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.

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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.

Soul Journal: A Framework of Growth

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My body is rejecting salt, oil, and caffeine. That’s a strange thing to write, it sounds a bit hocus-pocus to me. How would you know what your body is rejecting?

I get high blood pressure when I eat foods with those things in them. I also get high blood pressure when I listen to loud music or think stressful thoughts or fantasize things—exciting things like meeting a celebrity or going to Mallorca or some other dream. I’m 26 years old, about 125 lbs and otherwise healthy. There is no reason to experience this, really, and it’s only been happening recently.

So instead of going to a doctor and having them prescribe me a short-term course of blood pressure medication, I’m choosing to honour what my body is telling me by committing to a course of clean eating, no exciting music and lots of things that help.

Non-high intensity aerobic exercise like walking helps, yin yoga helps, apple cider vinegar helps, mantras help, and guided meditations help sometimes.

I didn’t have to look any of this up… I’m connected with my body and its signals, thanks in part to the curse/blessing of being considered a slightly anxious person. It’s the other way around, actually. Some anxious people like me are more in tune with their bodies and tend to feel panic when they misinterpret totally normal occurrences in their bodies that other people wouldn’t even pay attention to.

There are different ways to see the same thing.

And while I’m presenting this as two paths, where I am choosing to take the one that is right for me, I admit that ultimately I see this as a meaningful part of my journey, not just a blip. My body is asking me to allow it to accommodate more. More emotions, more situations. It’s asking me to adapt my environment so that it can do more for me by being more adaptable to changes.

I know because this is how it’s reacting to the whirlwind of changes happening now.

And I want all that. I want to be able to live in the now, without the security of the future, a fantasy that  isn’t happening now, the fake excitement of a Spotify playlist that takes me somewhere other than here, and the emotion-numbing allure of salty, oily foods and caffeine—or alcohol. I want to be able to live free from of all of those things and to live here.

While I am being forced to make a change, this is also a change I want with all of my being. I’m lucky this is happening to me. And I am so grateful, too.

Quinoa Three Ways

If you hate the texture! 

Even though I learned about the benefits of quinoa years ago, I really couldn’t bring myself to eat it until recently. Unlike rice and other grains I like, quinoa seeds would—annoyingly—slip beneath my teeth as I tried to chew. I just can’t stand the texture of plain quinoa, and I don’t imagine I’m the only one.

Quinoa is one of the few plant foods that contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a plant-based form of a complete protein. According to the BBC Good Food website, a magazine I love (and trust), quinoa is high in fibre and a good source of iron, magnesium and manganese. As well, research shows that quinoa is high in anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. You can click to see where I have found this information and more, here.

In conclusion, quinoa is a good thing (better than most grains, it seems)! So I didn’t want to just give up on it because of a texture problem. And it turned out to be a pretty easy one to circumvent, anyway. I just have to mix it with other things.

Here are my three favourite ways to eat quinoa recently. It’s gone from bearable to being a constant in my diet.

  1. Mix equal parts quinoa and brown rice! This is the least expensive and simplest way to eat quinoa for me. It involves simply mixing a cup of each in a pot and cooking. Brown rice tends to cook quite a bit slower than quinoa, so I add that first, and toss in the quinoa about 15–20 minutes before the rice is done. Make sure the pot is filled with enough water!
  2. Quinoa and veggies! This was on a salad I ate at a restaurant, but I’ve since recreated it at home. It’s a similar concept to above, but a bit more nutritious, and it keeps in the fridge for up to four days. You can add it to bowls or salads or pour a little pasta sauce over it and enjoy. I cook tricolour (or any) quinoa and add one or two cups of frozen carrot chunks and peas. There’s really no recipe and quantities depend on your preference.

    I should add that I do find tricolour quinoa is less “slippery” in general, but I realize it’s not available everywhere.

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  3. Put it in an intricate salad! The internet is littered with really complex salads that contain a cup of quinoa here and there. These can be a little hit and miss in my experience, but when they are good can be a really great way to incorporate quinoa. This Mexican salad was a favourite and it can contain up to two cups of quinoa (it’s also vegan, made with Daiya cheese).

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Soul Journal: Letting a Good Thing Go

Two weeks ago, on a Monday, I took the plunge and pressed print on my resignation letter from a job that has brought so much growth to my life.

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A year ago in March, I began working in the highly competitive field of book publishing, doing something that gave me a hand in the creation of real books that real people read and enjoy and think worth their dime to buy! I was a new proofreader, proofreading and  lightly copyediting manuscripts every single day. (Yes, I got to read stories for a living.)

While I loved the job at first and came to work with a feeling of pride, endeavouring to do my best on every single page, eventually that feeling faded. I was gripped with a feeling of complete isolation that overshadowed my positive feelings about the role. While the department had more than a dozen people—almost all of which I liked—the job itself turned out to be too solitary to bear.

I tried keeping myself busy with social outings after work, with friends and with new people that I met through meetup.com, trying a variety of activities. While the social stimulation was very helpful, it left me with no time to carry on other important aspects of my life. I spent nearly two hours in solitary transit, eight hours at work, and the few more I had left, I was using to socialize.

Eventually I began to experience sleep troubles and felt I was on the verge of more worrisome/deeper emotional disarray. I knew that I was living by hanging on to the wall of a cliff, and that no matter how strong I made myself to be, I’d eventually slip and fall. So I made the decision to instead reach for that just-too-high edge while I still have strength left in me.

I can’t describe how good it feels to take a huge risk that somehow feels right (and that all things considered actually is right). It feels much safer than a routine that works against me. I’m following my bliss, and I feel ecstatic and excited.

I let a good thing go because it stopped working for me. And I feel so alive…