Sunday, March 29, 2009

Earth Hour Reflections

Recently, a touching story landed in my inbox: the story of Jasmine, a neglected and abused Greyhound that was brought to the Warwickshire Wildlife Sanctuary in the UK, after she was discovered by local police. Jasmine was meant to be rehabilitated and put up for adoption. But it seems that Jasmine had plans of her own, soon welcoming all new inhabitants to the sanctuary—from fox pups, to badgers, to the bunnies, and even letting the birds to perch atop her. Soon, Jasmine became the resident mother, cuddling frightened and injured animals, comforting and welcoming them to their new surroundings.

The story of Jamine serves to show us, once again, that the true lessons of life are those taught by the great Mother—of love, selflessness, generosity, and harmony. And, in my post-Earth Hour reflection, I question how anyone could be so blind as to not see it and work to protect it in any way possible.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get out of the house and partake in my local Earth Hour festivities, but am curious how others filled their 60 minutes of darkness. Would love to hear your stories…please share!

PS--apologies for being radio-silent the last week. Call it Spring Break for the mind. But the good kind, without co-eds and hangovers. I'm back ever-refreshed and renewed.

Friday, March 20, 2009

A New Idea for Lentils

As is often the case this time of year, the weather has been a little unpredictable. Over the frosty weekend, I had lofty plans of making a batch of curried lentil soup. But, overnight, Spring came to the city, leaving me no longer wanting the hearty soup and wondering what to do with all these lentils. An extensive Google search led me to a ton of recipes, but none that I either wanted to make or that I had the ingredients on hand for.

But, the recipes did serve to inspire me some. Admittedly, I am no culinary expert. I cook from the instincts and taste-buds. The instructions are not exact—they are approximates, so play with it. Take it off the heat when you think it’s ready—although it does tend to stick to the bottom, so make sure to scrape. Taste while you go. Try different spices. Turn your music up. Dance while stirring and sing loudly.

With what I found in the cupboards and fridge, here’s what I concocted.

Spicy Lentils Over Rice
2 - 19 oz. cans lentils
1- 28 oz. can diced tomatoes (crushed would do)
3 oz. tomato paste (about ½ can)
1 - Large onion, diced
2 - Good sized garlic cloves, crushed
Cumin to taste (about palm)
Cinnamon to taste (about ½ palm)
Hot pepper flakes (large pinch)
Grapefruit juice (lemon or lime would do nicely as well)
Splash of red wine vinegar
Salt & Pepper to taste

Step 1: Coat bottom of a good sized soup pot with olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. Once heated, add diced onion and cook until tender, almost browning. Add crushed garlic.
Step 2: After few minutes, add lentils, tomatoes, cumin, cinnamon, hot pepper flakes, salt & pepper. Bring to a boil.

Step 3: Once boiling, add grapefruit juice and vinegar. Reduce to a simmer.
Step 4: Cover and let simmer for about 15 minutes, until reduced some. Meanwhile make some rice according to the package—brown, basmati, jasmine all work.

Step 5: Once the lentil mixture has reduced, keep covered and let sit off the heat for about 10 minutes (or enough time to make a lightly dressed simple side salad).

Serve over rice.

I originally started with 1 can of lentils, but, after some cooking time, the tomatoes released tons of liquid. I decided to add a second can to thicken the mixture up—I was looking for an Indian-dishtexture, not soup or stew.

After letting it cook down slightly, I still tasted that something was missing. The flavors needed a little brightening. I had read a recipe along the way that called for lemon juice. Unfortunately, I had used up all my lemons but did have some grapefruit juice. It turned out to be a lovely balance of tart, brightening the flavors, while adding a little sweet. But still, there was something missing; some acidity. I have a recipe for a fantastic Roasted Butternut Squash Soup that calls for red wine vinegar to cut the sweet, so I decided to try it out. Just one capful was exactly what this needed—although some cooking wine or sherry could work nicely too. The acidity almost separates all the different flavors, enhancing each.

Alternatively, I could imagine serving this over couscous, polenta, or alone in a steaming bowl with crusty fresh bread, as well as adding some spinach or even okra.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Springtime Shopping with a Soul

Have you been a good little squirrel, stashing away your pennies these last few wintery months? With the sun shining and temperatures rising, are you itching to spend them away? If so, what better way than by supporting a good cause?

From now until the end of the month, visit charitybuzz to view the Farm Sanctuary's Spring Auction and bid on fantastic goodies. Need to update your shoe collection? Bid on an online shopping spree with UK vegan super-brand Beyond Skin or New York's Neuaura Shoes. Get private vegan or raw cooking lessons, yoga sessions, life coaching, celeb meet-and-greets, and so much more. Even local vegan brand, Matt & Nat, has put a stylish unisex carry-all up for auction. With almost 60 different lots to bid on, choosing should be the hardest part.

The Farm Sanctuary, located in Upstate New York and California, actively rescues and houses farm animals, where they live out their natural lives in peace and harmony. Animals freely roam, graze, and play. Visit their website to read their stories, donate, and even foster. The farms are also open to the public for visits. The Farm Sanctuary is an amazing organization, staffed by some of the warmest people I've had the pleasure of working with. With such important work being done, they need and deserve as much help as possible.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Leather vs. Vegan: Who is Greener?

With Earth Day fast approaching, and everyone’s “Green” issues hitting newsstands and doorsteps, there seems to be quite the controversy stirring. At its center is the ultimate debate between the staunchly cruelty-free and the not—are animal products green? Truly, when the argument is boiled down, what we are questioning is the sustainability of animal by-products vs. synthetic materials.

Fact, animal by-products originate from a natural source—namely bovine (depending on the country). Fact, synthetics are man-made materials that are traditionally rather poisonous to the environment. But when both processes are examined, which one is better environmentally?

Recently, with the move towards just about anything eco across all product categories, there has been a move towards branding animal by-products as “green”. Case in point: the Canadian Fur Council’s latest campaign and Lucky Magazine’s April issue. However, just because fur and leather originated from a natural source, i.e. some animal, it does not make it sustainable. Far from it. Approximately 250 different chemicals are used in the tanning process alone. Chemicals that eventually end up in the surrounding eco-system and render the once biodegradable material no longer—similar arguments are made to counter the sustainability of man-made products. Traditional synthetic materials, PVC and the like, are also poisonous on all levels. Such is the dilemma with synthetics. Sure, they are cruelty-free in the traditional sense, but, upon deeper consideration, this is a harder case to make. The truth of the matter is any manufacturing process has serious problems.

But with the many changes to the marketplace, including the wider and cheaper availability of sustainable and green materials in response to greater demand, more and more designers are utilizing everything and anything from hemp canvas to faux-suede made from recycled plastic bottles. This allows a greater number of fashion brands, vegan and non-vegan alike, to move away from traditional synthetics, and more alternatives available to the vegan shopper. On top of this, there has been a greater scrutiny placed on the ethics of the manufacturing industry and, as a result, greater accountability. There is, in general, a greater importance placed on these different factors from the vegan fashion brands as there is a more holistic approach to the ethics of their company. Perhaps because they have ethics in the first place.

Conscious shopping is best. Question what you are buying and who you are supporting with your dollars. Not all vegan brands are created equal, but, in my opinion at least, they are always better than animal products.

For more interesting reading, there is a great guest blog by Elizabeth Olsen of olsenHaus at, as well as lots of information available at

Friday, March 13, 2009

Chickpeas and Other Beans: Three Go-To Recipes

Truth be told, I went to the store today to fetch ingredients for my Curried Lentil Soup. Along the way, it seems I was sidetracked by the fresh scents of Spring introduced to my nose by the wind. By the time I arrived at the store, I had forgotten all about my wintery soup and instead concocted other beanie plans.

Lugging home several cans of chickpeas, I instead made a fantastic batch of Homemade Hummus, Oven Roasted Chickpeas, and a 6-Bean Mixed Salad. Admittedly, I am not exactly a culinary wonder kid, but these are all great staple recipes using ingredients both easily found in your pantry and refrigerator. Everyone needs a large repertoire of those.

1) Homemade Hummus:
1- 15 oz. can of Chickpeas
2- small cloves of Garlic
1/3 cup Olive Oil
1 Lemon, juiced
Salt to taste

Step 1: Rinse chickpeas thoroughly.

Step 2: Put all ingredients in a blender, and blend, stopping every once in awhile to scrape down the sides. I found that I had to mix as well in order to achieve a smooth consistency.

Step 3: Blend to preferred consistency--stopping at a slightly chunkier mixture for a drip, and continuing onto a creamier result for a spread. Add olive oil and/or more lemon juice in order to achieve the creamy consistency.

I would highly recommend on starting with 1 clove of garlic, unless you are a garlic lover like me. The garlic can be a little overpowering. This is definitely not the hummus to bring to the office or to serve on a date. Also, make sure to go easy on the salt if using canned chickpeas.

Hummus purists will note that I omitted Tahini. I find that with a good helping of lemon juice there's really no need for it. And with the refreshing zing of the lemon, the naturally buttery taste of the naked chickpea is able to shine through. I also throw in a little lemon zest for good measure.

2) Oven Roasted Chickpeas with Cracked Pepper
1- 15 oz. can of Chickpeas
Liberal amount of freshly Cracked Pepper, to taste
Small dusting of Garlic Powder, to taste
No salt if using canned Chickpeas, but salt to taste if using dried variety

Step 1: Pre-Heat the oven to 425.
Step 2: Having drained and rinsed the chickpeas thoroughly, pat dry with clean kitchen towel. A little dampness is good, as it will help the pepper stick.
Step 3: Lay the chickpeas out on a cookie sheet, pepper to taste. Add garlic powder to taste.
Step 4: Roast chickpeas from 30 to 38 minutes, turning them over every 10 minutes or so.
Step 5: Turn off heat and let roasted chickpeas sit for about 10 more minutes.

With my oven, I roast the chickpeas closer to 30 minutes. I find that, at that point, they have started to blacken at the edges, are very crispy on the outside but still a little tender on the inside. It's preferable to let cool before serving, but, if you're like me, feel free to eat them right off the pan like popcorn.

Personally, I love this mix. The pepper stings my lips slightly, and the garlic is nothing more than a light flavor in the background. You can use paprika, curry, chili pepper powder, or anything else that suits your fancy--go wild and let your imagination soar.

And one last warning, eat these consciously. If you're not careful, you can look down and realize that you just ate an entire can of chickpeas.

3) 6-Bean Mixed Salad
1- 15 oz. can Mixed Beans of choice (any choice of bean will do from lentils to kidney beans)
3- Roma Tomatoes
1- Cucumber
2- Stalks of Green Onions
Olive Oil and Vinegar to taste
Cumin to taste
Freshly Cracked Pepper to taste
No salt for canned beans

Step 1: Drain and rinse beans thoroughly.

Step 2: Chop all ingredients and combine in large bowl.

Step 3: Toss with Olive Oil, Vinegar, and liberal amounts of Cumin and Pepper.

Anything can be done with this base--add avocado when in season, artichoke hearts, hearts of palm. Anything goes really, combining anything and everything that is in season. The key is always the cumin. Cumin, as it turns out, is the perfect accoutrement to beans, as taught to me by my best friend whose bean salad remains unrivaled to this day. It took me forever to figure out the difference between our recipes.

Light, refreshing, and satisfying, the salad can be eaten alone, as a side dish, or served on a bed of lettuce. I, honestly, live on this during the summer months.

Blame spring fever on what happened here this afternoon.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Stella McCartney Fall Accessories

In February, vegetarian super-designer Stella McCartney presented Pre-Fall 09 at New York Fashion Week, and, this week, her Fall 09 RTW collection in Paris. With Pre-Fall, looks were the slouchy, downtown silhouette that Stella has become known for. With tons of leggings and jumpsuits, Pre-Fall had a sportswear feel. Accessories were dominated by oversized bags, the ever-pervasive ankle bootie that just won’t go away since its appearance in Fall 2007, pumps, and heavy hardware. Prints were found on everything from underpinnings, to booties, and bags.

Stella McCartney Pre-Fall 09,

For Fall 09, the thigh-high boots that skimmed just past the knee in Pre-Fall have sprouted into full leggings. In latex materials, some with tattoo-like patterns, these boots-come-leggings were paired with everything from dresses to oversized men’s blazers. The cropped bootie still makes an appearance, but these too have grown in length reaching calf-height. All footwear, including the lady-like pumps, had extreme square toes in contrasting colors and materials. Colors were neutral, relying heavily on black with small doses of dove grey and a bright jade green. Bags were mainly oversized clutches, varying widely from recent collections past, with circular-quilting. Belts varied between the wide and the ultra-skinny, with no variance in between. The collection, overall, referenced 1980s Wall Street with exaggerated shoulders and masculine looks.

Stella McCartney Fall 09,

But for a little taste of this season, here are three favorite looks from Spring, available online and in stores.

Stella McCartney Spring 09, styles range from $1295 to $395

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Vegan Flourless Chocolate Cake: Say It Ain't So!

To be completely honest, I have been running around a lot with Fashion Week, etc. etc. In the hubbub and the rush, I have misplaced my schedule somewhere--I am not posting when supposed to, in fact not posting at all, not cooking as I should, grabbing snacks here and there. If anyone finds my unscrambled brain, please return it pronto!

And it doesn't look as though it will stop until Sunday. Saturday morning, I have the great pleasure of attending a breakfast for the Irish Man of the Year. I have a sneaking suspicion that this will be what vegan nightmares are made of. But to reward myself for making it through, and to calm my ragged nerves, I will bake a Vegan Flourless Chocolate Cake on Sunday. I found the recipe on Novel Eats, and thank in advance for making this vegan's dream come true!

I will be Twittering as I go and will post comments when all is said and done.
Follow me at

Olsen Haus: Accessorizing the Evolution

If you haven't discovered Olsen Haus shoes yet, run, or whatever the cyber equivalent is, to their site right now. This 100% ethical line, founded by designer extraordinaire Elizabeth Olsen, makes this little struggling vegan's heart sing. The collection of shoes and boots is inventive, vegan, socially and environmentally responsible, and affordable. What more could a girl ask for? As a lover of both fashion and ridiculously high heels, I find footwear one of my biggest struggles. Shoes are irrestible, but, sadly, I simply don't have the budget needed to quench my shoe thirst with MacCartneys. And a girl gets really bored of cheap, synthetic shoes really fast.

But Olsen Haus solves all these problems. Currently available in only one store in Canada (in Calgary), they will ship to Canada for a mere $50 extra. So shop to your heart's content.

For Spring 09, the colors are bright electrics mixed with natural linens, microfibers, Italian ultra suede, and signature paint splatters. The collection is both fresh, sweet, and boldly unconventional. Personally, I cannot wait to get my feet into these two lovelies:

"BALANCE", Natural Linen with Microfibre, $175 USD

"LOVE", Italian Ultra Suede in Teal with signature paint splatters, $160 USD

There are also these perfect year-round, classic boots from the Fall 08 collection, which arestill available. Lust at first sight, they have rarely strayed far from my thoughts.
"LUCK", Italian Ultra Suede in Black with signature paint splatters, $215 USD

For Fall 09, Olsen Haus shot fellow super-vegans Chloe Jo Berman of The GirlieGirl Army and Discerning Brute Joshua Katcher for their lookbook. The new collection features boots galore, including a pair of micro suede riding boots that have taken over all of my daydreams, as well as the premiere of both a kid's and men's collection.

The only question left is how to convince Elizabeth to bring the evolution to Canada?