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Vegan For a Week Challenge

No, I am not cracking down on my eats after a booze and donair filled weekend. I don’t roll like that. But I am kindasorta taking part in Morgan’s Vegan For a Week Challenge.

And by “kindasorta” I mean I’m going to Ottawa on Thursday and there is no way I’m going to have my favourite poutine there without cheese curds. At least they use mushroom gravy! ;)

Instead I’m making a concerted effort to choose foods this week that are animal free. Perhaps this seems like a huge departure for my burger-loving self. But I actually spent one month as a vegan six years ago. Otherwise known as “the dark period.”

It was during my 8-year stint as a lacto-ovo vegetarian. I found out my favourite beer was vegan and decided to give it a shot. I was ill prepared. My body wanted to know where the eggs went. I spent a lot of money on nutritional yeast and gomashio. There was a vegan mayonnaise disaster that leaves me gagging at the thought of apple cider vinegar or silken tofu to this day.

But I’m all about the second chances. I’ve now got an arsenal of amazing vegan bloggers and their recipes behind me.

To start, my fellow Torontonian and New Brunswickan – Angela. I’m determined to use up what’s in my cupboard for vegan eats this week and not spend any more money than usual. Thankfully I stumbled across a recipe of hers that allowed me to use up both bags of lentils and walnuts I had taking up space in my cupboard.

Lentil Walnut Burgers from Oh She Glows.

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I made a few changes based on what I had on hand:

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup 1 cup lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 3/4 cup 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
  • 1 piece bread, toasted OR 1/3 cup breadcrumbs 2 wasa crackers
  • 1 tsp 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 chia/flax egg (1 tbsp ground chia or flax + 1/4 cup water)

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I otherwise followed the directions, baking for just a smidge longer to ensure they hardened up. They turned out awesome. I ate some crumbled on top of a salad with a lemon/mustard dressing and loved it. A texture similar to falafels, with a sweet/spiciness thanks to the roasted walnuts and cumin.

I’m going to test out new vegan recipes this week (including for Waffle Wednesday!) but here are some of my favourites. They get my stamp of approval both as a former vegetarian and a current carnivore who loves bacon and cheese with just about everything.

Tofu Balls from the Post Punk Kitchen.

Actually pretty much everything from The PPK. That site is a goldmine of delicious vegan recipes.

Tofu Balls are meant to replace meatballs in pasta, but I liked them best cold and dipped in Averie’s peanut sauce.

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Traditional Scottish oatcake. Just replace the “bacon fat” with something a little nicer like coconut oil or margarine ;) I make these all the time with the addition of soy protein powder and peanut butter to make a filling breakfast out of it.

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Peanut ButterNut Squash Muffins.

My favourite muffin recipe of all time.

Simply Bars!

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Vegan and gluten-free. Cathy doesn’t pay me to say that, I just really love them.

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Mama Pea’s Pumpkin Spice Roasted Chickpeas.

The Fitnessista’s Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili.

Wonkynut Squash Soup (by me!).

Best Vegan Mac and Cheese in the entire world….seriously.

Yummy Vegan Maple Baked Beans.

Italian “Pizza Cheese” from Choosing Raw

Dreena Burton’s Super-Charge Me! Cookies.

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And if all else fails, there’s always Froot Loops.

Yup, completely vegan. Pair it with a splash of almond milk ;)

 

Question of the Day: How about you? Are you/have you ever been vegan? What’s your favourite vegan meal or snack?

 

You can follow the Vegan For a Week Challenge on Twitter under #7dayvegan and join the Facebook page!

“Toronto’s Best” – Fressen

Right. So before I was confined to my bed with fever relapse number two, my sister and I were on a restaurant warpath. More like, she insisted on taking me out, and I’m too weak (and way too willing) to argue otherwise.

After our morning of french toasted pastries and pie, we decided it was time for more vegetables in our life.

Enter: Fressen.

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Fressen is easily Toronto’s most popular vegetarian/vegan restaurant. So much so that VegNews Magazine named it one of the 14 hippest vegetarian eateries in North America. This is probably why I’ve ignored it for so long in lieu of smaller, less-hip eateries. But when my big sis said it was a Toronto experience I must have, I knew she was right.

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The inside decor was not the usual patched-up hippy look you get in most vegetarian restaurants. But rather big, warm, and earthy. We both loved the set up.

Most importantly, the menu was chock full of things to tempt us. Tempeh fish and taro chips, eggplant pizza tart, avocado and spinach blinis, cornmeal crusted oyster mushrooms, root vegetable and beet borsht. 

Sister Sara needed a drink to clear her head.

IMG_5136 Some apple ginger thingy that made me feel like I was on a beach in Cuba :)

We finally decided on splitting two appetizers and a main in order to get a variety of tastes.

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Eggplant Manacotti: Creamed tofu, sundried tomato, and pesto rolled in a wafer thin slice of seared eggplant with a tomato herb puree.

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At the time I didn’t think this was much to write home about. I mean, delicious, but nothing mind blowing. Looking back, I realize it’s pretty darn amazing that they were able to make tofu taste just like ricotta. And the tomato sauce was incredibly fresh and flavourful.

Polenta: Seared cornmeal polenta on herbed tomato sauce with sautéed shittakes, spinach and a reduced balsamic glaze.

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Sara and I both loved this one. Polenta isn’t a very popular dish around these parts, so it’s always a special treat when we get to have it. The balsamic added a neat flavour element to an otherwise traditional taste.

And of course, there’s the bread. But not just any ole’ bread. A spicy bread. Red pepper? Jalepeno? Who knows, but it was perfect for sopping up that fresh tomato sauce with.

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Finally, the star of the show. Sara and I didn’t have much difficulty deciding over a main dish to split. Our eyes immediately shot to this one and our bellies rumbled in approval.

Moroccan Stew: Stewed sweet potato, onion, carrots and chickpeas in a cumin infused tomato broth.

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Such a simple description for such a lovely dish! First, it was thick and chunky, the best way to have a stew. The grains plumped it up to make it even more hearty and filling. But the best part were the spices. Ohmy. Just spicy enough to make my nose run a little, but still allowed me to take in the flavours of all the other ingredients.

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Apart from the hearty grains, big hunks of sweet potato and chickpeas were also sugar snap peas and olives. Two ingredients I’ve never thought of adding to a stew and surprisingly enhanced the whole experience.

I never talk about service much when I do restaurant reviews. This is because I tend to get good service wherever I go thanks to my big camera. The waitress here was super sweet and a Jill Barber fan, which gets her extra points. However we had to turn down her dessert offer. We did have dessert two times already on Sunday.

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But that still didn’t stop Sara and I from cracking open these fair trade bonbons.

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It’s at times like these you can really tell we’re related ;)

Grateful for Cafe Gratitude

There is one more San Francisco foodie experience I must share with you. I know I am still leaving out the gala dinner. I will get to that in some form or another. But first things first.

Over the weekend, I chowed down on burgers, octopus, pork, buttery croissants, to name a few. But not all of it was animal based. In fact, I ate a lot of vegan while there too!

It started on Friday after a yoga class at San Francisco’s Yoga to the People. Astrid and I showed up with 50 lbs of luggage, only to find out we had to climb five flights of stairs to get to the studio.

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You have got to be kidding me.

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I think we could have skipped the sun salutations, we were already warmed up when we got there!

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The climb however was worth it, as the studio was gorgeous. Large and bright, with windows overlooking the San Francisco cityscape. I know some people think doing a yoga class is a weird way to experience a city. I did the same thing while in Banff. However, finding new yoga studios is one of my favourite ways to experience a new locale!

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The class itself was wonderful. Not so much “hot yoga” as “warm yoga.” Enough to open you up. Crazy leg postures, including a low lunge for what felt like 10 minutes. I left feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and completely elated!

It was with this feeling that I first experienced Cafe Gratitude.

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A small vegan restaurant that specializes in mostly raw dishes. Apparently they used to operate on a by-donation basis.

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I loved everything down to the cloth napkins.

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My table started with an I Am Abundant Sampler Plate.                  

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Sprouted almond hummus, hempseed pesto crostini, spicy cashew nacho cheese w/flax chips, olive tapenade, buckwheat crackers, spring roll & mini house soup.

Cafe Gratitude only just started serving warm dishes and didn’t even have an oven when we were there. Thus, only served two of their cooked options. I opted for the I Am Trusting Tamal Plate.

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A hamdmade corn tamal made with stone-ground heirloom masa and filled w/ seasonal vegetables served with beans, salsa verde & Mexican cilantro coleslaw.

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I don’t think I’ve had a tamale since I was in Mexico 8 years ago!! I loved the cilantro slaw and the green salsa.

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The best part though were the pieces of squash in the tamale. Great for taste and texture.

After lunch, we decided it would probably be in our best interest to order dessert too.

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I Am Devoted Coconut Cream Pie: Rich coconut cream pie in a coconut-date crust. Holy coconuts!! I definitely would not compare this to the real thing, but that doesn’t mean this version still wasn’t delicious. So coconutty and surprisingly fluffy in the centre considering no cream was used.

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Group shot stolen borrowed from Ashley :)

Come Sunday evening, I found myself with no official schedule or dinner plans. When I heard a group of bloggers were hitting up Cafe Gratitude, it sounded like just what I needed after a weekend of heavy food.

I hummed and hawed over what to get once again. Picking the menu up, feeling overwhelmed, then setting it down again.

I finally decided on a dish that caught my eye on that first visit. I didn’t want to leave wondering what it tasted like!

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I Am Festive Taco Salad: Shredded romaine lettuce with crumbled pumpkin seed-walnut taco filling, guacamole, salsa & cashew nacho cheese, topped with flax chips.

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I loved the flax chips. Some people thought they were a touch too spicy, but they were right up my alley. The walnut taco filling was good too, however there wasn’t enough of it. Cashew nacho cheese was creamy and spicy, but this time too much of it! I totally blanked and forgot to ask for it on the side.

Even though I got just a half order of the salad, my belly filled quickly from all the delicious food ingested over my weekend at the Foodbuzz Festival in San Francisco.

Sometimes it’s easy to zip through vacations so quickly that they’re gone in a blink of an eye. Suddenly, you’re laying in bed watching Mad Men in Toronto thinking, “Wasn’t I just soaking up the rays in California?”

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Thankfully, Cafe Gratitude slowed me down just long enough to appreciate being in that moment. With new blog friends, enjoying wonderful food, in a place I never expected to be.

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Picture copied borrowed from Raya.

And for the record, Cafe Gratitude gets extra points for proper signage.

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For all you Americans who say “bathroom” ;)

 

My other Foodbuzz Festival/San Francisco recaps:
California Dreamin’
The Bakery That Changed My Life
All Good Things Come To An End
A Food Lover’s Paradise
A West Coast Story

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