Vegetable Rice Bake (Or, The Oven is Not Just for Making Cookies)

So, I’ve been absent from the blog for a little while; I sincerely hope I haven’t lost any regular readers. You know that saying, life gets in the way of life? Well, that’s how things go. One good thing to come out of the last couple of months is my new favourite lunchtime, freezable and keep-for-later-able, meal. I looked everywhere and I could not find the original recipe that I based this veggie rice bake on so my apologies, but it is such an adaptable collection of ingredients and techniques found in a zillion different rice casserole recipes that I don’t feel like I’m stealing from any one person.

The vegetables, which make up the majority of the dish, can pretty much be whatever veggies you have available at hand. I diced an onion, five stalks of celery, a green pepper, and a red pepper, and sautéed them for a few minutes in olive oil.vegThen I threw in as many fresh sliced mushrooms as I could fit in the skillet. Mushrooms mushrooms mushrooms!!!

shroomsOnce everything was soft and slightly glistening I added a cup of rice and browned it just a bit. Then, I transferred the whole jumble into a glass baking dish, and added about two and a half/three cups of water (I just eyeballed it). I also threw in some salt and pepper, a shake of red pepper flakes, and some basil, but you could literally put any spices you wanted in – it’s all a matter of taste! After stirring things up a bit to make sure everything was moistened and the spices were evenly distributed, I covered the dish with a sheet of tin foil and then popped it in the oven at 350 degrees for just a touch over an hour.

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The result was a tasty, hearty, damn good meal. I pan-fried some tempeh strips and put a few in each of my lunch containers along with the rice, just to get a little more protein in there. So, so, so good. It’s all I’ve been eating!

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Vegan Chocolate Banana Bread (or, Life is Beautiful)

One of my clearest memories of spending time with my mother when I was a little girl is sitting at the kitchen table with what (at the time) seemed like a gigantic silver bowl, a sturdy fork, and a pile of bananas that needed mushing. While my mom puttered around the kitchen taking care of a hundred other things that needed doing, I would sit there and press the tines of that fork into chunk after chunk of over-ripe banana, as gleeful as if I’d just been given a hundred quarters and dropped in the middle of an arcade. Finally, my mom would have to take the fork away from me before a) the bananas were turned entirely into soup and b) the table was covered by any more flecks of banana flesh that had spattered across its surface due to my over-exuberance. My mom would turn my handiwork into a delicious loaf of banana bread using a classic recipe from the Joy of Cooking cookbook her sister Karen had given to her as a wedding gift in 1980. That Joy of Cooking was a staple in our kitchen as I was growing up, and after, and when my mom passed away in 2012 it was the one possession of hers that I was almost desperate to make sure I reclaimed.

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Now that I’ve gone vegan, the Joy of Cooking recipe for banana bread is off limits. Sure, I could try to adapt it on my own but I am not experienced enough in the kitchen to try that level of master cookery. Instead, I kept my eye out on the internet for a simple but tasty-looking recipe to try. Thank heavens for One Green Planet, whose Green Monster newsletter dropped the perfect recipe right into my inbox! The recipe (and the picture just below) is from the vegan maestro at iheartcrapkitchen.com, and be warned – visiting her site is like going down a rabbit hole of ridiculously tempting vegan yumminess!  My tummy still won’t stop growling.

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You can view the recipe as I first saw it in its entirety here on the One Green Planet site. I only made a couple of alterations. Firstly, I used plain all-purpose flour. Then, I did not include the desiccated coconut that the original recipe calls for, simply because I did not have any in my kitchen at the time I fancied baking this up. And lastly, as you can see from the pictures, I opted out of making the chocolate ganache. Instead, I simply sprinkled vegan chocolate chips across the top of the banana bread, and I found that just doing that made the banana bread extra chocolate-y enough for me! Just a note: I found the cooking time was spot on – I kept my bread in for the full fifty minutes and it turned out perfectly. And, using a little vegan Becel to coat the loaf pan before pouring the batter in allowed the bread to slide perfectly out after I’d let it cool down completely.

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After cutting off and savouring an end piece just to ensure quality control I brought the rest of the banana bread loaf to work for a snack day in honor of a couple of departing staff. It is the first time I actually brought something homemade, and boy was I proud of myself. While I didn’t announce to all that it was vegan, I was happy to have brought something that a couple of my coworkers who have specific dietary restrictions could eat and enjoy. And the reviews from the omnis that were present? “Yum!!!” bb

 

 

Laughs For Lives Fundrasier (or, For the Voiceless)

When listening to an advocate speak with passion and conviction about animal rights, it is impossible for me to remain dry-eyed. I have always been emotional, but there is something inimitably poignant about the fight for the freedom of animals; it is this ‘something’ that has resonated with me to such an extent that I have been moved to go vegan and to live the most compassionate life I possibly can. When Melissa, the surprisingly young founder and chief caregiver behind Farm Animal Rescue and Rehoming Movement, first took the stage to speak at the FARRM Laughs for Lives fundraiser last Friday March 20th, her voice shook with palpable emotion. Yes, some of it may have been the nervousness of speaking in front of a very full house. However, as she moved through the lines on the piece of paper she held, it was obvious to all in attendance that the words this young woman was speaking were not just from her heart, but pulled from the ethers, from the voiceless plight of the animals she battles on behalf of. By the time Melissa was finished her speech, I was not the only one wiping tears from my cheeks; even the most stoic spectator was touched.

When it comes to veganism it is very easy to get caught up in the more palatable concerns of the movement. We like to talk about what to eat, what recipes we should try, what vegan substitutes are available to satisfy any lingering omnivorous cravings. It can be easier than it should be to forget about the true root of veganism, which is the abstention from non-vegan products and materials as a form of activism in defence of the billions of animals brutally slaughtered for human consumption every year. Yes, there were long banquet tables laden with delicious vegan foods to savour at the fundraiser on Friday. There was fantastic music and comedy to help us all relax and enjoy ourselves after a long workweek. A cash bar was also available for those wishing to indulge in Friday night drinks. But, it was Melissa’s impassioned calls for mercy and compassion towards all living creatures that continue, days later, to echo in the chambers of my heart. Those selfless and full-of-heart people like Melissa who work so tirelessly to protect the vulnerable inspire me, and I am so thankful for them.

Simple Fruit Smoothie (Or, It’s Pretty Easy Being Green)

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I wouldn’t exactly call this a recipe… more like the throwing of various yummy things into a blender together just to see what might happen. It turned out tasty, though, so I thought I would share :) This is my easy Friday morning smoothie.

1 heaping cup chopped kale (no such thing as too much)
2 ripe bananas
1 cup frozen raspberries
1 cup frozen strawberries
1.5 cups pineapple juice
¼ cup almond milk
1 tbsp. of agave nectar

Optional: 3 tsp of chia seeds

Peel kale leaves from their stalks; either rip or chop the leaves into smaller pieces. Put all ingredients into blender. Blend, starting on lowest setting and then gradually increasing speed, until you have a beautifully smooth concoction. This makes enough for two big smoothies, so save half in a mason jar for the next day and enjoy the other one instantly!

Just a note: I add 3 tsp of chia seeds, but that might be too much crunch for you when combined with the raspberries. I just like to add the extra protein.

Approximate Nutritional Info Per Serving

Calories: 325
Fat: 8.4g
Protein: 4.85g
Carbs: 77.1g

My First Giveaway! (or, What’s Mine Is Yours!)

As some of you may or may not know, I started my very own Seed page on Facebook in order to better interact with others of the veggie community. To celebrate the people who take time out of their busy days to make compassionate choices, to live mindfully, AND to read my ramblings, I am having my very first giveaway. To be entered in the draw, all you need to do is like Seed on Facebook before March 30th, 2015 – its that easy!

Now for the good part – the prize!

rescuechoc1I came across Rescue Chocolate several months ago and knew that they would be a fantastic company to support. Not only do they donate all their profits to charity, they make VEGAN CHOCOLATE. Yes, please! So, my first giveaway will be for the 4 Paw Collection of Rescue Chocolates, wrapped all nice with a pretty red bow. Rescue Chocolate
As per the Rescue Chocolate website, “Our delectable hearts, bonbons, and organic chocolate bars are all vegan-friendly, kosher, and handcrafted in Brooklyn.” Sounds pretty darn good to me. And again, all you need to do is like Seed on Facebook before March 30th and your name will be entered in the draw, which will take place March 31st.

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Food Prep (or, To Err is Human, to Prep, Divine)

There is no such thing as perfection (sorry, Kanye), especially when it comes to regular folk making their way through the world. Look at me for example. Sure, I have a few selling points when it comes to my personality (I’m cute, I’m sweet, I’m good at celebrity trivia), but it is the nature of my species to be flawed, and when it comes to flaws, I’m no different than anyone else. Yes, I cry too much during romantic movies; and okay, I do sometimes think my taste in books (and music, and TV) is superior to that of others; no, I don’t want to share my popcorn with ANYONE when I’m at the movies; and fine, I admit it… I’m lazy.

I consider laziness my most troublesome fault, mainly because in all my encounters with people who are living a healthy, vibrant, vegan lifestyle – the kind of people I long to emulate –  I found these individuals to be highly motivated ‘doers’ who put as much time into their own well being as they do into all other areas of life. One of the places where successful, trim, and energetic people take extra time in their own lives is with the food that they eat. Food, as we’re coming to understand more and more these days, is a game-changer when it comes to our health and wellness. What we consume does more than just satisfy cravings or curb hunger pangs – it affects how our body feels and how it functions, from the tips of our toes to the roots of our hair.

This is where food prep(aration) comes in handy when striving to live a healthful life. Ultimately, food prep allows a person to do as much advanced meal preparation as possible when they have the free time to commit to it so that during the week, when most of us are exhausted by work and family and commitments, there are healthy meal options available that involve little to no energy to get from fridge to table. In the past I have allowed my previous lack of forethought and planning to result in many an unwise food choice, made on a stressful day, when its half past six and I have a desperately empty stomach. This is why the importance of food prep cannot be understated. While I’m sure there are others who can put all this more eloquently, here is my own simple approach:

First, I look at a LOT of recipes. I love recipes. I hoard recipes. I keep a digital folder of yummy-sounding dishes on my computer, and I also collect cookbooks and veggie magazine (like Laika). Then, on the weekend – usually Saturday afternoons – I peruse my collection, flip through the flagged pages of my various sources, and pick out a handful or two of recipes that I either want to try, or have tried before and want to make again.

Next, I whittle my options down by asking myself the following questions:

* what ingredients does the recipe call for that I already have
* what ingredients will I need to purchase
* how much do I have budgeted to spend on groceries for the coming week
* how easy to store/freeze are the recipes
* and lastly, how adventurous do I feel?

Best case scenario, I end up with a few good meal choices that I know I can afford, that I am confident I will enjoy, and that I trust to be nutritionally sound. These foods I decide to make will be in batches large enough to portion out, with half going into the ice box for longevity. A few simple entrees that are easily pulled out of the freezer can be mixed and matched with other easy meals like toasted sandwiches, tossed salads, and quick foods like oatmeal and veggie burgers, to keep your diet varied and appetizing.

Then, I make my grocery list and do the shopping. This step involves getting up off the couch, so its not exactly my favourite part. Don’t forget – it is important to check the contents of your refrigerator and pantry cupboards regularly – not just to get rid of any funky smells or ancient dried goods, but to see what you have, what you can use, and what you need. You might be able to cut a few things off of your grocery list if you find suitable substitutes already in stock. Fortunately, the grocery shopping itself is much more fun that cataloging the contents of one’s kitchen.

groceries

Sundays are usually my cooking day. I take over the kitchen, occupying every square inch of counter space I have, and group my supplies by recipe. I’m no pro at cooking, so when I actually get to preparing my meals, its pretty much guaranteed that a mess will be made.  But that’s okay – its my space, right? And at the end of all the washing, rinsing, cutting, dicing, peeling, simmering, sauteing, and baking, what is a pile of dishes and a dirty counter compared to a ready supply of nutritious meals for the week?

Now, obviously, I’m no expert. I’m just taking things day by day and doing my very best. But, I’ve been finding a lot of success with my eating and diet now that I’ve started paying more attention to fixing and preparing good, hearty foods for meal time, and by doing so in advance..

What are some of your favourite make-ahead meals?

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Book Review: Eating Animals

About five years ago I picked up a discounted hardcover copy of Jonathan Safran Foer’s nonfiction book, Eating Animals. I never did end up reading it – I kept putting it off until it was eventually purged in one of my many moves. But, the existence of the book stuck with me, and when I re-committed to living vegan it was the first veggie non-cookbook I picked up. To say that Eating Animals has changed my life would be a bit dramatic. I’ve been obsessed with the injustices of the factory farm industry for the last year, so there was little in the nearly-300 hundred pages that fully shocked me. What this book did, though, was educate me on a system of cruelty in the most intelligent and thought-provoking way.

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If you’re coming into veganism or vegetarianism motivated more by health concerns that anything, you might not know exactly what factory farming is. If you’re an animal lover, but an omnivore, you might have an idea of where your food comes from, but prefer not to think about it. If you’re already an ethical vegan or vegetarian, you might not know the statistics that Jonathan Safran Foer digs up during his research, but you know the gist. Well, this book is for all of us. No matter what your stance on eating meat, you will find words in this book that resonate with you.

Safran Foer does the unthinkable – he, while himself a vegetarian – shares the wealth of information he has accumulated over a three year period with a mostly-unbiased, kindly and entirely human perspective on our own species’ strengths and our faults. He speaks at length on the importance of food to our culture, to our traditions, and the role food plays in evoking and preserving precious memories of the past.

“Our decisions about food are complicated by the fact that we don’t eat alone. Table fellowship has forged social bonds as far back as the archaeological record allows us to look. Food, family, and memory are primordially linked. We are not merely animals that eat, but eating animals.” (page 194)

The author understands that choosing not to eat meat, while being the ethically sound choice when confronted by the nightmarish magnitude of the damage that factory farms are causing to our planet and to the billions of animals slaughtered in its wake, is not as simple as some vegan idealists might like everyone to think. And that is something that I can relate to.

I did not stop eating meat because I didn’t like the taste. Trust me. I’m not one of the lucky ones who is revolted by the smell of a steak barbecuing, the aroma of fatty pork sizzling on the stove, or the scent of a perfectly seared salmon steak. But, I am fully conscious. I am awake to the reality of where those foods came from. I cannot divorce myself from the truth – that the chunks of chicken in my favorite chicken salad sandwich are the bodily remnants of a living, breathing creature. She had a beating heart. She had the ability to experience joy. The desires of my taste buds are not worth the knowledge that I am responsible for her death.

Eating Animals is an incredible read. I am so impressed with Jonathan Safran Foer’s ability to craft a treatise that does not alienate anyone, regardless of where they stand on living meat-free. He even goes so far as to advocate for traditional heritage farming, if only as an alternative to factory farming.

I would recommend this book to absolutely everyone, and will endeavor to share it with whomever will listen as I continue on my vegan journey.