Wednesday, August 29, 2012



I could probably name this summer the season of no-cooking but one dish I've made over and over again is based on a recipe by Mark Reinfeld from his book Vegan Fusion World Cuisine.  After a few changes and additions, I feel comfortable sharing my version here.  For comfort, I eat this in the morning on toast and when I'm feeling super healthy, I eat it in a lettuce wrap or served on top of greens and tomatoes.  Any way, it's delicious!   Before I went vegan, I used to love egg-salad sandwiches and this definitely satisfies my cravings in that direction. 

1 block firm or extra firm tofu
1 stalk celery diced
1 carrot grated
1/3 cup sweet or dill pickles diced (I often use both)
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon or stone ground mustard
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 teaspoons dried dill or 2 tablespoons fresh
sea salt to taste
black pepper, ground to taste
1/2 cup vegan mayonaise

Crumble tofu into a medium sized bowl.  Add remaining ingredients and mix.  Refrigerate for at least half an hour (or eat it immediately if you can't wait). 

I always make my own vegan mayo.  It's super fast and simple.  Add 1/2 cup of olive or safflower oil to the blender along with 1/4 soy milk, approximately 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a small dash of maple syrup or other sweetener, salt and pepper.  Blend until smooth.  While the blender is still running, add either 2 teaspoons lemon juice or apple cider vinegar.  The mix should firm up immediately.  This should be the perfect amount for the tofu salad above.  I like the dressing a little bit sweet so the amount of sweetener is up to you, go ahead and experiment.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Be an Ele-friend - Baby steps to Animal Activism

The budding animal activist handing out "Ele-friend" animal stickers

Last week, my husband, my six year old daughter and I, along with approximately 50 other people, participated in a protest against the Shrine Circus in our community.  As I stood on the sidewalk outside the venue with my sign, I watched in wonder as as my child fearlessly approached families up and down the line, asking if they would like a colouring book, sticker or leaflet.  We gathered about 2 hours before the show in order to discourage those coming to buy last minute tickets.  The crowd began to swell and as the ticket holders waited in line at the entrance, my daughter stood front and centre, imploring families not to see the circus.  I was amazed at her fearlessness.          

Our friend Chris painting the cruel realities of the Circus

Witnessing her spirit, as yet un-crushed and unafraid, inspires tremendous courage in my heart to continue living the best possible life.  A life that is grounded in values of non-violence towards all living beings.  I can't think of a better way to set an example than to do what we did that night.  I'm saying, as someone who truly loves to indulge myself in pleasure, not only is it possible to make choices that create a healthy, full and joyous life without inflicting cruelty on other beings of all species, shapes and sizes, but the act of doing so, creates peace in my heart.  The fact that eating a vegan diet has improved my health in various ways is almost irrelevant.  Since the veil of denial was lifted about the purposeful, systematic, torture and killing of other sentient creatures for profit, no pleasure remains in consuming foods, products or entertainment that have been produced as a direct result of the suffering of any animal, human or non-human. 

My friend Coleen and I.
During the protest, we lined the sidewalk in front of Copps Coliseum and were confronted with the anger, guilt, apathy, discomfort and occasional sadness of those attending the evening's "entertainment".  It was a new and fascinating experience. I noticed a full range of reactions from those protesting too.  Some were calm, engaging and smiling while others could barely contain their emotions when verbal abuse was hurled at them by the uninformed (m)asses.  I understand the passion and the frustration. I was just happy to be there standing and speaking for those magnificent beings who were chained up in hot trucks in the underground parking garage of the facility.  Those beautiful creatures who had no say in what was being done to them or how their lives were being used and abused for profit.  

Some of us stayed until the very end.  I met a lovely mom from Niagara Falls who was there with her daughter as well.  She held a great sign that said "Ask your parents what the bullhooks are for".  I noticed many of the children reading the sign.  One of the protesters had actually brought two of these bullhooks obtained at an Elephant training facility in Thailand.  I touched one and was horrified.  These extremely sharp hooks are used on sensitive parts of elephant's bodies (mouth, eyes, ears, anus) where the skin is thin, to control their movements.   

As families began to filter out of the auditorium, many of them early, one mother approached me and said thank-you.  She said she was unaware there were animals involved when she bought the tickets and would never go back again.  I got goosebumps, I was thrilled that being there had made a difference.  

I had been nervous about even taking my daughter to this event, but now I see that to conquer my own fear all I have to do is watch my daughter and follow her lead. 

The budding activist

Inspiring protesters of all ages!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

I Have A Guilty Secret

A pair of not-so-secret pasta addicts

I have a guilty secret.  Since my decision to eat a 100% plant based diet a few years ago, I have stubbornly held on to a few, not so healthy, comfort foods.   At the top of my no-no list is sugar, next comes wheat products, especially pasta and toast and last but not least, I have a fondness for white rice.  I have done a decent job wrangling the sugar issue and it now only makes an occasional appearance.  The next big issue I'll be tackling is the processed wheat products but I'll leave that for a later discussion.

About four weeks ago, I started using an online tool which has helped motivate me towards my health goals.  It's a comprehensive online food and exercise journal called My Fitness Pal.  I've used journaling in the past to keep track of my daily food intake and found it extremely effective in helping me lose weight as well as making me aware of exactly what I'm feeding my body.   I've noticed a tendency in myself towards denial, in terms of the quantity and quality of food I'm eating and the daily diary in, (if you don't cheat yourself), makes that nearly impossible.  When I saw how many calories my beloved pasta and toast used of my daily allowance, I began measuring out smaller portions and cutting back on those foods.  (I'm now even considering using brown rice! - few calories and healthier)      

After inputting your weight, height, age, activity levels and other details, the program calculates how many calories you should be eating per day based on your weight loss goals.

There is an extensive database of foods and it may take a bit of practice finding the exact foods and amounts you have eaten but I think it's worth the effort to get it right.  After inputting your meals for a few days, it becomes much simpler because your history is saved and most people eat the same foods over and over again.  There is also a section to input your own recipes and it will calculate the calories, fat, protein and carbs per serving.  If you're interested in tracking other nutrients like sodium, calcium, iron, vitamins etc., that's also possible.

There is a section to track your cardiovascular exercise and strength training.  On the days you put in a good workout, it's great to know exactly how many extra calories you can eat without going overboard.

Your profile can be completely private or you can have a cheering section which is nice.  Your friends might see an update in their feed like this; "Lee has completed her food and exercise diary for today and was under her calorie goal!"  The site is completely free.  You can generate progress reports for weight, fitness and nutrition on a weekly or monthly basis.  I like looking at graphs of my progress in different areas.

After a long conversation with my friend Patty today, I decided to post about this tool, in case it would be of use to others.   (Pssssst Chris, I hear you're looking to take action!)   My user name on the site is leekaiken, join me there and I'll cheer you on!   And maybe somebody can teach me how to like brown rice.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Batch of Bird's Nests

Yarn for the birdies

In my mixing bowl today, you will see something a little different.  Yarn!  I was reading nature artist Paula Kuitenbrouwer's lovely blog - Mindful Drawing this morning, and saw something I wanted to try immediately.
A feeder filled with nesting materials for the birds.  Paula tells me she sourced the idea from another blog called fibre farm and here is the original post.

Our bird feeder is constantly empty because the squirrels tip it out in order to reach the sunflower seeds.  I no longer fill it, but instead derive great pleasure throwing a cupful of bird feed out the door, onto the deck each morning.  Watching the Mourning Doves eat and nap in the afternoon sunshine while I putter around the kitchen brings me such a sense of peace.  And, I'm happy to have found another use for the feeder, which was a mother's day gift last year.

Yarn Feeder
My daughter and I fun cutting up yarn scraps and filling the feeder.  While in the backyard, I decided to sacrifice a few of the daffodils and forsythia to enjoy inside, before all the blooms disappear and the rest of the garden comes to life.

Enjoying the backyard Daffodils and Forsythia before they're gone.
Happy spring everyone!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Comforting Supper - More Magical Loaf

Totally Delicious Loaf

On this nippy, spring afternoon, I was in need of some culinary comfort in the form of a warm, old-fashioned meal.   My daughter and I had fun choosing ingredients for our vegan dinner loaf using the Magical Loaf Studio.  Accompanied by caulipots, easy, vegan gravy and a colorful side of saucy, garlic infused, French green beans, zucchini, tomatoes and peppers, our plates were swimming with love. 

The loaf takes about an hour to bake.  Once you have all the ingredients mixed, shaped in the loaf pan and popped in the oven, you can get to work prepping the rest of your meal starting with the potato-cauliflower mash.  Once the caulipots are bubbling away nicely, your veggies and gravy are a snap.  

I held my breath as Maggie took her first bite and almost jumped for joy when she asked if she could name it "Totally Delicious Loaf".   We celebrate small victories around here and not having to pick up bits of spit-out onion from the floor certainly count as one of them.

Totally Delicious Loaf


1/2 cup pecans
2 TB olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
2 cups cooked garbanzo beans, partly mashed
1 cup dry whole wheat bread crumbs (I used Panko bread crumbs)
1/4 to 1/2 cup vegetable broth, as needed
1 heaping Tablespoon flaxseed meal
1/2 tsp. dried sage
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes
2 Tablespoons ketchup
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350º. Spray a loaf pan or 8x8 square baking pan with nonstick spray and set aside (an 8x8 pan makes a crisper loaf).

Grind the pecans into a coarse meal using a food processor or spice/coffee grinder. Place in a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Sauté any vegetables you've chosen in the olive oil until soft. Add to the large mixing bowl along with all the remaining ingredients. Mix and mash together well, adding only as much liquid as needed to create a soft, moist loaf that holds together and is not runny (you may not need to add any liquid if the grains and protein are very moist).
Add more binder/carbohydrate as needed if the loaf seems too wet.

Press mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until cooked through.

Let the loaf cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then turn out onto a plate or platter and slice. Serve with potatoes, vegetables, and vegetarian gravy, if desired.

Cold leftover slices of make a great sandwich filling.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Mmmm Muffins and Other Random Musings

Hello everyone!  Recipe creation and blogging has slowed down lately in favour of a few other projects.   My sewing machine has taken over the kitchen table and the spring-like weather has me itching to tackle various home improvement projects.  I've been reading the blog Zen Habits and continuing with the de-cluttering process.

Last week my daughter asked me to make some corn muffins.  She likes the President's Choice boxed mix that we used to buy.  I insisted that home-made corn muffins would be just as yummy and surely I could figure out a recipe that would taste just as good, if not better, than something from a box.  I'm not sure if I succeeded in her view, but the muffins didn't last long.  I like to eat them cut in half and smothered in Earth Balance.  This recipe could probably use a little tweaking and I had a slight issue with the cornmeal.  I used Bob's Red Mill - medium grind cornmeal and it was a little too crunchy. Next time I'll use a finer milled cornmeal.

Corn Muffins

Cornmeal Muffins

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup soy milk (or other non-dairy milk)
1/cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Mix flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium sized bowl.  Make a well in the centre and add oil, soy milk and maple syrup.  Stir until just combined.  Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups about 3/4 full.  Bake for approximately 18 to 20 minutes or until toothpick or knife inserted in the centre of a muffin comes out clean

Tonight after dinner I was craving a little treat with my tea.  I flipped through my cookbooks and found a recipe for Cocoa and Raspberry Muffins in Vegan Brunch (which is an excellent cookbook by the way).  It was the perfect choice.  The muffins were not too sweet and the raspberry bits added just the right amount of zing and moistness.

Cocoa Raspberry Muffins

And finally, just for fun, here's a photo of our breakfast (the best way to use left-over mashed potatoes).  These are the only animals that will pass my lips!   Giraffes, hippos, pigs and heart-shaped Fadge.  

Fadge Animals

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Warm Kale and Beet Salad

Warm Kale and Beet Salad

I'm feeling very virtuous today.  After my morning workout, I tried to think of the healthiest possible lunch with the ingredients on hand.  With a pot of cooked beets waiting to be peeled on the stove and a slightly wilted bunch of kale in the fridge, I decided to combine the two into a delicious warm salad.  

Warm Kale and Beet Salad

1/2 bunch of kale (approximately 6-8 cups chopped)
2 cooked beets
4 teaspoons seasoned rice vinegar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon agave nectar (or sweetener of your choice)
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
toasted sesame seeds

Remove the tough stems from the kale and chop into fairly thin strips.  Steam the kale lightly for approximately 2 minutes.  Slice the cooked beets and then cut into matchsticks.  In a small bowl, combine the rice vinegar, soy sauce, agave nectar and sesame oil.  Toss the kale and beets with the dressing and garnish with sesame seeds.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Spiced Roasted Cauliflower

Spiced Roasted Cauliflower

For the last three weeks, I've been playing around with a few of my old favourites in order to reduce the fat content.  I used to be extremely sloppy and generous with the amount of oil I would slosh into the fry pan when stir-frying, but not anymore.  I'm unofficially following the weight watchers points plus system using a little pocket handbook a friend gave me.

In order to motivate myself and to encourage healthier eating habits, I went through the guide and wrote out every zero point food in the back of my journal.  This list includes just about every vegetable and fruit except potatoes and sweet potatoes (I think).  For those of you who know nothing about weight watchers, you can eat as many or as much of the zero point foods in a day as you want, which is pretty awesome if you like fruits and vegetables.  The zero point foods are all nutrient rich and full of fibre rich which makes sense.

Anyways, it's been really interesting planning my meals with the focus on eating as many zero point foods as possible in one day instead of thinking about what I can't eat.  I've noticed a definite increase in my vegetable intake and to satisfy my occasional sweet cravings and replace the refined sugar I've cut from my diet, I now eat a big, juicy, pink grapefruit every day which is so delicious and satisfying.  Yes, really!  It's kind of funny because I consider myself a pure comfort eater and things like cake, pasta, and other refined carbs were always my trigger foods.  I would stuff myself with huge portions and wonder why I wasn't losing weight even though the rest of my diet was fairly healthy and completely plant based.

This is a slightly revamped version of the roasted cauliflower poppers I made last year.  I cut the amount of oil in half and upped the spice quotient.  If you use the vinegar instead of lemon juice, the cauliflower comes out tasting a little bit like dill pickles for some reason.  Quite yummy in different way.  I can easily eat an entire pan of this cauliflower in one sitting and have done so twice in the last two weeks.  I jealously guarded the pan when my husband walked into the kitchen the other day.  I actually hoarded cauliflower!

Spiced Roasted Cauliflower

1 small or 1/2 large head of cauliflower 1
1 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder (or to taste)
1/4 cup of nutritional yeast
Juice from half a lemon or 1/2 teaspoon vinegar
3 tablespoons water

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Whisk together all ingredients (except cauliflower) in a medium sized bowl.  Chop or break the cauliflower into bite-sized pieces.  Toss or mix the cauliflower with the marinade until evenly coated.  Spread the cauliflower onto a baking sheet and bake for 35-40 minutes.

You could probably stir it once half way through but I usually don't bother and it turns out just fine.  I just set the timer and forget about it while I cook the rest of the meal.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Oatmeal with Shredded Apple and Maple Syrup

Oatmeal with Shredded Apple and Maple Syrup

I've been quiet lately.  My meals have been focused and healthy.  I've been playing around with some of my favourite recipes by cutting out excess oil and sugar.   This morning I had a craving for oatmeal but the way I usually eat it, drowning in maple syrup and soy milk, was not going to cut it.  In Canada at this time of year there's not a lot of fresh, seasonal fruit.  Apples are plentiful though!   I decided to grate an entire apple and add it to the oatmeal to satisfy my sweet-tooth.  I couldn't resist a touch of maple syrup and then sprinkled some cinnamon on top.  I'm really happy with my little experiment.  The sweet crunch of the apple added a nice contrast in texture to the oatmeal.

1/2 cup rolled oats
1 to 1 1/4 cups water
1 apple grated
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon (or to taste)
1 tablespoon maple syrup
soymilk or other non-dairy milk to taste

In a small sauce pan, cook the oatmeal in water for about 3 to 5 minutes.   Remove from the heat, stir in the grated apple and top with cinnamon, maple syrup and soymilk if using.   Enjoy your hearty, healthy breakfast!