Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Vegan Food Inspiration From 2+ Weeks in the U.S.

This is the first time I am doing this (I think). I was in the United States for a little more than two weeks and have a bunch of photos of delicious vegan meals, snacks and desserts I want to include here. I'm really getting into watching some "What I Ate Today" YouTube videos for cooking inspiration and am also trying to do my own low-maintenance (aka not learning how to make nice videos) version of that.

I am including some homemade food options, as well as restaurant meals, too. My first rule going anywhere is FIND YOUR LOCAL ZA'ATAR SOURCE AND LET IT KILL YOU. In this case it was from Damascus, a Greek/Middle Eastern specialty shop. As a result, the first bunch of photos are 3 ways of consuming said za'atar: baked potatoes (recipe coming soon), homemade meneyish with olives and tomatoes, and fries:
Not pictured: Eating it with a spoon until I choked (don't try that at home)
 Next up is a meze style dish (my favourite...I love mixing food) of hmoz, a super basic version of guacamole (aka avocado dip), pickles, red kidney bean salad with hemp seeds, and whole wheat pita. I made the beans in advance and used them for three different dishes afterwards. I was running and swimming a lot so it's always good to have beans or grains handy for some quick power meals.
Next up is a dream plate packed with garlic'd beets, hmoz, tomato cucumber salad (aka Vahe Jingalian salad), baked eggplant with tomato sauce, leftover za'atar potatoes, avocado, unnecessary (and stale) white bread, and some pickled jalapenos!
(And a little shout out to this amazing homemade hmoz made by friends of my parents when we went to visit them...perfection!):
These photos are all from Yard House where I got the vegan burger (comes with Daiya cheese) and the barbecue vegan "wings." So good, and there's a reason there was always a lineup in front of this restaurant! Just a note, I enjoyed the burger but the appetizer took the cake. I would just order that next time. Even the celery was really fresh and tasty.
This photo was my vegan meal attempt at iHOP. I've never been but that was where we ended up and I just assumed a huge chain like that would have vegan options, but no dice. Luckily my waitress was a vegetarian and hooked me up with steamed broccoli and a potato/onion/pepper stir fry, and I just added hot sauce on everything, and was only slightly jealous of all the pancakes floating around.
These two shots are a falafel sandwich from Noor, a small Lebanese restaurant that has incredible falalel and meneyish, and the hot sauce is perfection:
This last collage is just some liquid power! First is of course a nice Armenian-style coffee that hit the spot, the second looks like coffee but is actually chicory root with some coconut creamer courtesy of So Delicious. Next is a delicious green smoothie packed with kiwi, mandarin and spinach with a generous amount of chia seeds, and finally a lazy version of a margarita, with no added sugar :D
A few days before I headed back to Canada we went to Whole Foods Market, which is quite different than the one in Toronto. I always check out the baked goods area to see what kind of vegan stuff they have, and while the cookies are usually way too sweet, this double chocolate muffin sang to me, and I think this photo is really cool even though I'm sure it's really not:
I ate the other half of this super tasty muffin outside, and went wild when I saw a sail boat in the distance, and after taking three photos of it zooming in, I confirmed my belief that photos always ruin reality:
So I hope you enjoyed my first attempt at vegan food inspiration. I wouldn't normally eat out this often, but when in Rome (aka the U.S.), you gotta take advantage of things not available in Canada yet! And if nothing else: za'atar potatoes.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Vegan Mock Tuna Recipe!

I always enjoyed the taste of tuna in a can, and while I was excited to see this rather expensive option in my search to find something resembling it, I decided to finally experiment with the many recipes I saw floating around.

This recipe is a mixture of a bunch that I found and includes a lot of new additions to make up for something that was always lacking. It is my favourite one as I feel I finally perfected it and therefore actually wrote it down on a scrap piece of paper! So if you're like me and miss the taste of tuna-in-a-can, try this vegan recipe to get as close to it as possible. It is great as a dip, in a sandwich, in lettuce leaves or when I am desperate, just straight off a spoon!

-1 cup of cooked chickpeas (or one jar or can, rinsed), you can also save some of the chickpea liquid (aquafaba) and add a little for taste
-1 long celery stalk, finely chopped
-3 TBSPs dried seaweed (I use nori or kombu, you can try other types too!)
-1 TBSP mustard (I used a fancy kind cause I have a mini obsession with mustard)
-1 TBSP vegan mayo (I used Vegenaise but will make my own next time)
-1.5 TBSP tamari or soy sauce
-2 chubster pickles, diced
-Black and red (hot) pepper, as much as you like
-A pinch of salt if desired (add it after adding the tamari to see if you really need it)
-2 sprigs of spring onions (you can use a yellow or red onion but it does take over in terms of taste)
-Nutritional yeast! I use a lot cause I love it, but start with 1 TBSP and see how you feel about life

-Mash the chickpeas with a fork or a fancy device. Goal is to leave no round ones and to make a chunky mixture
-Add all other ingredients, liquids first, but get the dried seaweed in there early on so it softens with all the liquids added
-Mix it all up well and enjoy! You can put it on toast, eat it with lettuce leaves or with crackers! It is super filling and healthy, and a perfectly convenient option when you have extra chickpeas!
I might add a little bit of miso or try seasoning the chickpeas next time and see what happens with that. But until then, this is my favourite recipe for mock tuna!

Friday, March 3, 2017

Review of Mormot's ROM Athletic Jacket!

Winter is slowly (and stubbornly) coming to an end. Besides the little bursts of snow these past few days, the weather is warming up and the sun is shining. That means many things, one of which is being able to put away massive heavy winter coats and opt for something lighter.

This is where I've always had trouble. I've used the same windbreaker for the past few years despite the fact that it doesn't really protect me from the wind yet is heavy enough to make me sweat--which is especially inconvenient when biking or hiking. I've tried on a few other options and have found the same problems--the worst being a type of netting that is found in so many of these jackets that in my experience means the jacket is not flexible, not comfortable and will make you sweat even when you are shivering cold. So when I was offered the chance to review a Marmot athletic jacket courtesy of Altitude Sports, you can bet your boots I agreed.
I ordered the women's ROM jacket in medium and in black. I read that it is windproof, water resistant, durable, breathable and is made with an adjustable hood. After making sure there is no netting, hoods are the second biggest deal for me in terms of these types of jackets. Well designed hoods are not only perfect for chilly weather, but also suitable for rain, snow or wild winds and when made properly, can replace both a hat and a scarf.

When it arrived, I was so impressed with how lightweight it was and how nice the fabric--a mix of polyester and elastane--felt. It's also fitted, and therefore much more flattering than my previous windbreaker--which made me look like a box (not pictured!):
But I needed to take it out for a test before I could give it a stamp of approval. There was some snow and it was quite chilly that day, but not cold enough for a winter jacket. Without a scarf or a hat, I went on my hour walk, doing a light stretch before:
I felt very comfortable and warm without getting sweaty. The softshell protects you from the cold while the durable material conforms to your body shape, making it super comfortable. When the winds became particularly strong, I tried on the hood, and I have to say, the hood alone could have sold me. It has a cap component, which makes it perfect if it rains or snows (none of which was happening that day) and covers your entire head keeping your ears super warm and you can also adjust it to make sure no wind gets in. I loved it so much I made a collage:
When I came home, I was so happy with the results of my jacket, that I'm officially packing it on my upcoming trip to Europe where I will definitely get in some hiking and camping. Instead of using my uncomfortable windbreaker along with a hat and a scarf, this jacket is my new 3-in-1. You can check it out here, and while it's a good chunk of money, it is also warranted to be free of manufacturer defects for life, so you can consider yourself set!
Official stamp of approval!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Vegan Cheese Options Available at Canadian Chains Pizza Nova & Pizza Pizza!

Hello dear blog babies! As a result of a vegan Facebook group I am a part of, I learned that both Canadian pizza chains Pizza Nova and Pizza Pizza carry vegan cheese! The former uses Daiya shreds and Pizza Pizza uses Violife.

When my parents wanted pizza a few weeks ago from Pizza Nova, this tidbit of info came rushing through my head since I of course do not have access to Apiecalypse Now! uptown. We split the pizza to be half regular, half vegan and I added olives and mushrooms and if it wasn't for those two toppings, I wouldn't have known which side was the vegan side:
Before even trying it I of course had to add a generous amount of crushed red pepper, and then took my first bite, very happy with how creamy and delicious it was:
I have yet to try Pizza Pizza's option so will do that soon and report back--but in the same vegan Facebook group, Sara Pirri posted this delicious looking vegan panzerotti (she confirmed the dough was vegan) from Pizza Pizza:
While I am now in a phase of trying to make my own wild and specialty homemade vegan cheeses*, I am so happy these chains are carrying dairy-free cheese as it is such a convenience--especially when going to any social gathering where pizza is the superstar and knowing you can so easily make some of it vegan!

*aka I bookmarked 50+ vegan cheese recipes and keep writing reminder notes in my agenda to actually start experimenting

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Zatik Deodorant Review!

I discovered Zatik's deodorant by pure chance. I tagged along with my mom when she went to Winners one day, and while browsing the horribly cluttered Bath & Body section, did a double-take to confirm I was reading the word Zatik correctly on a bottle of deodorant. It means Easter or ladybug in Armenian, and sure enough there was a picture of a ladybug on the bottle, and it was manufactured in Los Angeles. Verdict? 100% Armenian.

Not only was the deodorant Lavender-Sage, it was also vegan and cruelty-free, and since I am always on the search for a natural yet effective deodorant, I bought it for $5.99 CAD, skeptically, but still hoping for the best (many deodorants have failed me).
I tried it out for a week, and not only loved the light scent, but was very happy with the results. It worked great, and as long as I wore it first thing in the morning or right after drying up after a shower, I continued to have a light Lavender-Sage scent situation going on in the pits of my arms. I even bought an Orange-Vetive option for my mom when I saw it again on another trip to Winners (I'm rarely at Winners but this post makes it seem like I live there) and she loved it too, although she prefers the Lavender-Sage one.
The only negative I can say about this deodorant is that I usually avoid roll-on options solely because during the winter I find the liquid gets too cold and it ends up taking longer to dry, making me want to wear them less. Not a big deal, and although on a few exceptionally cold mornings this winter I still found myself wondering if I could avoid wearing deodorant (spoiler alert: no), the results are well worth the minor inconvenience.

I checked out Zatik's website soon after and saw the variety of products they carry (all vegan, all cruelty-free) and decided to get in touch with them, and Ovsanna Mkrtumyan, Zatik's Director of Sales/Marketing, let me know more about the company and how it was founded. In 2005, her husband Garik made the decision to use his scientific background to create things that were useful, healthy, and environmentally-friendly, and Ovsanna left the financial firm she worked at to join her husband and focus on the cosmetic world. Garik educated himself on ancient herbs, Chinese and Ayurverdic medicine, and used his scientific expertise to create organic and vegan skin care, and in 2007, they begun selling products at local farmers markets. When I asked why it was important for Zatik to be vegan and Leaping Bunny certified, Ovsanna stated:

"We both wanted our product line to be different from what is currently available in the market. It wasn't going to make sense for us to make products that didn't have unique qualities. Which is why we use raw, unprocessed, unfiltered oils in all of our products. We also care about animal cruelty, the cosmetic companies are not regulated by any governing agency, which means they can get away with many claims, use any ingredient, then by torturing animals test them and then make it available for humans. We wanted to make sure that in our mission we make a point that we care about our environment and animals. We didn't want to just sell products but wanted to educate and create awareness to the issues that are currently putting out future in danger. We want to set an example that such a quality, high standard cosmetic company can exist which is in fact, organic, cruelty-free, gluten-free and simply uses food grade ingredients. After all, skin is a big organ and anything that is applied to it within 26 seconds 60% absorbs internally."

When I asked Ovsanna what Zatik's best-selling product is, she said it is their Dragon's Blood Cleanser, named after the tree. A "natural resin," Ovsanna states it has antibacterial and healing properties suitable for oily and/or acne-prone skin. She adds that while many products meant for acne contain high amount of alcohol, which dries the skin, Zatik uses a different approach focusing on extracts and oils to "clean, heal and preserve the skin without damaging the top layer."
I also asked what new products customers can get excited about, and Ovsanna stated that Zatik has added a new category to its line--Internal Health Options. They launched Black Cumin Seed Oil as a supplement since "it is known for centuries that our internal health is a mirror reflection of our skin." As the oil is known for its benefits in terms of immunity and easing inflammation, Zatik now offers the oil--which can also be applied topically or purchased as vegan softgels (for those who do not like the taste)--to its customers.
2017 is also the year that the Zatik team will aim to have 90% of their ingredients made themselves, and Ovsanna adds that they are looking forward to their "own raw material coming soon," which means "better color, scent and more stability."

Those interested in checking out Zatik's products can find them in almost every health food store in Southern California, including Whole Foods Market, Jimbo's Naturally and Mother's Market and Kitchen. Anyone outside of Southern California can purchase the products on their website (or randomly at Winners like me!).

Zatik is offering a promotion until the end of March, where $5 will be taken off all orders over $20! They also offer free shipping for orders over $50. The promo code is newstart.

All photos taken from the Zatik website

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

My Favourite Places for Falafel Around Toronto

This post is inspired by going to a "falafel joint" in downtwon Toronto several friends recommended to me, eating their supposedly incredible falafel, and it ruining my entire day as a result of how bad it was. And also because of that time in Germany they put MAYONNAISE on our falafel sandwiches.

It made me really appreciate the few places I go to for good falafel and I wanted to share this knowledge with the world. When I was a kid I remember never really liking the taste of falafel, but as has been the case with cinnamon, celery and ayshekaden, it has really grown on me. So without any further adieu, here are my top choices for falafel in and around Toronto:

Armenian Kitchen:
Go with your family, go with your friends, go with everyone, but make sure to go hungry. I have never been disappointed and I have been going here for a good chunk of my life. The lentil soup and veggie platter are my top choices, with the latter coming with hmoz, baba ghanoush, falafel, tabouleh and labneh. You can easily veganize it by asking for the labneh to be replaced with anything else on the plate (I always ask for more hmoz). It comes with pita, pickles (the BEST), hot sauce and that tahini sauce I always forget the name of. One of my all-time favourite meals and every single thing on it is made perfectly:
So good, so filling, and I have yet to meet anyone who doesn't leave there absolutely stuffed and happy. That includes Bjorn, Shaghig and I on our most recent trip there (we were so full):
Even though falafel is best hot & fresh, my mom and dad recently went to Armenian Kitchen together, and assuming (rightfully so) that I would be very jealous of this little dinner date, they brought me a bag of falafels:
Armenian Kitchen's falafel is so good, it can actually stand on its own feet. Although I already had a very filling dinner, I still devoured a few:
No regrets!
Another one that has never disappointed, and again, I've been going since I was a kid. It used to be a regular restaurant, but now there is only a buffet available OR you can go to the separate section and get a sandwich and other things to eat there or to go. There are a few booths if you want to eat any of their sandwiches, and the falafel one is perfection, and their tabouleh and hmoz are very delicious too. I have eaten in the restaurant, buffet and in the side booth, and while I prefer the restaurant days over the modern buffet, the food is still incredible. I don't have a photo of the sandwich but for my dad's birthday we went for the buffet and this was one of my 48 plates:
The meneyish, pickled veggies, hmoz, tabouleh and lentil soup (not pictured) were great, and the falafel is always made the same and super fresh. So delicious.

Rifca's Mediterranean Kitchen:
Disclaimer: I've been here two or three times for the falafel sandwich, which was always delicious and packed with the perfect toppings, but since my last visit the owners have sold it and I have not eaten there since. I have no idea if it is still the same fantastic place I remember but I really hope it is since it was delicious. Here is a photo of the falafel sandwich from my last visit:
So while this very short list highlights just a few of the many falafel spots in and around the city, after seeing what counts as "falafel" in Toronto and abroad (looking at you, Germany), I am so happy they exist and continuously offer high-quality, perfectly fried and delicious falafel every single time!

*Three different people have told me Sababa on Steeles has great falafel and lentil soup & should be added to this list, so I will make an effort to eat there soon and possibly extend my super short list by one!

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Juice Beauty | Vegan, Cruelty-Free, Organic Makeup & Skin Care Giveaway!

Hello my little blog babies! Clearly Veg is doing an awesome contest giveaway, where the prize is a $200 Gift Card with Juice Beauty, a vegan, cruelty-free and organic makeup and skin care line! The contest runs until February 14 and you can follow this link to enter to win! Good luck!
*Participants must reside in the United States or Canada