Sunday, November 11, 2012

What's for dinner? How about Red Lobster biscuits and the best Kale salad ever?

Make the world's best raw kale salad with vegan cheddar "Red Lobster" style buscuits to win friends and make your tummy/your waistline/the environment/animals/me happpy.Happy Meatless Monday party people!

NYC or Bust (your pants from all the eating)

This blog's grand adventure was a another big fat vegan roadtrip! We had the incredible luck of travelling just days before Hurricane Sandy hit. When writing this, I still can barely believe the destruction and devastation that's happen in the short time since we've been there.

Since April 2011, I've been living the nerdy dream by working my way through Vegnew's "99 things you must do: A vegan bucket list". Given my love for trying new things, eating, travel and checking things off lists-I couldn't love this challenge any more. So far, I've done 45 of 99 and travelling to NYC would let me get multiple checks into one trip! Woot!

My journey began with a very long drive. Technically it started before the really long drive with a rental car who's alarm was broken. Do you know what's awesome? Driving 20 minutes through town with your alarm going off! After a switch, I was now one person driving a big mini van over 7 hours!Environmentalist fail. First stop was Strong Hearts Cafe, a vegan cafe tucked away in a historic building in Syracuse, NY that came highly recommended. To be totally honest, my "chicken" Caesar was pretty meh but I took a menu and planned to visit on my return anyways-they had freakin cupcakes *and* milkshakes.

Here begins the portion of this journey that I call "4 hours in hell". Original plan was as such: Drive rental to airport. Park at airport, public transport into and around city. Easy right? Yuhuh. So my gas light goes on about 40 minutes from the airport. I figured there would be gas stations right on the road further into the city, and didn't want to risk getting lost. Ha. So I get to the bridge that goes over to the airport, and the sign tells me 60 minutes of traffic until I get there! As I'm sitting in the middle of 8 lanes of gridlock traffic- the last exit before the bridge 100 metres from my vehicle. AHH! After numerous middle fingers, I was off the road and in the Bronx. Isn't this where drive bys happen? *small city girl in a rental minivan hyperventilating*. From here, my GPS kept taking me in the same loop for an hour. FML. With our dinner reservations looming closer, and her flight having arrived three hours prior, Kristi (who you might recognize from our previous adventures in Las Angeles and Las Vegas) suggested I meet her at the hotel. Perfect. Well, except that it was in Manhattan, three blocks from Times Square at Friday rush hour. I've got this. Except I didn't, and almost imploded from stress. Once I finally arrived (shaking and nauseous), it was a failed subway attempt (times two) and we were *finally* eating at Blossom Cafe. Bucket list check one. My dinner was amazing,
Vegetable crepes with a bunch of fancy delicious accroudements.
But by far the winner was Butterfinger milkshakes for dessert. ZOMG.
Get used to my crazy dessert face, you're going to see it a lot.
The other great thing we got there was insider info on the best places to visit on an NYC vegan pilgrimage. Score! Our first stop the next morning was the highly recommended Champs Cafe in Brooklyn.
It was hipster heaven with tattooed servers, interesting crap on the walls,
That's what she said.
A whole case of baked heaven, and VEGAN EGGS BENEDICT. Ahhhh, delicious!
I wish we lived in the future, where I'm sure we'll have the technology for you to be able to taste this on the screen.
 Pictures don't adequately capture it's heart stopping deliciousness.
 1.5 hours into the day and I was already overloaded with happiness. A few cake pops for the journey and we were off.
Flags! People! Buildings! Adventure!
We explored some funk-tastic vintage stores, people watched, and took lame pictures wherever we could.
Anyone that says vegans are unattractive, or don't wear aviator sunglasses clearly hasn't seen this photo.
I also happened to find more Vegan baked goods. How does this always happen to me? Most likely  because I never stop thinking about them.
This is my red velvet crazy face.
We also spent a good portion of time trying to find parking in Chinatown. $46 later, it was getting close to dinner at Candle 79! Number 21 on Vegnews bucket list "Dine at Candle 79 in New York. Go with people whom you truly adore, and feast on appetizers, salads, entrees and desserts." My pen was freakin ready to check this one off. And my tummy was ready for it's endurance test. First, we had to get ready for our big night out, which also included a trip to Pine Box Rock Shop-vegan bars don't just happen every day for this girl!
Vintage shop find. "Oh this old thing?"
Dinner was amazing, and we were so absorbed in great conversation, ambiance and wine that it's hard to recall exactly what we ate. Most like because it was one of those fancy meals that has 20 different elaborate sauces and frou frou names for things.
I know somewhere in there were glazed brussel sprouts, pomegranate seeds, sweet potato gratin and seitan something or other. It was amaaaazing. The rest of the night whizzed by in a blur of fancy drinks at a vegan bar that had both a Big Shot hunter game (oooh the irony) and Jamaican jerk Empanadas, late night subway rides, and an $84 trip through the Times Scare haunted house (perfect idea at 2 am).

The next morning didn't hurt as much as it could have, so we got up and went to foodie heaven. a.k.a. A Food Tuck rally. For those of you that don't know about Food Trucks other than ones that sell french fries; food trucks are making a comeback as gourmet eateries on wheels. In large centers like NYC, Las Angeles and others, food trucks have devoted followers who follow them from location to location with tips from facebook and twitter. My big fat hairy dream is to one day have my own mobile gourmet restaurant! A food truck rally is when many get together to set up food courts on wheels! Our choices were curried shitake Empanadas (you know it's a great trip when it's all Empanadas all the time), Kimchi Tacos made with falafel (Sounds totally weird, and it is! Pickled cabbage, spicy sauce and falafel. Weirdly delicious that is.)
Sesame noodle salad with dumplings and a carrot cake ice cream sandwich with lychee champagne sorbet in the middle. All from different trucks! *siiiiiigh* It was awesome.
This is my ice cream sandwich happiness face.
After this, our whirlwind trip wrapped up so Kristi could return to LaLaland, and I could return to the great white(or in this case multicoloured fall splendor) North. I got lost no less than 7 different times trying to leave the city and the state. Once I got to Pennsylvania, I had to pull over to sleep so my soul didn't cave in on itself. In short, travelling to NYC is a grand adventure, but for the love of yourself, do NOT drive there. I'm sure you could have told me that, just as everyone else has. Though if you *really* know me, you'll know I like to learn things the way that teaches the most concrete lesson and tells the best story. Check. Mark.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Have vegan will travel: Farm Sanctuary Hoe Down '12

I swear this is the hardest blog of the year to put together. There are a lot of reasons, the sheer volume of photos and stories that were accumulated is the first. The other is that sometimes one has experiences in life that transcend words, and this is one of them. I'm struggling to articulate how much fun, food, friendship, learning, growing, shopping, laughter and animal cuddles were packed into two days of camping in upstate New York. This year was an even bigger adventure, because I was going by myself! My travel companions were three near strangers, all of whom I begged to go so I'd have a way to get there. Not having a vehicle was not a good enough reason to miss Hoe Down! We started our journey as all trips tend to-with an unexpected detour! Money? Check. Camping gear? Check. Passports? Err....So Adrian is probably going to hate me for retelling this story yet again, especially this time putting it in electronic narrative form. If you've read my blog before, you know that sparing other people embarrassment isn't my thing. Adrian forgot his passport. In Toronto. 2.5 hours from where we currently were. Back we went! Our arrival time was originally going to be around 4 pm, but ended up being closer to 12 am.
This is what a blood moon looks like from a moving car. Hold your applause until the end please.
While that part certainly wasn't the highlight, it meant unexpected detours and exciting new discoveries! First up, Armenian food in St. Catherine's. It was Vaughan-tastic.
If anyone could give me a definition of "Vaugh-Tastic". that would be enlightening.
You know what else was awesome? Meeting another vegan in there who directed us to a vegan bakery RIGHT DOWN THE STREET. Ah! I haven't had a donut since March 9th!
Not that I'm keeping track or anything. So after doing my happiness dance in a crowded restaurant and purchasing what was probably a month's worth of sugar intake-this is what I got to eat!
Then it was border crossing time. Just like every time I cross the border, I learned yet another lesson. Previous lessons include: Inappropriate jokes are not appreciated, always have American cash on you and what *not* to say if you don't want your car to be searched. Today, it was " K.I.S.S". When asked how we all know each other, I answered "I was the catalyst that introductory everyone". Hold up. "Catalyst?" And then I panicked. Was this one of the car searching words? Had I used it incorrectly and now had to bear my shame in a car full of strangers? Nope, he just didn't know what I was talking about. So he asked us about previous drug conviction/arrests, and says to me "what about you Catalyst". *facepalm*  After we were over the border, it was straight on till morning. This year I was way more prepared and got up my tent by myself, faster than anyone in my group (though I'm pretty sure they didn't realize they were part of a tent assembly competition). This is what happened last year: Hoe Down 2011. I didn't win outdoorswoman of the year for that one. I didn't to keep my title for very long this year either though, as this still happened on the last day.
Tent Fail 2.0
I had a really hard time settling to sleep that night knowing how much excitement was just around the corner. Saturday morning, I immediately met who would turn out to be my conjoined twin for the rest of Hoe Down. Danielle, who is  the coordinator at Our Hen House (Indie Media Powerhouse winner  for 2011, no big deal). The first thing I noticed were these:
And then this: Which is that she's the funniest person ever. The following is taken five minutes after we met, right after she did an impression of her cat falling into a toilet. It was brilliant.
Danielle was just one of the first of many incredible people I met at Hoe Down. She let her famous rub off on me, and then we rubbed up on some even more famous people. Such as Elizabeth Kusinich. No big deal. And by no big deal I mean huge freakin deal. Squeal!
Right around this time was lunch. This year's food was absolutely incredible. It was like they read my mind-When the question is food, my answer is always yes. I was never hungry, which is crazy because I always am.
Clockwise from the top: Buffalo tofu (Which was too spicy for some people. To those people, you have a year to work on being more awesome.), fresh bread, cranberry oatmeal cookie, black bean salad (which was incredible), quinoa and kale salad. After this, we heard the most incredible tales of rescue and survival from the staff of Farm Sanctuary (In particular from the amazing Susie Coston). This is always the most joyful and most heart wrenching time at Hoe Down. It's amazing to meet these animals that have survived things we can't even really imagine, but impossible to forget that millions upon millions each year still have to endure it. Now without further introduction....GOATS!
And then....
You know what's cute? Goats. And do you know what else is cute? Their little squishy neck things.
This adorable goat with a prosthetic leg is Juniper. She was rescued from neglect, but not before she lost her ears and leg. Sad story with a happy ending-she gets to live at Farm Sanctuary!
We had so much fun playing with the goats that we may or may not have done something close to a goat-human metamorphoses.
After goats, it's was time to "chicken our faces off".
Chickens get a bad wrap, but it turns out they are pretty cool. These little chickies were rescued from a free range egg farm, you'll notice their weird beaks-that was where the sensitive ends were painfully removed so they wouldn't peck each other in their cramped quarters. Anther sad story turned happy! And they tried to eat my shorts. Oh you chickens! Quit being adorable! Next up, pigs!! Squeal! Their ears feel like velvet *sigh*.
As if gallivanting with goats, pigs and chickens isn't enough for the perfect day, I got to meet Terry Hope Romero-who has written and co written my favorite cookbooks and is the reason I'm such hot stuff in the kitchen. I got to learn how to make Caramel Coconut Flan and then meet her! Ah. Best day ever!
If you're wondering why I look so sweaty it's because it was a million degrees. That and I'm a hot sweaty mess.
After Terry's cooking demo, it was time for more awesome presenters. Next up was John Pierre, who is a plant based nutrition expert and personal trainer to celebrities like Ellen Degeneres and Joaquin Phoenix. His knowledge on the topic blew my mind-this guy is amazing! It really resonated with me, despite the fact that this is what we ate during his talk.
In my defense, the store was right behind where I was sitting, aaaand I never get these kind of specialty vegan treats where I live. Don't judge me. After a hard afternoon of listening and junking out, it was cocktail hour baby! This was one of my highlights from last year because of free wine,
I like the hand in the picture. It says "I can't wait the two seconds needed for pictures. Give me free wine fool!"
Free food, free fiddle and (free) new and old friends! Also, numerous ridiculous photo taking opportunities.
Well done ladies. Nailed it!
   Despite the fact that we were still stuffed from vegan crabcakes with chipotle mayo that we may or may not have stalked waiters for, dinner was served!
Oh baby-it was incredible! It was followed in the way that all meals should be, with a perfect ten peanut butter chocolate brownie.
Get in my face!
Although very little can surpass brownies in awesomeness, something did. Faux mustaches! They were given by as a promotion by the company that provided dinner (Faux mustaches for faux meat-so clever!) You know what mustaches mean. First, hilarity will ensue. Second, I'm about to be the happiest girl in the world. I *LOVE* me some mustaches! It's like a wig, minus the itchy but plus some gender confusion. It messes with people's mind's and I like it.
Someone is gangsta and someone is a 70s cop. An unlikely pair.
 Things only went uphill from there (as events with open bars tend to). The people barn you see behind us turned first into a barn dance with a caller and fiddlers, and second into a nightclub! After so much fun that it should be illegal, it was campfire and Ukulele sing along! This time I'm not joking. Best.Day.Ever!
And then 7 am came. First with a rooster and then with a raging wine headache. At this point I remembered promising John Pierre and many others that I would be at 8 am bootcamp. Nice foresight Christina. If I could sum up the experience in one word, it would be this:
After a breakfast that I'm sure was delicious tasted like ash, it was time to let petting animals make everything better!
Hey baaaaa-by, come here often?
 Sheep are awesome for lots of reasons, but I like to think of them as the players of the farm yard.
Let me help you with that.
These guys crack me up! We saved the cows for last, because they moo and because they are the cutest!
"So that's when she said..."
What a spectacular adventure this year's Hoe Down has been. New friends (animal and human), new information to reflect on and share, new insights and a renewed sense of self. To sum it up very simply, it was life changing. If you have the chance and want to go somewhere that will a light fire in your soul, see you next year.  Look for the girl with a mustache going for seconds on dessert.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Garden Party of my dreams

Since being a single mother with a business, two jobs (one part time and one full time), in the last stage of training to be a group exercises instructor, two serious volunteer commitments and a busy social life isn't enough-I've decided to follow my passion and become a whole foods plant based lifestyle coach. Because I clearly can't decide on one thing, it will encompass catering, workshops, cooking lessons, and a 30 day whole foods lifestyle makeover program. I'm currently in the beginning stages, figuring out exactly what I'm offering and exactly what it's worth-but it's a go! I have four lovely women already started on the lifestyle challenge; 30 days of whole, delicious plant based food where I'll show them the what, why and how while providing coaching and most likely shenanigans along the way. If you're looking for serious, I'm not going to be your best bet.
My program can be adapted to show more or less leg depending on your comfort level.
I also launched the catering part with a super fun garden party. For reasons unknown(until now), I have been randomly purchasing from garage sales/second hand stores/estate sales lots of fancy china, silverware and crystal serving wear for years. FINALLY, I can do something with all this useless clutter and justify my hoarding. First up, costumes were mandatory. When I say garden party, you best show up in something fancy! And they did!
Oh this old thing?
And then there was food!
I tend to go a little overboard, so our menu for today was:

Creamy Pesto Finger Sandwiches
Cherry Pecan Chocolate Chip Cookies
Coconut Lemon Blueberry Bundt Cake
Chocolate Brownie with Peanut Butter Icing
Community Garden Tomatoes
Iced Coffee
Iced Chai Tea
Iced Herbal Tea
Organic Lemonade

The pesto sandwiches were the clear hit of the party, which is crazy because they were made with raw vegetables while the other things were made of sugary goodness. That almost never happens. To make them, start by making this pesto: Cilantro Basil Pesto from Veganomicon. For mucho delicious flavour, buy your herbs and veggies at a farmer's market or get them out of your garden the morning of. Mix equal parts pesto with vegan mayo. Take slices of bread, and carefully remove the crusts. If you're like me, make a friend do the grunt work (thanks Courtney, who put up with my anal retentiveness in the kitchen and even met my unrealistic food standards for beauty).Cut each slice in half. Spread liberally with the pesto mayo mixture. Top with seasonal veggies- for us it was super thin cut zucchini, squash, tomatoes, dill and chives. Ta da!

Courtney gets a photo shout out for being the perfect sous chef! Nice sandwiches baby!

Next up, garden party fun! We played Bocce ball like it was our job! For 20 minutes.

That's it, I wish you were there-we had a blast! If you'd like me to bring the party to your next one, I'm now available for hire (though not sexually as that might imply).

Another epic fail for my collection

With no further introduction,  here's how I messed up this time. I inherited a bunch of containers from a friend when her mother in law moved into a retirement home. Many of them had free dry goods in them-woot! So I lovingly emptied my ugly bulk bags into these shiny canisters and stacked them into the pantry of my dreams. Fast forward to this particular evening when my dinner guest Courtney and I decided to make chocolate crinkle cookies for dessert. Before tonight, these crinkle cookies have pretty much been my ace in the hole. While we were making them, it was taking an alarmingly long time for them to thicken. We just kept adding more and more flour with no change. So we called it and started rolling them in sugar. But first the taste test. TEETH PAIN! That was no flour, it was icing sugar! *Facepalm* They were so sweet you could get a cavity from looking at them in a mirror. We tried to bake them anyways as I hate wasting efforts/food. To try to save them, we put large globs of organic peanut butter in the middle. Turns out that didn't save them, it just wasted more food.
Cookies that look like nipples and tastes like regret.
In the end, all we got was cards and dinner which turns out isn't that bad a deal.
If you'd like to give these usually delicious, but one time epic fail cookies a go, here is the recipe. Chocolate Crinkle Cookies from Vegan Cookies Take Over the World. Check out this girl's apron. Must. Have.

Friday, July 13, 2012

How to get drunk on dinner: Gigantic spiked fruit salad in a whale.

Ah, this is my favorite day of the month! Vegan potluck day with the Kingston Vegetarian Network! The second Wednesday of every month means tons of food, a chance to show off cooking skills to an adoring crowd and hanging out with my people. Plus our great location is in a gorgeous historic townhome with an eclectic community feel.

On the wall, new quotes! Today's selections:
"Life is easier than you think: All you have to do is accept the iimpossible, do without the indispensable, and bear the intolerable."
"Life is like a party. You join in after it's started and leave before it's finished."
"If you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain."

If you haven't made major life decisions based on advise you get off a wall, then you haven't lived.

This time we ate penne pasta with roasted red peppers, olives, artichokes and sun dried tomatoes, cous cous salad, zucchini chocolate chip muffins and the booziest fruit salad whale you've ever seen.  I've been craving strawberry shortcake like a mother for the past couple weeks. It's just at the end of strawberry season here, but my favorite creme for it (Mimi creme, made with cashews and rainbows) is only available in the States. Waaa. But then this happend! When I asked Sharon what she was bringing, she said "something cute and naughty". WTF? We're talking about food? My best guess was a kitten in lingerie."Close" I'm told. After waiting all day to find out what on earth it could be, this is what turns up: A WHALE. Cut out of a WATERMELON! Soaked in booze!!! Topped with MIMI CREME imported for just this occassion. OMG *love*! When asked for the recipe for this whale, here is what I was given:

Sharon's Boozy Fruit Salad Whale
-Cut watermelon into whale shape.
-Add a container of blueberries, cut strawberries and chopped watermelon innards.
-Pour on raspberry vodka. Lots. And then some more.
-Let sit in the fridge all day, serve with whipped Mimi creme.
Now you get to get drunk and call it dinner. Thanks Sharon.