Monthly Archives

June 2010

Health and Nutrition, Uncategorized

Easy, Natural Mosquito Bite Remedy

image source:

One thing that really gets in the way of enjoying summer is these ugly guys. If you’re anything like me, you get your blood sucked and then suddenly you’ve got a big, swollen, itchy red welt. If not, then you have mosquito superpowers and I’m infinitely envious of you. For those of you that get terrible welts, I’ve discovered a really easy solution that works for me every time, way better than any after-bite ever did, and it’s pretty much the easiest, cost-friendly choice.

It’s this simple – take an ice cube and press it against the swollen area for a couple of minutes. If you’re still itchy, do it a bit longer. That’s it! If you don’t like ice water dripping all over you, you can seal the ice in a baggy, but come on, it’s summer time. Ice water is amazing.
So before you go reaching for the chemicals, give this a try, and hopefully it works as well for you as it does for me! 🙂
travel and restaurants

Vegan On the Road

A position that I will always maintain is how easy it is to be vegan. There are times, however, when extra planning is necessary, like when you’re on the road and/or staying in hotels. As a vegan, you can’t just pull up to the nearest fast food chain when hunger strikes, and many restaurants aren’t skilled with handling diverse dietary needs. Here’s my advice for dealing with these situations, and making sure that you stay satiated for the entire trip.

For the duration of this article, I’m assuming that you won’t have access to a microwave or any cookware, or fancy gadgets – though if you have things like a juicer or a portable blender, that will make your travel experience even easier and more fun. You should have basic cutlery, a plate, bowl and something to cut on, and if you don’t have a fridge, then it’s important to have a cooler, unless you plan on buying food fresh every day. If you’re in a hotel, you’ll either have a fridge, or access to ice, as well as a bathroom sink where you’ll clean your dishes.

The first and most crucial thing you need to do is find all of the vegan-friendly restaurants and health food stores in the area. You’ll be frequenting these places a lot, depending on how long you’ll be away from home. One of the best resources for this is – just enter in your location and it’ll give you a list of all relevant restaurants/health food stores in the area. Some places will have fantastic selection, and other places, not so much.

Health food stores are great, and are your best bet for finding healthy snacks as well as fresh food from a deli. Not all health food stores have a deli, but many do, and you can get sandwiches, salads, and even soups and stews. Some health food stores make smoothies and fresh juice, which is great. You might need to call a few stores just to see what they offer, because not all offer pre-made food.

You’ll either have tons of options for restaurants, or very few, depending on where you are. When in doubt, always go ethnic. Chinese food is generally greasy, but you’ll certainly find something vegan if you’re in a pinch. Indian and Japanese restaurants always have vegan options as well. And don’t forget about pizza! Most pizza places will make you a veggie-filled, cheese-free pizza, and what’s easier than take-out when you’re on the road? Ethnic food and pizza aside, I generally avoid most restaurant chains or any place that has ‘grill’ or ‘steakhouse’ in the title. Search out the trendier, hip restaurants and you’re bound to find at least one vegan option on the menu. A good amount of restaurants put their menus online, so a quick google search will help you see if a particular restaurant is going to be accommodating or not.

If you happen to be in a teeny place that doesn’t even have a health food store, and minimal restaurant options, you’re going to need to utilize a lot more of your latent vegan-ninja skills. The supermarket will be your haven, or a farmer’s market if there happens to be one.

Breakfast is the easiest meal to prepare when you’re out on the road. Even if you’re in a tiny town, there’s always fruit. Fruit is not only delicious and easy to digest, but it generally travels well. Fruit is, quite simply, nature’s ‘fast food’ – it doesn’t get much easier than peeling a couple of bananas and munching on an apple. What fruit is available to you depends on the season, but you’ll always find something – just remember to consume enough fruit to get you through the morning! One banana is about 100 calories, and an apple is about 50. In order to consume sufficient calories, make sure you eat lots of fruit, or drink a glass of soy/nut/seed/rice milk and/or a small handful of nuts and seeds.

If you get bored of eating fruit for breakfast, one fun way to switch it up is to make ‘fruit cereal’, something I enjoy often. Just chop up 2 or 3 different kinds of fruit, combine in a decent-sized bowl, and pour ‘milk’ over it! For whatever reason, eating fruit in a bowl with a spoon is just so enjoyable. If you happen to have access to berries, that will make fruit cereal even easier. I like sprinkling pumpkin seeds in my fruit cereal just for a different texture.

Of course, you can always enjoy regular cereal too, but as a good vegan I recommend scoring some granola from a health food store if you can. You’ll pay a lot of money for it, but it’s far better than the cheaper, sugar-laden stuff. Have it with milk, and maybe with some fresh fruit sliced in there.

If you have access to hot water, then you can always opt for quick-cooking oats. Mash a banana into the oats for sweetness, and if you’re at a place where you can get those little packets of jam and peanut butter, those can also help lend some flavour to your oats. If you happen to have some maple syrup and cinnamon as travel companions, even better. 🙂 Adding a diced apple to a bowl of oats helps quite a bit with adding some natural sweetness, and also adds a nice textural element. If you absolutely need to buy those little packets of instant oats, they work in a pinch too.

For those not lucky enough to have hot water, don’t fear, Angela’s overnight oats are here! Just whip it up before bed, stick it in a fridge or cooler, and voila, you have oats for breakfast! You can get chia seeds at most health food stores, and are important because they absorb a lot of liquid and really thicken the oats, giving them a pudding-like quality. Chia seeds are also a very good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which is handy for vegans everywhere.

Lunch and dinner can pose more challenges than breakfast. Most foods that one associates with these meals involve having access to a stove, kitchen gadgets, or at least a microwave. This is where it comes in handy to utilize the health food store deli! Vegan-friendly restaurants will also offer a nice change of pace, even if that change of pace happens to be a hot meal instead of a cold one. Fast food is generally out – I haven’t looked into it much, but I’m assuming most fast food joints don’t offer anything vegan. I know for sure that the Burger King veggie burger isn’t vegan, but I wouldn’t know about the rest. A little bit of research will land you with an answer there. I know that Tim Hortons has a few vegan options, including the sandwich buns, soup rolls and bagels, and their ‘Hearty Vegetable Soup’, if they happen to be offering it that day. The Wok Box has vegan stir-fry options, and if you ask, they have a list that shows what sauces contain dairy or fish*. Go with udon or rice noodles, and ask for tofu instead of meat! And as far as I can tell, fortune cookies are vegan. 🙂
*Update June 27/10: Two of Wok Box’s stir fry options are vegan – the kung pao and teriyaki sauce. All of the other ones contain fish or dairy.

That being said, there are other routes you can take if you don’t want to eat out all the time. The easiest thing you can make are sandwiches. Buy a loaf of bread and some veggies – lettuce, tomato, cucumber – and some hummus, guacamole, or any other vegan spread you can find. PB & J is also delicious, and you can always try almond or cashew butter instead of peanut butter! Most mainstream stores now carry almond butter, and a health food store is bound to have a wide variety of nut butter flavours. If you want something beyond a veggie sandwich, you can always buy some of that pre-made vegan lunch ‘meat’ or flavoured tofu. Pickles and olives make nice additions to sandwiches, and you can buy a small bottle of mustard for under a dollar. Health food stores sell vegan mayonnaise, which will make your sandwiches all the more yummy.

Supermarkets sell those ‘meal-in-a-cup’s, which is good for switching it up if you have hot water. Nowadays you have many choices besides just instant noodles, and a lot of them are vegan! Some stores (like Shopper’s Drug Mart) and health food stores sell frozen meals, like cheeseless pizza and bean burritos, which is great if you have a method of warming them up.

Don’t forget, there’s always salad. Buy a vegan dressing (or don’t – just use fresh lemon juice and herbs) and make a giant meal salad. Romaine, spinach and tougher greens like chard and kale form a good salad base. Most grocery stores also have pre-made salad mixes so you don’t even have to chop up all of your leafies. Just add any of the following to your leaves – bell pepper, cucumber, tomato, sprouts, radishes, green onions, fresh herbs, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, red cabbage, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, dried fruit, corn, veggie ‘meat’, croutons, nuts and seeds, and a ripe, black avocado! You can throw absolutely anything into a salad – just be sure to make it substantial enough. See Gena’s post on how to build a meal-sized salad for more ideas.

If you’re looking for a grain besides wheat and oats to give you nourishment, you can buy couscous, which is delicious and only needs to soak in boiling water for about 5 minutes. As long as you have a bowl or container with a lid to keep the steam in, all you need to do is pour 1c boiling water over 1/2c of grains, let it sit, covered, and then floof it with a fork. If you have access to spices, great, if not, salt and pepper cuts it. You can also squirt in some fresh lemon with a bunch of minced herbs like mint and basil, and stir in some fresh or frozen peas. If they’re frozen, they’ll thaw quickly from the couscous’s heat. You can mince any sort of raw vegetable into the couscous and it’ll be delicious.

For snacking, you’ve got a wide variety of choices. At a health food store, you’ll find Larabars, generally just made with a few ingredients, and other such goodies. Most conventional granola bars are not vegan, but many sold at a health food store are. Health food stores also have delights like vegan chocolate, though most supermarkets offer at least one type of vegan dark chocolate. Make your own trail mix from nuts, seeds, dried fruit, cereal, even pretzels and popcorn! Applesauce and fruit cups make for easy snacking, and vegan pudding is getting easier to find (I believe Shopper’s Drug Mart sells it). Aside from having ‘milk’ in tetra-packs, you can also buy ‘milk’ boxes with the straws, and though I’m a fan of homemade, fresh, mineral-rich juice, boxed juice does make a nice snack. Of course, a classic snack is always veggies and dip, which is fast, light and easy. Crackers with pickles and vegan cream cheese (health food store) is a great snack too!

If you’re travelling alone or with a vegan companion, it’s easy to make good food choices. Things become a little more complicated if you’re travelling with one or more omnivores, because it means that no matter the situation, someone is going to have to compromise – unless your omnivore friends/family are very okay with eating animal-free meals. It’s important for your travel companions to respect your dietary considerations, and understand that it’s not always going to be easy for you to find food. If you’re all going out to a restaurant together, try to select one that will have choices for everyone. Compromise a little, but remember that it isn’t fair to be dragged around to every steakhouse in town if you’re vegan, and your friends and family should understand that. If they desire a greasy burger and fries, that’s okay – just make sure you also make a detour for a vegan sandwich or stir-fry. Speak up! It’s not too much to ask to share meals that everyone can enjoy. And if it’s that big of a deal, you can accompany them to whatever place they want to consume animal parts from, and they can join you on a trip to a health food store for a soup and sandwich. It’s not ideal to eat separately, but it’s better than starving or compromising your values.

Hopefully this gives you some ideas for the next time you’re travelling or on the road. If I happen to come up with any more ideas, I’ll be sure to add them to this list. Until next time! 🙂

Health and Nutrition, Menus

Variation in Vegan Food

Recently I was asked if I found enough variation in my daily eats by being vegan. This question caught me off-guard, and I’m sorry to say I didn’t do a very good job answering it – I tend to only find an answer I’m happy with long after the question has been asked. However, now that I’ve had time to ponder the question, there’s quite a bit I want to say about this. I definitely understand where the question is coming from – when one is used to eating animals and their fluids on a daily basis, it’s hard to perceive anything aside from perpetual hunger. The part that gets me is that I eat a more varied diet than most omnivores I know.

For many people, you’ll find the same 10 meals appear over and over again, on a daily basis. It’s possible to make a top 10 list and cover 95% of what people eat on a regular basis. Back in my vegetarian days, I had my very own list of foods perpetually rotated:

1. Veggie burgers
2. Pasta with tomato sauce and veggies (sometimes with veggie sausage or ground round)
3. Instant noodles
4. Grilled cheese sandwiches
5. Veggie sandwich (with mayo and mustard, sometimes hummus, and sometimes veggie ‘meat’)

6. Veggie dogs

7. Canned soups (usually beany ones)
8. Cereal (the sugar-laden kind) with soy milk

9. Pizza – mostly take-out, sometimes with cheese, sometimes without

10. Perogies

By the end of that list, I was really exhausting my memory, stretching to come up with ideas. I really didn’t eat many foods. Back in Logan’s omnivore days, he would mainly eat PB & J sandwiches, broccoli, pizza (he worked at a pizza place), perogies, chicken fingers, apples, bananas, noodles, cereal and boiled sausages. My roommate subsists on a diet consisting of fried eggs, instant granola, deli meat sandwiches, subs, boiled sausages, fried hash browns, veggies and ranch dip, canned soup, fruit smoothies with yogurt, and gluten-free pasta with cream alfredo sauce. Do you think you could sum up 95% of your daily food intake with 10 foods?

I am NOT saying that eating the same foods over and over is bad, though when I look at my list, I can easily see ways in which I could have improved my choices. What I’m saying is that MOST people do not eat a varied diet. I think what this person was really wondering is simply, ‘what the heck do I eat?’

If you’re the kind of person who orders take-out and eats in restaurants a lot, you’ve likely noticed there are usually slim-to-none vegan options on a menu. Your average restaurant tends to focus on meat and cheese, with vegetables often an afterthought. From this perspective, of course a vegan diet seems limiting. As an omnivore, you can choose anything off the entire menu, having sometimes more than forty choices. As a vegan, you’re lucky if you can find one option without ordering ‘off’ the menu.

Being vegan can also seem limiting if you like to grab snacks at the convenience store or vending machine. I can safely assure you that none of those chocolate bars are vegan (there are rare exceptions), and lots of the candy contains things like gelatin (made from ground horse and cow hooves). You have the most selection with potato chips, though ‘cheddar and onion’ or ‘sour cream and onion’ are out. Incidentally, Logan was eating some chips with friends that were bacon-flavoured, yet they were vegan.

If you don’t do a lot of home cookin’, you’ll sometimes encounter trouble in the grocery isles. Many packaged dips and dressing contain cream or egg (and lots of other unpleasant stuff). Even the ‘soy cheese’ most mainstream stores sell contains casein. Many loaves of bread contain egg or honey, and a seemingly endless amount of products contain the ever-ambiguous ‘milk ingredients’, even in the things you would never suspect, like Aunt Jemima syrup (only one variation). The entire dessert isle is out, unless you want Oreos or Fudgeos, though there are definitely debates about even those.

Being vegan DOES seem limiting when you look at it in this way. Some may say it seems like a downright pain in the ass. However, there is a very, very MASSIVE plus side to this that many people do not realize.

That vending machine at my work? I don’t go near it anymore. Being vegan means being a label-reader, especially in the early days, so aside from the fact that most of the snacks contain animal products, I’ve also been well-acquainted with the mile-long ingredient lists and the oodles of fat, salt and sugar in these products. I used to mindlessly purchase chocolate bars, usually several a week. Now I no longer do, except when I splurge on a bar of dark chocolate, which is not as easily accessible as all the other junk food I’m surrounded by. I do not view that as a bad thing – I’m sure my health is better for it.

One of the real gifts that veganism granted me is a love of cooking, and a reason to explore a wide variety of foods. I wanted to help the animals and the planet, but I didn’t ever want to be deprived of delicious food. So I had to learn how to cook delicious food without using animal products. I started small, and still ate the foods in my top-10 list on a regular basis, but slowly I was able to phase out some things and alter others. Over time, I developed competency in the kitchen and good health as a result. When there are donuts in the staff room, I pass. I make all my own desserts, so I don’t make them too often. Since many restaurant menus are far too animal-centric, I cook 99% of my meals at home, where I get to control things like oil and salt. This is something I am really proud of, and makes me feel great! So while some might consider my choices to be limited, I view it as a blessing.
So no, I don’t feel my diet lacks variation. My diet is wonderfully varied! I couldn’t even dream of writing you a top-10 list anymore. I love soups, and have recently made ‘roasted broccotato soup with chickpea croutons‘ and ‘creamless cream of asparagus soup‘. When I’m not enjoying a smoothie for breakfast, there are many options like ‘banana soft-serve overnight oats‘, a ‘banana pancake sandwich‘, and scrambled tofu, alongside baked potatoes, of course. And don’t even get me started on the life-altering burritos that we eat about once a week. Then there’s pizza, veggie burgers and pasta, remakes of old favourites with endless variations. Rice bowls (or quinoa bowls, or any other grain) make a regular appearance in our house, with different sauces, like salsa or teriyaki. This is where tofu usually gets to star, marinated in soy sauce and baked in the oven until browned. Perfection! And, oh, sandwiches, usually with homemade brown bread – so many choices! And that doesn’t even include dessert. Oh, dessert, with all your pies and cupcakes and cakes and cookies

If you’re still not convinced that being vegan can have lots of variation and excitement, I urge you to check out these recipes, or these. Here you’ll find everything you already enjoy eating and then some, only veganified. All it takes is a little initiative to make your own food, which might seem like a big time investment, but is rewarding on so many levels.

Until next time 🙂