. Just because I experimented in ways that weren't optimal will never mean I regret this choice. The more days go by, the more I know what I want to do, how to do it, and the food ethics for which I stand.

    After 2 years, this has only a small sampling of the things I have learned over the past couple years. I could write a book about everything that has and hasn't worked. I'd love to know what has worked for you (and what wasn't so hot), so feel free to send your experiences my way!

    If anything, changing your way of eating will always introduce you a new awareness about yourself and your relationship to food. I encourage you all to think about that relationship, whether its positive or detrimental to your life, because after all, that relationship is real, because I'm assuming you do engage in it at least once a day!

    With that rant out of the way, stay tuned for the usual, namely, how awesome my parents are for having visited us last weekend and spending four days in the raw and vegan.