Staying With the Earth

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Simplifying feels so good. This is almost perfect, and it’s so easy to actually get there. The bulk shop was a 10-minute walk and I chose the convenience of the bagged chick peas and brown rice. The devil of convenience… I know, I know. Everything else is out of a package and in my reusable produce bags. I’m in love with them. I’ve had some of them for years… It seems like they last forever. You can get them from Flip & Tumble for a small price to avoid the garbage of plastic bags.

It’s a shame to bring things into the house that are created literally as garbage, things that hold no purpose other than to create a mild bit of convenience or the illusion of it.

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Chopped zucchini, grape tomatoes and strained tomatoes.

The basil tomato sauce from Pasata is sold in the same jar as this plain one. I thought I was getting the basil jar, but this is okay, too.

I put some things in my basket, then put them back in their place, out of my basket. There’s a passage from a Dr. Buck Levin in my nutrition school book that really resonated with me: “nothing will work except an unbounded kindness on our part for everything natural, a ‘staying with’ the world even when it’s inconvenient and doesn’t pay.” I feel, hope, that by putting these pre-packaged things back, I did a little staying with the earth… The strawberries that come in a plastic crate, the chips, the large carton of coconut milk.

It’s not convenient, it wasn’t. I wanted those things. I wanted milk for my coffee and my muesli and chips to feel good and strawberries to top my chia seed puddings and salads. But the reality of waste in my comfortable Western life, a reality I can’t comprehend on any level and have so much trouble connecting with, is much more inconvenient than choosing a package-free fruit or deciding against a salty, fatty snack.

I am humbled by how little I know and how much the earth blesses me. It gives so much of itself for each of us just to survive. And it gives too much, more than it should, to make the lives of some of us convenient.

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According to this chart, in California (from where Canada imports most of its almonds as it doesn’t have its own commercial almond crops—they just don’t grow here), it takes an estimated 2,126 litres of water to obtain just a single pound of these nuts. You can find the 2011 study here, on waterfootprint.org.

No, forget the almonds, this laptop I  am using to connect to you from my beautiful tiny apartment in the centre of this huge, gorgeous city contains mined metals inside, like gold and tantalum and copper, among others.

I don’t think about gold for what it is. Gold, gold… it’s a word I hear all the time… But gold is the progeny of a gamma ray burst someplace deep in the universe a long time ago. There isn’t much of it here in the earth’s crust, and our planet doesn’t have the capacity to create it. And now it’s powering parts of my laptop.

But don’t ask me which parts just yet.

 

Coconut Milk Milk Chocolate (Vegan)

Happy 4th of July! It was Canada Day long weekend here across the border, and it was so nice to spend time with my family celebrating this beautiful country. I love Canada and feel so fortunate to be here.

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I started my Canada Day, on July 1st, by grabbing a soy matcha latte to go from Starbucks and walking around my neighbourhood. I enjoyed watching the Canada Day parade and eventually ventured to Whole Foods, one of my favourite places to peruse and shop.

I wasn’t looking for anything specific that morning. I was just in a really good mood, and frankly just wanted a break from the humidity outside. As I was wandering down the aisles, I took a break to admire the wall of chocolate bars. Not only is it impressively stocked with brands I have never seen or heard of (endangered species chocolate, anyone?) most seemed to be produced by companies making good—or better—choices and supporting good causes.

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And then my eye caught this Organic Fair coco-milk chocolate bar! While my favourite non-dairy milks are soy and almond, this was still amazing as I am lactose intolerant and dislike the viscosity of dairy milk.

Somehow, industry has caught up to providing nondairy offerings of everything from yogurt to feta cheese to pizza, but it has left chocolate mostly unconquered.

Through the years of occasionally searching, I had found some nondairy chocolate brands online, like Moo Free, but the prices seemed overblown, not to mention added shipping costs to Canada.

In addition to being dairy free, this Organic Fair bar is also refined sugar free (it’s sweetened with coconut sugar), organic, and at least partially made following Fair Trade practices. So I was happy to indulge and support the company, despite the (relatively) steep price tag of $4.39 for a small bar of chocolate.

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The bar itself turned out to be still a bit on the dark side for me, containing 60% cacao. It had a really creamy texture and tasted lightly coconut flavoured. Unlike most dairy milk bars, I found I actually had to chew…the squares didn’t simply melt in my mouth, and I couldn’t quite place the slightly sour aftertaste left on my tongue following each square. Maybe that would not have been an issue if it had been a bit sweeter. It was sweet, but not as much as a candy store dairy milk chocolate bar.

You can find the array of chocolate bars produced by Organic Fair here. They also sell organic essential oils and organic spices.

Pick-Your-Own Fruit Season

It’s strawberry picking season, and my family has a tradition of going almost every year. We go fruit picking every year, and it’s usually strawberries around this time. We chose to go to a farm about a 40-minute drive away from us, and as always I’m glad we went—especially since the weather cooperated.

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This is such a great way to support a local farm and in some small way to be involved with the farming process—the harvest! I have been speaking to the owners of a farm in British Columbia, where I am seriously considering volunteering. This strawberry picking brought me closer to what would await me if I were to take on the task over there. And by that I mean, gosh, there is a lot of crouching involved in strawberry picking, and you need strong muscles and good knees!

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How beautiful are these? I know how spoiled I am to live so near a farm that offers a pick-your-own option. And aside from the obvious fun of spending a morning or afternoon picking fruit, eating it afterward might offer a higher level of nutrients than what you’d find at the supermarket, which is usually picked unripe and has been in transit for some time.

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I took a lot longer to fill up my basket than other people because I was really careful to only pick the strawberries that were just right. This photo doesn’t do the size of the container justice. It was huge, and the whole thing, filled up, cost about $8—so much cheaper than buying from the shop.

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The farm also offered a strawberry wine selection. I really didn’t know this existed until trying it here. I sampled a fruitier wine, the one in the photo, and a drier wine, as well. With the drier one, you couldn’t really taste the strawberry flavour as much and for a wine novice like me, the fruity Strawberry Sensation was the most appealing.

This winery website recommends pairing strawberry wine with appetizers, salads, salmon or shellfish, and dessert. Then it notes that it makes great sangria. My bottle is just sitting pretty on the counter for now. I’ll have to do more research before deciding how to drink it.

If you’ve got a farm near you that offers a pick-your-own option, definitely consider going there. You might even be surprised to find out that you do live near one—Google is your friend. I didn’t have the foresight to take my own containers this time, but I imagine you could have them tared beforehand and fill those up instead of the disposable baskets.

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Shh! Fresh strawberries, a mini sponge cake, and coconut whipped cream with black tea are the best recourse to having crouched in the sun picking fruit all morning. 😉

Raw Vegan Coconut Banana Cream Pie

A few days ago, I went to a raw vegan restaurant with a couple friends. The food absolutely blew me away. Not only was it amazingly tasty, but I can’t describe the good way it made me feel. I felt light and good after, even though it was “heavy,” high-fat food (and I could feel that). Doesn’t it sound contradictory?

I was especially impressed with the desserts. We ordered a carrot cake and a tiramisu, and both were phenomenal.

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This was the carrot cake. It was garnished with strawberries and blackberries, which didn’t suit it too well unfortunately. But the cake itself was perfect. Creamy and carroty.

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The tiramisu was amazing! I loved that I could, at first “chew,” taste the individual flavours of the coffee and cream and the sweetness of the “cookie” part, but that it then transformed into a synergistic new flavour in my mouth. Obviously not a food writer here, but it was very good.

I came home inspired by thoughts of the possibilities posed by vegan and raw vegan food. If it can be this good, then why not? What is my excuse for continuing to regularly use animal products?

I remembered a Youtube video I had seen years and years ago. It was a raw vegan coconut cream pie recipe by Lori Painter. I was seventeen when this was uploaded, and I was so impressed with it that it stayed with me and I found the video within a minute or two of searching for it today.

Watch it here, Raw Vegan Banana Coconut Cream Pie.

I’m said to report I didn’t have the confidence to actually make the pie at the time. It seemed complicated and mysterious, and now I see that it wasn’t. I wish I could go back to that seventeen-year-old self and encourage her to go for it. Anything that meant so much to me that almost a decade later it would come back so clearly deserved at least an attempt.

But! Better late than never.

I went out and grabbed the few ingredients and made it!

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It was in the fridge overnight. Here’s what it looked like this morning. The coconut and coconut oil help it to “solidify” a little bit. But I wonder whether it would be possible, for those that want, to use less oil and add a teaspoon or two of agar agar to obtain the same coherence with less fat.

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It is beautiful and absolutely delicious.

Below is the recipe, per the video I have linked above. I didn’t use ice cubes (she mentions these in the video) when blending and I reduced the amount, of course. I also replaced the meat of the young coconut with unsweetened dried coconut, but I plan to make it again with the fresh fruit soon (that is, as soon as I figure out how to actually open the young coconut I’ve purchased).

It is so good and so worth your time.

You will need a blender. You will also need enough ripe bananas to line the bottom of a large casserole dish. You will peel and place the whole bananas inside the dish, then cover them with the “sauce” below.

Make the “sauce” by blending,

2 C coconut meat (young thai)
½ C coconut oil
¼ C agave
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp vanilla
and water as needed to get a thick but still liquid consistency

Pour the mixture over the bananas to cover them, then cover the dish and place it in the freezer for a couple hours. After that, remove from the freezer and place in the fridge until ready to eat.

First Dinner Party and Tips!

On Monday I hosted my first ever dinner party, and it was a success! That’s a loose use of the term dinner party, which in this case involved three of my closest friends coming over for some food after work. I am incredibly proud of myself, and I think if you haven’t done this before you definitely should consider giving it a go. I’ve included some practical tips at the end of this post.

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I see these friends once or twice a week out at local Toronto restaurants and locales, and while we’ve gone over to friends’ houses, it’s never been the four of us together at my place. I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could curate a fun night in.

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After much deliberation, I cooked Pinch of Yum’s Creamy Thai Sweet Potato Curry, which I’d already test-cooked a few days before. The web is inundated with amazing recipes, and in the end I decided to make a vegetarian meal because I am trying to limit the use of animal products where possible, one of my friends is vegetarian and well #meatlessMonday.

I followed the instructions for the curry to a T and it turned out amazing. I even roasted the peanuts myself, which I’m sure elevated their flavour at least a little bit because they were the best peanuts ever, and I wasn’t the only one to think so.

To start, we ate some vegetarian potstickers—I didn’t make these, just reheated them—and we drank cooling Chardonnay with our spicy meal.

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After eating we sat on the couch continually interrupting each other with life and dating updates. It was a lot of fun, and we completely forgot about dessert (we were planning to go to Wanda’s for waffles).

Another happy fact about this get-together is that save for the packaging the potstickers came in and some napkins, this was a waste-free meal. I took all of my own bags and containers to the supermarket and Bulk Barn, my local bulk dry-goods store, so in the end, there was almost nothing to discard. What little I did discard was biodegradable, green bin waste such as potato skins and cilantro stems.

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I hope this inspires you to just give hosting a try if you’ve never done it, or haven’t in a while. I find (from this experience and from being a guest) it’s much more intimate than going to a restaurant and it can strengthen friendship bonds in a way that meeting in public doesn’t always. Your friends will appreciate you for it! As well, it can be a more ecological alternative, depending on the choices you make.

Even though my grand tally for dinner parties amounts to just one now, I feel there were some important factors that contributed to my success. Here they are, below:

  • I invited only my closest friends. They didn’t expect me to be perfect, and they were there mostly for the company. And because of this I didn’t criticize myself too harshly when at the last minute I realized I forgot to pick up the right type of napkin. Which all in all meant I enjoyed the experience more!
  • I prepared something I knew how to make and that my friends would enjoy. I am no cook, but ensuring these two things still made my night (and meal) a success. I mentioned in our group chat that I’d be making Thai to see if anyone would be opposed to it. They weren’t! (This is a good time to check for allergies, too.) Then, after selecting a recipe online based on careful examination of positive reviews, I made it once before the big night. I didn’t want to serve my guests a recipe I hadn’t tried before. The food was going to be a big part of the get-together, so I tried my best to make it good.
  • I took the extra step.  I’d been working on Monday and unfortunately didn’t have the time to go the whole extra mile. But I found small ways to put in extra effort to make my guests feel both special and welcome. I lit a few candles and I chose to do something as simple as buy raw peanuts instead of roasted. Freshly roasted peanuts taste so much better, and my guests noticed and appreciated the small bit of extra effort.
  • I had a backup. I was counting on the conversation to flow really easily between us, because we’re a group of already-established friends. And I was right—it did. But just in case, I thought it would be good to have a backup game to play. Something like Cards Against Humanity or Moral Dilemma can be the perfect social lubricant on an “off” night. This safety net also gave me a little extra room to relax.

 

Cooking For a Weekend Away

I came back from vacation on Friday and immediately I couldn’t wait to start eating more nourishing, healthy food. During my almost two weeks in London and Paris I ate “whatever” I wanted, which amounted to very few veggies and far too much sugar (especially in a deliciously boulangerie-filled Paris… Can anyone blame me?)

So although I had plans to come visit my mom on Saturday and stay Sunday, as well, I decided I’d pack my own food instead of continuing to eat “whatever.” I cooked a vegan sweet potato curry with a can of organic mixed beans I found on sale a month ago. The recipe was inspired by this Creamy Thai Sweet Potato Curry from Pinch of Yum.

I made salads, as well.

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I’ve recently enrolled in the introductory courses of the Natural Nutrition program from the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition. I have been curious about and interested in food and nutrition for almost as long as I can remember. I’ve had struggles with food for even longer. So overall this seemed like a good choice for me, especially since the entire program is offered online as a self-study course, where you can set your own pace.

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I’m learning a lot about the interaction between the environment and food supply (and the quality of that food supply) and also about the importance of eating a balanced diet that includes carbs, fats, protein, fibre and a host of micronutrients. I didn’t place enough importance on protein previously, having accepted vegan guru wisdom on the lack of necessity of protein.

The 900-plus page tome in the photo is the introductory text and it’s super accessible and interesting. There seems to be a large focus on how human behaviour and industry has affected the quality of our food supply and what we can do to make sure we stay healthy despite the many contaminants we face daily.

I’m still only at the beginning, so more thoughts to come. Leave a comment if you have any questions about the course that I might be able to answer!

Ten Ways to Cheer Up

Sometimes I’m in a bit of a rut, too stressed to function, having a bad day, lower on the few days before my period, or just groggy with a headache following a nap with still-wet hair. It doesn’t matter, but I wanted to make a list of things I can do to change my mood, so next time I have a guide to turn to.

  1. Turn your phone on to a text from someone you like—Okay, I can’t exactly do this every time, but it happened today, so it stays on the list. And the point is, positive human contact of any sort helps.
  2. Wash your face, scrub your face, put on a face mask. I feel more awake after washing my face and I also like the pampering element of a face mask. It feels good to know I’m caring about myself and face masks are one of my favourite ways to do that.
  3. Make a cup of tea. There’s something quaint and cozy about making a cup of tea, even if it’s spring or summer. I have a container where I keep all of my tea bags, and the process, including choosing the kind of tea I will make, heating water, brewing and discarding the tea bag, and adding almond milk are all meditative and fun. Not to mention the huge comfort of holding a warm cup of something and taking in that warmth with each flavourful sip.20170601_190840-1
  4. Put on some music, but not just any music. My all-time favourite happy albums are In Between Dreams by Jack Johnson and Closing Time by Tom Waits. Most of the songs on these two make me feel a calm sort of happiness (contentment?)—as opposed to jittery and excited or anything else.
  5. Open the blinds and crack a window open. It’s so nice to let some light inside and the sounds of the happenings outside of my window have the power to instantly connect me to something other than what’s in my own head.20170601_192821
  6. Follow a guided meditation to centre and calm the mind and invite a new, better way of feeling to you. I love the Boho Beautiful Youtube channel. I love what they do there, and I regularly practice yoga following their videos. They have also posted guided meditations that are short, simple and I find very effective. Today I tried this one—a 10-minute gratitude meditation.
  7. Go for a walk. Exercise is the natural upper, and it’s incredible how much the simple act of walking can do for my mood. Sometimes I like to stay out of the way, explore the relatively empty residential side streets while keeping totally to myself, and other times, I feel good people-watching on busier roads.
  8. Nourish yourself. When I am stressed or low, my appetite suffers, and I tend to make poorer food choices. Drinking plenty of fluids and exercise, like walking, help me feel hungry. And the act of preparing a nourishing meal can be reflective and meditative, so it’s one way to cheer up and get to a better headspace. For best results, I try to only prepare the portion I plan to eat, avoid snacking on anything while I am preparing my meal, and maybe even say a prayer of gratitude before eating.20170601_212849
  9. Watch an episode of something cheerful. I can count on The Mindy Project or Friends. The key for me here is to not overdo it. I’m including it because it really is a great and healthy way to create a better mood.
  10. Get back to your day. Get back to working or running errands or doing chores. When I’ve worked to get into a good mood, I hold on to it by getting busy in a purposed and structured way. I feel content enough to feel absorbed in the day’s tasks, and feeling accomplished keeps my endorphins high. If you don’t have much planned for the day, write a blog post on your favourite ways to cheer up; I’d love to read it.