Thank you so much for the kind words from my last post. New friendships take a while to develop, at least for me. I am definitely keeping my chin up… and moving forward. Or perhaps trying just to enjoy what is. It really was a stressful whirlwind last year and it might be nice to embrace the emptiness. Thank you, Anna, for pointing me to this lovely video.
One thing is for certain: I couldn’t do this without Rob. I could not imagine doing this year apart.
Since Rob works from home, and I labour in the hospital, it is funny how the roles have reversed slightly. I swear, Rob has been more adventurist in the kitchen than me. Rob is cooking up a storm, while I am relishing in my quickie salads, hehe.
And the best part? If we time it just right, I can come home to freshly cooked food. Some foods are just not meant to be eaten as leftovers, which is why they are such a treat.
Case in point: arepas. The moist and fluffy arepas with a crispy shell only happen when you make them fresh. We long learned not to make leftovers since they are very lacklustre. They are one of Rob’s specialties, although previously reserved for the weekend when we have more time for food prep.
They seem to fit with most any dish, at least in our fusion household. We like to make it with tofu scramble, but this time Rob went all out with the bean-quinoa chorizo crumbles from The Great Vegan Bean Book. I found them a bit spicy, so I threw together a spin on vegan egg salad: tofu-avocado salad. The avocado, tahini and Dijon make for a creamy dressing while chunky avocado and tofu are surprisingly reminiscent of eggs. The dill adds a nice spin, too. I used dried but I think fresh would be best.
The dust has settled… the boxes have been unpacked and we’re settling into a new routine.
As life becomes less chaotic, I am feeling a bit more lonely.
Friends and family seem so far away. It doesn’t help that Rob is sometimes working out-of-town.
At least I interact with my co-workers. I don’t know how Rob copes with mostly working from home. Not too much real people interaction except from the coffee shop down the road. Limited integration with other Texans.
So, be it resolved… our next goal has to become more social.
Baby steps. This weekend, we have cycling plans and curry+games plans [BANANAGRAMS!]. It feels good to get back into my social groove.
And these chili lime crackers? They bring me back to good times in Toronto.
Just before we left, I visited Superfoods Eateries, a quaint resto with take-away raw foods. Between Rob and I (and a few free samples), we tried a variety of dishes. Luc, one of the owners, was incredibly enthusiastic about explaining the menu. My two favourite dishes were the cheesecake and corn nachos. They also had a lovely sandwich at one point but I don’t see it listed on their website menu. Their selection varies from day-to-day, especially after each item sells out. (I really, really wanted to try their chocolate cake but it was not available until after I left). The coconut-based cheesecake was not as heavy as other raw cheesecakes and unique because it had a slightly fermented/cheezy zing to it! It was definitely special.
But those corn nachos, oh my. Delicious. They are corn and flax based but thin and crispy with an exotic twist from the orange juice and cilantro. Rightfully addictive and perfect with a dollop of guacamole. Now that I am miles away, I figured I would try my own hand at the nachos. I will admit that mine are not as good as the original, but they are still good in their own regard. I tried to add as much veg-powered nacho-like flavours to the chips. The chili and lime flavours were the highlight. The nuts and seeds make for a filling cracker, although a bit thick. As such these are more akin to crackers and weren’t as crispy as chips.. but still complex and delicious.
Anyways, here’s to a fun-filled weekend!
How do you combat loneliness?
When I chat with friends from home, I field many similar questions. Have you finished unpacking? YES!!!! How am I finding the heat and humidity? Not that bad… Is Houston friendly for cyclists? My route to work is actually pretty devoid of cars, so I can’t complain. How is the food… and the veggie selection? One of my friend was interested in how I triaged the stocking of my fridge and pantry. What did I buy first? What were my perishable and non-perishable necessities?
Since we were without a kitchen for almost a week when we arrived, I continued with my travel-friendly eats: overnight oats with chia seeds and protein powder for breakfast, hummus with carrots and crackers for lunch and snack, and easy eats for dinner once I made my first grocery run. We hit up the closest grocers (Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Fiesta Mart) to scope out our new neighbourhood and begin our pantry. See below for what I commonly keep in my kitchen.
After the Zesty Lemon Cilantro Chickpea Salad, this was the next salad I made. This salad is almost too simple. Only four ingredients, or five if you include salt or pepper. Chickpeas, lemon juice, nutritional yeast and leafy greens. Definitely more than the sum of its parts. The lemon juice is tart and the nutritional yeast tames it into a creamy dressing. Marinade the chickpeas and use the extra sauce to toss with your favourite leafy greens. This is also a good travel-friendly meal if you stash nutritional yeast in your bag, of course, along with a knife to cut the lemon. Don’t we all travel this way? HAHA!
Without further ado, this is my culled pantry list:
Produce: apples, bananas (for Rob), carrots, lemons/limes, green onion, onions, garlic, ginger (cilantro is a common staple, depending on my menu)
Bonus: tofu and tempeh.
Leafy greens if salads are on the menu
canned beans (chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans)
dried beans (chickpeas, black beans, lentils (red, green))
Oats (rolled oats and steel cut oats)
Brown short-grain rice
Apple cider vinegar
Extra-virgin olive oil, for salads
Coconut oil, for cooking
Toasted sesame oil
Nut butter (peanut butter is Rob’s favourite)
Bragg’s liquid aminos or low-sodium tamari
Mustard (preferably Dijon)
Sweet chili sauce (for Rob)
Sriracha (for Rob)
Dried fruit (dates, raisins, coconut, cranberries)
Canned tomatoes (I usually only get whole tomatoes and less commonly crushed)
Agave or maple syrup
Tea/tisanes (coffee for Rob)
Baking soda (also for cleaning)
Herbs and spices (at least):
Cinnamon (sticks and ground)
Cardamom pods (green)
Aleppo chili flakes
Thyme (I don’t use this that often)
Basil (I don’t use this that often)
+ all the ingredients for my veg stock powder (parsley, dill, garlic granules, onion granules, etc)
I have had a much larger pantry in the past but I am trying to keep things limited to what I will consume in a year. What are things that I have missed that you cannot live without?
First there was the Toronto flood.
And now there’s the heat wave.
Your heat wave is my new normal. Although last week was actually quite mild. Lots of rain meant the temps were only peaking at 85-90F (29-32C) (before humidex, add another 10 degrees please). Whereas in Canada, you can boast about the amount of snow you endure, in Houston, it is the heat. Although, to be honest, it is not as bad as I feared. Why? Because biking is better. Working long hours. And a/c is everywhere. Yes, my long working hours mean that I cycle to work before the sun is shining too brightly and my commute home is after the mad rush from the Texas Medical Center. I swear, a leisurely bike ride is better than walking in hot weather since you make your own wind. I basically meander from one building with a/c to another with a/c (on really hot days my car’s a/c has trouble keeping up, though). And drink lots of (flavoured) water. I also have not been cooking too much. Eating, yes. Cooking, no. Salads, yes. Lots and lots of veggies. Even though my home has a/c, I do not feel like turning on the oven too often.
Raw food for the win! Simple raw food for the win.
Chutneys can be really spicy or ookey sweet. Neither which really appeal to me. I’ve made a simpler fresh mango chutney, paired with mung beans, but this time I focused a bit more on the chutney as a vector for flavour. Mango, red pepper, ginger, onions, chile flakes, curry powder and even raisins. Apple cider vinegar gives you the tang you associate with traditional chutneys. Use it as a dip, a salad topper or on top of your favourite curry. Whatever you pick, it is quite refreshing.
What are your favourite ways to beat the heat? (more…)
There are stereotypical differences of Canadians. You know, publicly-funded health care, colourful paper bills, and yeah, I throw extra u’s into my words. I knew about that.
And then, there are things that I had grown to enjoy that I miss. Like the lack of pennies. Honestly, that was a great idea for Canada. Or, our penchant for environmental choices.
Get this: I have garbage removal TWICE a week. However, there is NO recycling pick-up and definitely NO green bins/compost pick-up. (People drop off their recyclables at recycling depots at their leisure, if they do at all).
My new co-workers have become accustomed to my Canadian accent but never cease to discover new Canadian-isms… and apparently, the word garburator is a Canadian term. To Americans, they are known simply as garbage disposal units.
Google helped me figure out how to use it. However, it didn’t stop me from plugging my drain within a week of moving in. My co-workers confessed they rarely use them since they plug up drains too often. I think I will leave it alone, too. It seems quite wasteful and noisy to get rid of tiny scraps of foods.
I have no problem pulverizing my food into a delicious sauce, though. (I think my Vitamix is more noisy than the garburator, but it is all for a good cause). For this sauce, I combined avocado, cucumber and hemp seeds for a bright luscious sauce flavoured with lime and miso. Twirled it overtop kelp noodles and thinly sliced kale for a quick summer meal.
Do you have a garbage disposal unit? Do you use it?
*PS: Rob reminded me that while Ontario collects a lot of recyclables, they also ship it across the world to China. Not so environmentally friendly…
I thought I had adequately prepared for a few days without a kitchen. I packed a paring knife, cutting board, can opener, garlic press and lemon press with me during our road trip. No pots meant I couldn’t cook up quinoa. No cups meant I couldn’t even boil water for tea. Never mind anything more fancy that needed a skillet. Basically, it meant I could make salads.
This isn’t a boring salad, though. In between unpacking and snacking on hummus, I made this delicious chickpea salad when we first arrived in Texas. Of course, after I stocked up the fridge. Super simple: mix and marinate. It looks uninspiring but it was a nice balance between the tart lemon, fresh cilantro and sharp garlic. Lemon zest? Well, without my zester, I shaved off the lemon peel and chopped it with a knife instead. However, the zest in this salad is from the garlic, not the lemon zest. The garlic was stronger when I originally made it, but it tamed itself for leftovers, which made it perfect for lunch. It was also delicious overtop mixed greens for a more green salad.
Bring on the snacks!
Preparing for our road trip meant making a bunch of travel-friendly snacks. Preferably something with a bit of sustenance, too, in case we ran behind schedule.
One of my favourite snacks these days is dry roasted soybeans. Crunchy and satisfying. High protein, to boot.
I don’t know how it is made, because frozen edamame doesn’t look anything like what I buy pre-roasted. Instead of experimenting with homemade roasted edamame, I roasted chickpeas.
While I adore most things with chickpeas, roasted chickpeas have been hit or miss with me. It may have something to do with roasting the spices directly on the chickpeas, since I have also had troubles with baked spiced sweet potatoe fries. Leave the spices in the oven a bit too long and they may burn. Lately, I’ve taken to adding the spices just as they come out of the oven, like with these chickpeas and cauliflower spiced with dukkah.
But how about something easier to tote.. less messy.. something in classic snack flavours…. and here I bring to you roasted salt and vinegar chickpeas!
Infuse your chickpeas with vinegar by boiling them slightly, toss with a bit of salt, then roast them. Easy, peasy, for a delicious high-protein snack. I preferred these shortly after roasting as they maintained their crispiness. They lost a bit of their glorious luster as leftover snacks but were still very good.
Here are some other flavours you may want to try:
Pumpkin Spice Roasted Chickpeas (with Strawberries on a salad)
Cinnamon Roasted Chickpeas from Diet, Dessert & Dogs
Roasted Taco Chickpeas from Eat Me, Delicious
Crispy Roasted Chickpeas with Moroccan Spices from Kalyn’s Kitchen
Garam Masala Roasted Chickpeas from Bitchin’ Camero
Of my blog readers, only a handful are from my family. Rob and my Mom are my biggest readers.
So, when I say something here, I am held accountable.
When we planned our move to Houston, I said we were going to try a minimalist lifestyle. I was going to leave my dehydrator behind. But then, I kept making more and more things in my dehydrator. I had forgotten how lovely it was to make things in the dehydrator.
I also forgot that I wasn’t going to let life pass me by, either. We are planning to camp in the desert (via Burning Man), continue the long distance cycling (via the MS 150, Houston to Austin) and hopefully squeeze in weekend trips (sadly, my vacation days have dwindled down to nothing). It is times like these that portable snacks work their magic.
So, as we packed, I kept reconsidering whether or not to bring my dehydrator. To be fair, it is a space hog, but it is light. It is mostly filled with air!
Rob was not pleased, though. You said on your blog, you weren’t going to bring it.. I have changed my mind! I kept saying things like, “If I had to choose between x and the dehydrator, I choose the dehydrator.” Example: “If I had to choose between pictures for the wall and my dehydrator, I’d pick the dehydrator… and I bet we could fit the pictures inside the dehydrator, too! HA!”
Eventually, Rob had heard enough. After I made these kale chips, he definitely reconsidered his position. Thankfully, I did a mass kale harvest prior to our move. These were one of our favourite kale chip flavours. I thought they tasted like Sour Cream and Onion, with a touch of cheese, if you include the nutritional yeast. One of our friends agreed they were delicious but tasted more of the scallion undertone. Either way, it made a believer out of me for the power of kale chips. Hourrah!
The question will be whether I can keep up with the kale chip demand, though. We can plow through them so quickly!
Kale chips, here and elsewhere:
Maple Sesame Kale Chips from My New Roots (one of my favourites)
Chocolate Kale Chips from Cupcakes and Kale (Rob likes these more than me; I actually don’t like them)
Sweet and Zesty Kale Chips from Season 2 Season Eating
Sweet Onion Kale Chips from Flora Foodie
Salt & Vinegar Kale Chips from Branny Boils Over
Dill Pickle Kale Chips at Sondi Bruner
Spicy Curry Kale Chips from Choosing Raw
Banana Walnut Kale Chips from Choosing Raw
Thus, when we moved to Houston, we pared down our kitchen, minimalist-style. Minimalist, in comparison, because I am not willing to compromise in the kitchen, either. Do I need 5 different whole grains all the time? No. I will repopulate my kitchen with my favourites. Quinoa, brown rice and oats. Beans? Right now, I have been mainly munching on canned beans (we don’t have containers/bags to freeze beans yet and time has been a bit sparse). OK, I will still have many beans (don’t forget, I can order from Rancho Gordo directly!) but my collection will not as big as my last.
I still don’t feel deprived in the slightest. There are constant permutations and combinations to try out. The recipe may look the same, but a change in spice can make all the difference.
While still in Toronto, I was had a cook-date with a friend after work. I suggested making Heidi’s Moroccan chickpea and carrot salad. No cooking required, it was filled with my typical pantry staples. However, not everyone always has a lemon on hand, grows mint in their backyard (I don’t have that anymore), stocks prunes (um, yeah, not me either) or has a spice grinder. So we made do with what she had. Lime instead of lemon, cilantro instead of mint, dates instead of prunes and we kept the cumin seeds intact.
It may just be a label, but I wondered whether these changes would make this salad less Moroccan. Dates, cumin and carrots are very common in Moroccan cooking. However, I typically ascribe cilantro to Indian and southeast Asian cuisine. Turns out, cilantro is pervasive in Moroccan cuisine as well. Moroccan, with a twist, perhaps. With the mix of sweet dates, earthy cumin, tart lime, bright cilantro and crunchy carrots, it was very good.
It should not come as a shock, since it is very similar to my beloved Curried Chickpea Salad with Carrots and Currants with a smattering from my Moroccan Carrot Salad. Next time, though, I think I will try the original recipe. A tasty variation on a similar theme.
One of my favourite parts of my roadtrip to Houston was meeting friends. Friends that I have only corresponded with through blog comments and emails.
I have met a few other bloggers in person and it can be both nerve-wracking and rewarding. It is a bit like online dating. You feel like you know them without doing it in person. There can be a disconnect. How well do you really know them? Perhaps only the part they have shared publicly. On top of that, I narrate their voices in my head, perhaps erroneously. I was a bit shocked when I met Hannah for the first time. I shouldn’t have been… but yes, she has an Aussie accent! (which you can totally listen to here). Or when I met Laura, and she said y’all within a minute. You know you aren’t in Canada anymore when they start saying y’all.
Anyways, this brings me to Ellen and Andy. I was thrilled to meet up with her for breakfast as we skirted out to New Orleans. I really felt like we connected and had Rob not reminded us of our 7 hour drive ahead of us, we could have chatted all day. Ellen and Andy knew me well enough to warn me about things I had not learned yet: Americans and their guns (apparently there is a city that require everyone to own a gun!), how expensive American health insurance can be (while I always knew American health care was the most expensive in the world, I never had actual numbers to feel. We needed to find bridge health insurance which is $500/month for healthy people!), and tips on how to beat the heat.
I am a lover of tisanes and Ellen had a delicious iced tea to sip. It has been a while since I’ve had iced tea. I grew up loving the uber sweetened Nestea and I know that in the US, iced tea can be simply iced tea. Unsweetened, in all its glory, which was a shock when I liked the sweetened stuff. This time, though, instead of a steeped black tea concoction, Ellen made an iced strawberry lemonade. I have actually stopped buying fruity teas (except apple cinnamon – I still like that) because I don’t like them. I don’t know what it is. I have gravitated to earthy, spicy chai-based teas. Or lemon (+/- ginger) ones. Or mint brews. But not strawberry. Anyways, I digress. Ellen explained she brewed it for iced tea. That’s the way they drink in the South. When in the South, do as the Southerners..
I tried it, and I was smitten. Ellen sent me home with my own package so I could make my own tea once I arrived. That tea did not last more than a week in my house. It was so good. Let’s just say, Houston is hot. A girl needs to drink.
While I have added it to the bucket list to try and recreate in my own kitchen (the tea seems to be mainly dried apples and strawberries with rosehip peels and marigold petals, that I will probably omit), I ended up trying this delicious brew first which uses my kitchen staples.
Warming spices cinnamon and cardamom are paired with a bit of zip from the ginger. If you leave it to steep a long time, cinnamon will be the dominant flavour but that is good, too.
Rob will tell you I have a hard time drinking water. He thinks it runs in my family. No problems with hydration when I make this, though.
PS. Also on the bucket list: making the apple cinnamon macaroons Andy made for breakfast (only one of many delicious treats for our breakfast feast). Delicious!
You don’t realize how much you need things until you don’t have them.
A bed? Yeah, sleeping bags don’t cut it.
Chairs? Sitting on the floor is actually not that much fun.
Lest I mislead you with some pre-written posts, things have been a tad chaotic since my arrival in Texas. We drive down separately from our stuff. The shipping pod that had nearly all of our belongings was 4 days late. We were only partially prepared for living without our stuff. Rob was smart enough to pack our sleeping bags in the car. However, after one night of sleeping on the hard floor, we knew that was not sustainable. We ended up visiting REI earlier than we thought, to buy two thermarest sleeping pads. Much better. Gosh, how did I ever enjoy sleeping parties as a kid?? The good thing about the pads was that I could bring them to the kitchen, too, so I had a more comfy spot to sit on the floor.
Eventually Rob emptied the pod (while I was at work) and slowly we’ve been unpacking our home. We prioritized: 1) bed; 2) computer and then 3) kitchen. Since we only packed the essentials, we kind of needed everything. Bathroom amenities were also important: our shower curtain was in there! And my bicycle to be assembled for commuting to work. (Even before we had the pod, our first priority was internet! Pick up a modem and hook up the wifi)
Those few days in limbo had me less focused on the kitchen. Overnight oats for breakfast and lots and lots of hummus, crackers and carrots. Trader Joe’s has such delicious hummus, no? Their chickpea Mediterranean Hummus is fabulous! I started to build up my pantry with trips to grocers (totally digging Fiesta Mart) but kept meals simple without much of a kitchen.
To celebrate my first American holiday, July 4, I made this patriotic-looking salad: strawberries and blueberries with cacao nibs, hemp and maca. A fun fruit salad with unusual but not unfamiliar flavours. Kind of like a Canadian in America, no? A bit different but kind of the same. I will save my American-Canadian observations for another post… so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, enjoy your summer with some tasty berries.
You will have to forgive me. There may be a forthcoming onslaught of recipes using the dehydrator.
Towards the end of my move, the dehydrator was out in full force. Need travel snacks? Dehydrate them! Not sure what to do with random bits and bobs in the kitchen? Throw them together to get dehydrated. I quickly reconsidered my suggestion to move without the dehydrator. It suddenly made sense to bring it along for the ride.
I bookmarked this recipe because it promised to be better than Ritz crackers. It was also a fun way to sneak zucchini into a cracker along with walnuts, flax and hemp seeds. Unlike my previous savoury hemp crackers, I kept the flavours neutral. This way, they can equally be paired with homemade nutella, vanilla blueberry chia jam, vegan smoked salmon, rosemary cashew cheese, or a nacho cheese sauce. Or go even more travel friendly with a simple tomato and avocado.
These crackers were a bit salty for my tastes but they were somewhat reminiscent of Ritz crackers, in the way walnuts can be buttery. However, they were more coarse due to all the fun bits in it.
For those that do not have a dehydrator, these crackers can also be made baked. And I don’t mean with the oven going for 8 hours. See below for a baked option.
Have you checked out some of the other blogs on the Great Vegan Bean Book Blog Tour yet? I keep bookmarking more recipes to try. I feel like the majority of the cookbook is earmarked, to be honest.
I thought it might be nice to cook up a bunch more of the recipes and let you know how they were.. but then I made my second dish and decided to not delay my post any longer. The beans were fabulous.
Everyone has their go-to baked bean recipe. I did not grow up with baked beans, so I keep trying out new versions. Mango BBQ Beans are one of my favourites, but I also enjoyed the robust Slow-Cooked Nova Scotian Baked Beans with blackstrap molasses and pumpkin seed butter.
Like the Mango BBQ beans, these apple baked beans are simply simmered on the stovetop. They are also sweetened with fruit and since I used pureed canned tomatoes instead of tomato sauce, the sauce was lighter. A dash of molasses, Dijon mustard and apple cider vinegar make a complex sauce which is also flavoured with rosemary, thyme and smoked paprika. Weird, but it works. Very, very well. The beans probably do not need such a long simmer, but I decided to go a bit lazy with my food prep. Since I had Macintosh apples, which turn to mush when heated, I thinly sliced them. Thus, I had to wait for the slices to turn to mush. If you have an apple that keeps its shape, you will need to chop it up more finely.
Most bean-centric dishes make good leftovers, but I loved these beans cold, too. I served them on top of fresh baby spinach for a nice, light meal.