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

 

 

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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

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.

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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.

Crispy Smashed Potatoes (or, Get in Ma Belly)

Okay. I may have said this before, but I really think that this time I have found THE ONE. The most delicious, most incredible, most perfect food ever known to man. My favourite recipe ever created. The smashed potato.

I could rhapsodize for hours about the potato. It is the one edible on earth that I will eat, no matter how it is prepared, because I have yet to discover a bad way to enjoy potatoes. I’ve been wanting to try smashed potatoes for awhile but just never really remembered when it came to feeding time… usually I just boil up some taters and throw them in a bowl with vegan Becel and some salt. I found a tasty recipe, though, from Oh She Glows (everyone’s favourite vegan chef/blogger!) and had to try it.

You can find the full recipe here. But in brief, all you need are some potatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper, some garlic powder, and parsley (for decoration). Its so easy! Just boil the potatoes (one of the culinary tasks I am actually proficient at) until they are tender, and drain. Once they’ve cooled just a touch, set the potatoes on a baking sheet. Then, with the bottom of a glass (or any firm flat object – a glass worked best for me) press down on each potato just hard enough to pop the skin of the potato and flatten it slightly – it should mostly still hold together though. Then, you top each of the smushed potatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper, and really any other spices you want to throw on there, and then you bake em! They come out all golden and glisten-y and crispy and soft and salty and delicious and oh my goodness get me some now!!!!

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The Oh She Glows recipe goes a few steps further and tops the potatoes with an avocado aioli. Unfortunately, I do not have a food processor, so while I did attempt to make the aioli in my decrepit blender it didn’t exactly turn out. So, I ate the potatoes relatively naked and used my avocado mixture as a sandwich spread for lunch the next day.

To go with the tasty morsels above, I pan-friend an Yves Chick’n Burger patty and made myself a faux chicken burger with Veganaise and lettuce. SO GOOD. SO satisfying. Being vegan is easy!

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The Clever Rabbit

One of the goals I’ve made for myself for this new year is to invest my money in local restaurants, and to eat only at places that offer vegan options. I cannot change the world, but I can make decisions in my own life that better align with the world I would like to see. An excellent Edmonton restaurant that offers a fully vegan and vegetarian menu is The Clever Rabbit, on 124th street and 107the avenue. I wrote about the eatery for an animal rights newsletter awhile back and upon returning for my second visit I was pleased to find the only thing that had changed was that the place was even more homey and charming than before.

On my first visit to the Clever Rabbit I enjoyed the lentil loaf (which was delicious) and had to fight the urge to get it again; instead, I chose to try the curried lentils with rice. As my side I went with the insanely good homemade tortilla chips and salsa. The curry… let me be honest here… was perfect. I was in heaven after the first bite. I wasn’t so much a fan of the rice (hidden under the curry in the picture below) so after I had demolished the vegetable/chickpea/lentil mixture I used my leftover appetite for the chips.

curry

I strongly recommend this restaurant. It is run by excellent folk, the food is tasty, and the atmosphere welcoming. There is also an almost sinful dessert counter which, while off limits to me right now after a holiday season spent overindulging, will be my first stop on my next visit. Full of cupcakes, nanaimo bars, giant cookies, and donuts – ALL VEGAN, the sweet spread held so much temptation I could barely get myself out of the restaurant empty-handed.

For more information on The Clever Rabbit, you can visit their website here or stop in for a meal you won’t regret at 10722 124th street.

2015: An Odyssey?

My goals for the new year are to

live compassionately: as you may have read in another of my posts, 2014 was a year of transition for me. I am happy to have called myself a transitioning vegan for the past twelve months, and for doing the learning and growing that I’ve done. Thanks to some amazing resources and unshakable support I achieved more than I thought possible. But I’ll admit I used the status of ‘transitional vegan’ as a bit of a scapegoat for those many times that I fell off the wagon. No more messing around, though. 2015 is the year I commit fully (or as close to 100% as I can manage) to eating and living vegan.

eat (and enjoy) one salad a day: I HATE salad, and could never last on a raw food diet. But, salads and raw vegetables are amazing for the body, so this is my concession – one salad a day. Ugh. Here is my first salad of the year (literally, I made it and ate it the afternoon of January 1st 2015). Baby kale, butter lettuce, shredded carrot, cubed tomato, mushrooms, hemp hearts, chia seeds, and raisins (thank heavens for raisins), and then just a touch of low-cal Catalina dressing. New Years Salad
save 10% of my earnings: this was a tip given to me by my grade 8/9 language arts teacher and its about damn time I listened to him, and others who state the same.

invest in local and/or vegan businesses: this year I am going to do my small part in encouraging positive change by letting the way I spend my money help determine the kinds of businesses that succeed. I am going to choose cruelty-free businesses over any other options, whenever possible. To help – Cruelty-Cutter, an amazing app developed by the Beagle Freedom Project.

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Then, with any extra money I may have left over at the end of paying all my bills every month, I am going to support vegan businesses. In the past I’ve invested in two Kickstarters for vegan products and am so excited to be starting off 2015 by supporting the Kickstarter for Laika, a vegan magazine that I wrote more about here. There is still time to back them!

You know, I used to think of a New Year’s Resolution as a promise I would inevitably fail to keep. Every January 1st was the same – “I want to lose weight.” I never would. Then, for a few years, there were no resolutions at all, just as an effort to stave off another excuse to disappoint myself. This year I feel confident in my goals, and its because I’m not just thinking about myself this time. I’ve resolved to live a better life in order to make a better world, and I know that every step forward is one more small success.

I hope that whether you’ve set one goal, or a stack of them, you achieve whatever your heart desires in this brand new year.