Sunday, March 22, 2009

Road Trippin' To Toronto

I've been away, playing in veggie paradise up north! Have you been to Toronto? If not, please, please, please, hop in your car, on your bike, lace up your skates or book that plane tix, 'cause this is one veggie friendly city not to miss! I don't mean to be down on my own dear Boston but frankly, our veggie restaurant scene is no NYC or even close to Toronto so I always jump for joy when we're heading north. So the plan was drive from Boston (specifically Cambridge) to Buffalo, NY to pick up my sister who was flying east from San Diego to attend a massage therapy workshop (that's her line of work) in Toronto. We'd then continue together up to Toronto. So crack of dawn last Wednesday, we prepared to leave. And then, finally, at 7:45am we actually got on the road despite our good intentions! Now to go west, most people take I-90 which goes from Boston all the way to Buffalo. Way convenient, huh? Yup..except for the quirky traveler aka me and H. When we hit the exit for Rte. 128 which is just a few miles to 1-90, we saw nothing but cars at a standstill. Well, there is nothing we hate more than traffic jams! Okay, well, maybe a few things more but to continue: we decided to take the road least traveled. And that has made all the difference right?

Sorta. It also means that you get stuck behind logging trucks followed by tow trucks. And you get to drive through the mountains and famous hairpin turns. But hey, a heck of a lot more interesting than a flat toll road!

Around 11am, we stopped in the town of North Adams, MA which is very close to the NY/MA border. It was rainy but nothing was keeping up from our second breakfast!

We found a cute local coffee shop for our second breakfast, Cup and Saucer. That's camera-shy H .
I had a toasted bagel with peanut butter..not memorable except for the fact that it was diamond shaped!

Back on the road, we did several hours driving to Syracuse, NY where we stopped at the Strong Hearts Cafe for lunch. I realized the name was necessary because any vegan entering this establishment will feel a quickening of the heart when they enter! Amazing food..we were in heaven.

We didn't have much time so I randomly selected a few things from the menu that maybe normally I wouldn't eat together but since I rarely go to Syracuse (okay, this was actually my very first visit!), I needed to make the most of it. Mouth prepare for ecstasy! We started with the chipotle potato salad..yum...

I got a strawberry "milk" shake made with Temptation vegan ice cream..delicious...

We got a takeout mint chocolate cupcake for my sister..she kindly shared half with me later. Seriously, the best vegan cupcake, wait make that cupcake vegan or not, I've ever had! Good thing I don't live nearby or there would be "more" of me to love I told H.

I got a tofu rice bowl with a tangy sesame oil flavored dressing on greens. Loved it.

H ordered a chickpea salad sandwich. He loved it which is saying a lot. He's not vegetarian although he's pretty close (still hoping someday, Mihl!) and willing to try most things. His latte was made with soy and he thought it was decent. Unfortunately, he thinks the cow's milk he uses still tastes better but it got him thinking about alternatives.

We stayed at a b&b in "Cabbagetown" pretty much in downtown Toronto. Look at the fattie kittie. She was a sweetie!

The b&b has four rooms. Some b&bs we've stayed at in the past have individual tables for breakfast but this one has one long table that seats 10. Which means that guests and hosts sit together and share a leisurely breakfast. Everyone was wonderful and we enjoyed hanging out with Lorrie and Robert from Ottawa and Daryl and his partner from the UK each morning. I realized afterwards, I should have taken a picture of the yummy food our hosts, Nick and Ted prepared for us. But it's enough to say that when I asked about vegan food, they were more than willing. Breakfast was grainy porridges or banana-blueberry vegan pancakes. And lots of tea and conversation. It was my favorite part of the day!

Our first full day in Toronto, H and I wanted to hit the Thai Princess , a local Thai restaurant. My sister was happy to join us. This restaurant is unlike any Thai place in Boston (and we have A LOT of them as I'm sure you do too!). The vegan options are so tasty and yummy that H and I at different points in the year will stop and think about that mango dish from Toronto from past trips. We loved it so much. Seriously. Yes, we are a bit strange like that! Below is my hot and sour soup. Note the fresh peas and cilantro? I've never had hot and sour soup so full of veggies and yumminess. Even a spice whimp like me would gladly endure the spiciness to eat this!

Sister N had the vegan Tom Yum soup. She traveled to Thailand two years ago and actually took a cooking class there so she's on more intimate terms with Thai food than I am and she felt the food at the Thai Princess wasn't quite as spicy as you'd get in Thailand. But for a western city, it was excellent.

The previously mentioned mango tofu dish. I will attempt to recreate this soon. I cannot find anything like it here in Boston for whatever reason. Dreamy...

H's peanut tofu with veggies

N's basil tofu with veggies..this was my second favorite.

Have you heard about the annual seal hunt in Canada? On Saturday, at breakfast, our host Ted told me that he was attending a seal hunt protest at Eaton Centre in downtown Toronto. I didn't know that much about seal hunting in Canada or elsewhere but the little that I was informed, I knew it was very cruel. So downtown we went. People from all walks of life where there. I liked this woman especially:

Here's what I learned: Why are the baby seals killed? For their fur. Who is wearing the fur? For the most part it is imported overseas particularly to Japan. Japan has a big demand for the white baby seal pup fur for whatever reason but it is now dwindling. Animal rights activists are making a difference in spreading the word!

Interestingly enough, the eastern provinces who claim that the seal hunt is a part of their economic vitality originally were the poorest in Canada. They used that excuse to claim that the seal hunt was a must for their economy. They have in recent years begun producing oil and now are fast tracked to becoming the richest provinces in Canada. I'm not a big fan of oil money but if it allows these provinces to focus on more profitable and less cruel endeavors, I'm for it.

The Canadian government subsidizes the hunt for up to $7 million Canadian dollars yet it is a profit losing enterprise. Each "hunter" makes less than $1,000 off of the hunt and most of that money comes from the government subsidization.

I was surprised to hear that the US has had a seal hunt ban in place since 1973! I mean, we're usually like Canada's mean older brother so it was surprising to hear that for most of my lifetime this ridiculous practice has been banned. I was thrilled to hear Ted, my b&b host, discussing the protest with some of the other guests, one who unfortunately was for the hunt. Ted told me that the Canadian news coverage of the hunt has been minimal. Some Canadians believe the hunt no longer takes place whereas others believe that it is necessary for economic reasons for the eastern provinces. There has been somewhat of a media blackout on coverage but the international community is now putting pressure on Canada to stop the hunt. This is Ted posing with his new hat.

This was my very first animal rights rally ever believe it or not. I have a mixed reaction to these events. I think it is very important to show up and be counted. They need the numbers but emotionally, it is very difficult for me to hear about animal cruelty. There is a certain amount of shock element that is needed to get people to pay attention but for someone who loves animals as much as I do, it was very upsetting. I had tears in my eyes as I listened to what they do to these animals. I won't repeat it here..I'm sure my fellow vegan bloggers are as sensitive to animal cruelty as I am. We don't need to be shocked by the details but if you are interested you can find out how to help, please sign this petition. The Canadian government is considering for the very first time a bill that will end the hunt! Please let Canada know that you support this bill! This is me with my new friend, Sealy..

Speaking of animal friends, of course, the real attraction that Toronto holds for us is squirrels! Here's a black one. They are actually dark brown, not black. They are eastern greys just like my dear little Squirrelly but they have what is called a "black phase"..which is scientisty type talk for a black color variation gene not some moody or punk phase that a disillusioned young squirrel may experience! The second would be more interesting, don't you think?

While N was at her massage therapy training workshops on Saturday and Sunday, H and I wandered the city. I admit that we had good plans, museums, cultural stuff but none of that happened. We slept late, spent the morning chatting with our b&b hosts and fellow guests, got a late, late start, indulged in leisurely lunches, walked a whole lot, went into bookstores, got hot drinks at cute little cafes, and then shopped A LOT. Tee hee! I don't think I've felt that relaxed in a long time. One such lunch place we tried was Richtree Market Restaurant. Are you familar with these? Ten years ago I became aware of Mövenpick restaurants while traveling in Europe. They appeared at many rest stops along the highways in France, Switzerland and Germany. Mainly cafeteria style (although I saw some that weren't) they always seemed to offer much better quality food than our typical rest stop fast food here in the US. So in the late 90s when I heard "Marché" was opening in downtown Boston and that it was from the same chain as Mövenpick, I was excited. Unfortunately, it didn't last in Boston (not sure why..maybe just a poor location as downtown Boston is saturated with tons of good eating) but while in Canada I noticed Richtree with the same logo design, colors, etc. We had to go!

When we entered, they handed us each a plastic credit card of a sorts. We would get a tray, walk around the different stations and hand the card to the servers and they would add the price of the food onto our card. Tons of yummy bean salad type things...sorry for the lack of clarity in the was hard to get a shot without someone arm or legs getting in the way.

Stations like these set up all over. I remember the following stations: pasta, salad, wine/beer, sandwich, pizza, pasta, waffles, dessert, coffee bar, asian and there are probably many more I am forgetting!

Our conclusion: a bit pricey but tons of fun and the food was really good. We'd do it again. I got a Rösti dish..a swiss potato dish and a sampling from the salad bar. Finished up wit a soy mocha latte! But I think the best part was the presentation of the was nice to actually see the food before you ordered it and the indoor seating felt like a nice escape from the chilly Canadian weather.

Later that night, we were hoping to try Fressen, the local higher end vegan restaurant. After locating the address on, we walked down to the address. Hum, not there. Using my trusty Blackberry, I looked up the address. Ack! Happy Cow put Queen Street East but Fressen is located on Queen Street West. Let's just say an hour and a half later we arrived at the restaurant. The menu looked promising. We were hungry. There were empty tables. Sounds good right? Hum, no. It took a moment for the wait staff to acknowledge us. That's okay, we were understanding. When finally someone greeted us, the first question, "do you have a reservation?" Well, no, we hadn't thought of that. Confusion sets in. Why so many empty tables? They told us that they were filled for the evening. Again, my head had trouble reconciling the fact that there were several empty tables. "You can wait around and if one of the reservations doesn't show up in 20 minutes, you can have the table." At this point we decided to go elsewhere. It felt too exclusive, too unfriendly. Fressen, I hope you are doing a great business, I truly do. I love to support vegan businesses but one of my cardinal beliefs is that vegan food should never be presumptious or inaccessible. It was a very bad introduction for H to a high end vegan restaurant. This made me sad. However, not to despair, we found a much better option. We dragged our weary selves to Live, a local vegan partially raw restaurant. It was casual and super friendly. Our waitress was a sweetie and we immediately felt at home.

We loved their veggie themed decor!

We started with the avocado tempura..very good..a little unusual but very tasty.

My sister's kale salad..delicious..

Sis' raw tacos with cashew sour cream

H's raw veggie burger

My "roast" tempura with potatoes and veggies...

The vegan raw dessert case..are we in heaven?

The raw avocado chocolate was smooth, chocolately and so so good! I'm still thinking about it. We found out that Live has its own cookbook but an e-version only. It's a little pricey for an e-book but if the recipes in the cafe are indicative of how good the book is, I will buy it soon!

We're back at home in Boston now with a full belly and great memories. We can't wait to go back north sometime soon again. That's it for now..I'm off to catching up on my animal rights study group reading. As we say in Boston, I'm wicked behind!

Monday, March 09, 2009

On A Dark and Stormy Night...Taxes Were Done

This is me doing *very* big and important tax stuff. That's "Hi" backwards..not my total income..whew!

The glasses and the pencil really make me look like I know what I'm doing, right?! God, I hope it works!

Comparing apples to oranges..conclusion? This is an excellent procrastination technique!

Calling in my accountants*...clucks of disapproval from them.

Waiting for the news as the accountants check over the books...holding breath..

Conclusion: The birds are happy! We are done, well at least until next year!! Now, a break to Toronto for me and some birdseed for the accountants. Man, am I lucky that my accountants just like to be paid in seed? What a deal!

So sorry, no Ahimsa and animal rights posts..yet. But I'll be sure to share veggie delights from TO later this week and Ahimsa as soon as possible. And Guava and Tara have convinced us to adopt...a gerbil. I hope this guy is available when we get back. See you soon!

*These chickens are professional actors. They are not certified CPAs. Actually, they are in no way qualified to do any kind of taxes, not even taxing labor so please do NOT hire them for your taxes.

Credits: Big Accountant Chicken played by Bok Bok Choi, Small Accountant Chicken played by Henry the Chicken

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Warm Lentil Salad and Snowy Squirrels

The non-vegan in my house is a pretty good cook..this is what he made this week: Hot Lentil Salad. It's really good!

We acquired this recipe while we were in Germany last June. We were staying in a chain hotel (we're b&b peeps but we were with family so compromises were needed!) that had a surprisingly good buffet breakfast and lunch. It feels to me that in America most hotels serve pretty much the same thing..without much variation. I based this on a fair amount of domestic travel for work via tradeshows and conferences. And the quality is average. Average tasting fruit salad with over sized melons chunks with gigantic over sized strawberries. The vegan option is almost always some pasta primavera. B-O-R-I-N-G right? What a great surprise to find a plethora of interesting and yummy vegan options instead at this hotel. H located this lentil salad on the buffet bar and wow, he was smitten. I liked it too but I was too busy making sure that I got to sample everything to focus too much on one thing. Typical: me the big picture person, H is the details person. So lentil salad for lunch and dinner every day for the entire three days in the city of Karlsruhe really made my details guy very very happy. On the last day of our stay, H had to face reality that he and the lentil salad would soon part ways. Before I could blink during our last lunch there, he was gone and suddenly reappeared with the chef. Herr Chef Man was delighted to share his recipe. He claimed he never measures the ingredients and sometimes he just makes the lentil salad into a soup by adding a little more broth. You can also serve this dish hot or's delicious either way!

2 cups brown lentils
2 cups veggie broth or a bouillon cube w/water
1 shredded carrot
1 stalk thinly chopped celery
6 "splashes" red wine vinegar (more or less to taste)
salt and pepper

Soak the lentils in water overnight or for 6-8 hours. Normally we wouldn't soak the lentils ahead of time but Mr. Chefman does so we will here. It also cuts down on the amount of cooking liquid that you need. Drain and rinse.

Chop the onion into smallish pieces. Slice the celery into average slices. In the bottom of a lightly oiled pot, lightly saute the onions and celery until slightly browned.

Add the lentils and broth/bouillon & water.
Cook for about 20 minutes, adding the carrots about 15 minutes into the cooking time.
Test taste to make sure lentils are soft to mushy depending on your preference (I like soft).
Add the vinegar, salt and pepper.

Serve hot or put in the fridge and wait a day. The flavor improves after a day or so and the vinegar taste mellows so it's perfect for leftovers!

Announcer: Now for a brief squirrel break

My neighbor's birdfeeder, my squirrels. The two have collided. At least, my neighbor's new "squirrel-proof bird feeder" has. Do you see where this is going?! There is NO such thing as a squirrel proof feeder! My little rascals are deviously clever. My neighbor jokingly asked me to talk to the squirrels and ask them not to eat the birdseed from his feeder..I countered by telling him (and it's true) that the birds eat the nuts I leave out for the squirrels. Wildlife doesn't care what's for which animal..they are all just a big happy wild bunch. Which led him to email me: "I should just admit that the bird/squirrel distinction is a total fantasy when you're giving out free grain." Yup! Here's one of the culprits aka Smoosh Face Squirrel:

Squirrel of the Snow Mountain (hill, mound, whatever..)

Hiding nuts from the other squirrels. Squirrels will often pretend to dig a hole several times before they actually bury a nut in an effort to confuse their friends as to where the treats are. And no, it doesn't work! Did I say they were clever? Hum..

Proxy on the "munchbox" feeder that her siblings destroyed last month. The Plexiglass is missing (I found it thrown across the lawn!) and the wood on the edges is munched to hell. In concept, the munchbox is a great idea. The lid lifts and the squirrels who figure it out will sit for hours helping themselves. It's adorable to watch. Other squirrels who are perhaps less inclined to figure things out, will sometimes just decide to go right through the wood with their teeth to get what they want. There are few things that can stop a determined Eastern Grey Squirrel! Hence our munchbox is out of commission. I am looking into a new one with copper edges..hopefully that will thwart the little munchers from biting the box that feeds!

Have no doubt: squirrels are major showoffs! "Look at what I can do!"

I wish this picture had turned out better but Mr. Cardinal didn't want to pose. But isn't he a beautiful red?

Finally, we had a ton of snow this week and it was a little different than past storms. I think it fell, melted just a tiny bit and then froze. On the way to the office, we passed this fence decorated with a snow garland worthy of a picture! Every part of the fence had a decoration like this frozen solid but looking like it was going to fall any moment.

Coming this weekend: Ahimsa in Action and my animal rights study group. And yes, probably more squirrels! ;)