May Contain Traces of Sarcasm

I get a lot of questions about veganism. Some are more about lifestyle, but most are about food, and what is and isn’t vegan. I appreciate these questions, because usually it is someone either trying to understand, or even better, trying to include my dietary preferences in something they’re making.

One of the most common that I get is whether a food that “may contain [traces of]” something non-vegan (milk, whey, egg, etc.) is vegan or not. (“May contain” means that the given food item was made on the same equipment that also handles a different food item containing that non-vegan ingredient.)

My answer is usually, “it is to me!” Why do I make this distinction? Because this is one of those borderline issues, where it’s really a choice for each person to decide. Some people aren’t comfortable with (or, are allergic to) cross-contamination. And that’s totally fine. For me, I decided to let this one pass, after I read someone say, “If vegans avoid all products that “may contain” non-vegan ingredients, no one will make them, because it won’t be financially worth it for them avoid cross-contamination.” It makes sense for me, because I really want people to make vegan things! More vegan items facilitates a possible transition into a state where it is financially viable to avoid cross contamination.

And now, some of my favourite vegan items, which may (or may not) contain traces of non-vegan ingredients.

  • Annies Gluten Free Snickerdoodle Bunny Cookies - okay, they’re not quite like snickerdoodles, but they’re tasty and highly portable
  • So Delicious Coconut-Based Ice Cream - Definitely the type we get when we are too lazy to make ice cream in a pinch! Also, I’m just noticing how many delicious-looking flavours aren’t available here. For shame.
  • Camino Fair Trade Drinking Chocolate Mix - Chocolate. So much chocolate.
  • Larabars – I have been off these for awhile, but recently rediscovered them. They are awesome, wholesome, and portable.
  • Daiya Cheddar Cheese Slices - no gluten, no soy, and it melts. However, don’t go in expecting an exact cheddar cheese replica, or you will be sorely disappointed. Think Kraft Singles and Cheez Whiz. (Do they even still sell Cheez Whiz?)
  • Earth’s Own Almond Fresh - this almond milk is hands down the best out there. It’s fortified and it doesn’t have any of those weird bad-tasting chemical thickeners. Their chocolate milk makes me all kinds of happy, but usually I stick to unsweetened.

Do you have a favourite vegan product? And, for the non-vegans–when’s the last time you had Cheez Whiz?

Updates Galore!

In lieu of doing a real post this week, I’m going to update on a few things I’ve posted on in the past few months. Things change over time, and posts lose their veracity. So…

1) I’m almost done the art project! I just need to do a few touch ups, and then all four of them will be ready to go. I’m very excited to share the finished results!

2) I have discovered that my “lazy” way of knitting is only the correct way if you’re doing stockinette. If you’re doing garter (or knitting in the round), the old way is still better. My mind is still blown, because I can’t even count how many scarves I must have done wrong over the years…hopefully nobody notices.

3) It took me quite a while to realize that changing my name really wasn’t what I wanted. Since I spent over a year trying to convince myself that it was what I wanted, I’m a little confused as to why I didn’t realize that sooner. The reality is, for me, that my name is mine. Sure it came from my dad. But our family isn’t the Smiths. It’s not even the Robert-Smiths. Our mothers and our fathers all had family names, which would mean to be true to the actual family we are, we would have to manage 4 last names. Unfortunately, taking the first letter of each of those last names doesn’t really work (too many consonants). So we’ll keep our names, and decide what to do with kids when we get there. We might even consider hyphenating. What’s the point in having kids if you can’t torture them with long, hard to learn names? (Kidding…)

4) As for the upcoming move, we have mostly decided that in the short term, we will be remaining in the Vancouver area. We are still seriously considering buying, though, so we’ll have to move into one of the Vancouver suburbs if we want to afford that. Even then it will still be a townhouse (at best), instead of our own detached house. One day…

5) Our “little” Boots is as cute as ever!

20140401_161918

(The hay all over the ground is the fault of the degus, we don’t live in a barn, I swear)

I only wish I could always be as happy as she looks in that picture. Sunbeams really are the best thing ever. If she hadn’t taken that one, I probably would have.

That’s it! May your week be full of sunbeams and contentedness!

Starting From Scratch

I am a dessert person. I love dessert.  There is no doubt that I got my love of desserts entirely from my mom. My dad is not a “dessert person”, at all. Apparently, when it came to dessert at a restaurant, they did the “she gets the dessert, he tastes a couple of bites” routine. And I don’t mean “he actually eats half”, I actually mean a couple of bites. If I let my husband share my dessert, I generally cut it in half first because a) I don’t share well, and b) he also loves dessert (although slightly less than me).

Since it was my dad’s birthday a few days ago, I wanted to make him a cake that was, well, healthy. Something he would actually eat. I wanted to make a super fancy raw cake, but didn’t have the time to do all the prep (i.e. learn how to make 8 cups of almond milk from scratch). I resorted to making a “regular” cake. I figured an apple cake. Between applesauce and apple bits, if I searched for a healthy vegan apple cake, there would be something, right? Wrong. Apparently “healthy” includes at least 1/2 cup of oil, usually more like 1 full cup. After nearly an hour of searching, I gave up. I did some research. I built my own recipe from scratch. Nearly 1/3 of the recipe volume was applesauce.

And it tastes and looks delicious!

20140322_223944

Except for one itsy bitsy problem…it’s super dry and crumbly. Half of me wants to just try upping the applesauce, as it was a pretty thick batter. The other half of me is fairly sure I will have to increase the coconut oil from 2 tbsp to 3 or 4 tbsp. The tragedy! Unfortunately, until this fiasco is resolved, I will be keeping this recipe to myself. I don’t think there’s a huge demand for healthy, crumbly apple cakes.

I suppose the problem could be covered up solved by slathering it in icing…but where’s the fun in that?

What’s your favourite “healthy” dessert recipe?

Everything I Thought I Knew Was Wrong

I have been knitting for a fairly long time. I learned initially when I was about 12, then put it down shortly afterwards for another 6 years. Since I picked it up again, other than a year or two break for my previously mentioned health issues, I have been knitting more or less the same things.

Lots and lots of scarves. A few fingerless gloves. And when both of those got boring, I started going gaga over patterns from mochimochi land. Especially the tiny penguins.

But certain things stayed the same. I cast on and off the same way. I had two ways of doing knit stitches: the “lazy” way (the purl stitch’s mirror), and the “proper” way (straight up next to the other needle).

More recently, mostly due to a friend of mine starting to knit and far exceeding my scope of projects in a very short period of time, I started trying some new things. I learned the long tail cast-on, which is not only a looser cast on, but it’s also fun to do! On my honeymoon (yes, I knit on my honeymoon), I learned to hold the yarn Continental style instead of English style. I LOVE Continental style because it’s faster and much less hard on my hands.

Just this past week, I did my very first swatch (don’t judge me!). During the 28 stitches by 38 row process, I got bored of doing my “proper” knit stitches, and started doing some “lazy” knit stitches.

I discovered something horrifying.

All these years, I’d been knitting wrong.

20140315_174749 (1)

My “lazy” stitch, is actually the better way to do it. The “proper” stitch, makes the knit stitches uneven in comparison to the purl stitches when doing a stockinette stitch. But the “lazy” stitch makes everything nice and even. I guess it makes sense, since it’s the purl stitch’s mirror and all. And it doesn’t seem to make a difference which style I do when I’m knitting everything (although mixing doesn’t seem to be a good idea).

I cannot express how much this shook my world. It was one of the pillars of my knitting knowledge. One of those things that was just fact. Now, that pillar has crumbled and in its wake has left me to knit all “lazy” stitches. Which…is actually kind of awesome.

What’s something you always took for granted as a fact and then one day found out was actually quite wrong?

Living with Pain

I experience pain daily. Some people can’t say that, and I’ve never really been able to relate to them. Especially the ones who say “I never get headaches”. I used to get headaches most days in a week. They make it difficult to focus, and while taking painkillers (sometimes) helps, it often results in a continued inability to focus (thanks ibuprofen).

My job puts me at a computer for 40 hours a week. After 5 years of university, that puts me at way too much time at a desk. What had been neck tension headaches spread into my shoulders and arms. It’s called referral pain. Basically the nerves that start in my neck are getting irritated and taking their irritation all the way down my arms. It’s a difficult thing for most people to understand, because unlike most pain, unless it is properly targeted, trying to strengthen the muscles will often just make the angry nerves angrier. I stopped wearing necklaces, then earrings. Eventually, I had to give up knitting. (Try not to cry for me, knitter-friends, the story gets happier).

One day, over 2 years ago. I got tired of the headaches and the pain. They’d been getting more and more frequent. I went to physiotherapy. I was there once a week for nearly a year. A year. That’s over $3000 on just trying to not get worse. I changed my work chair, got a split keyboard, stopped using a stupid magic mouse (the only magic they perform is giving the user wrist pain!). I got(/get) up every 15 minutes from my chair, begrudgingly, usually. Finally, I got in to see a “specialist” (there are technically no specialists in physiotherapy). Finally, there was someone who could help. Instead of just staying afloat, I started improving. Slowly.

Eventually, I was able to knit again. These days, I will have up to 3 headaches a week, but on good weeks, I might not have any headaches. My arms don’t bother me as much, and I only go to physio once a month. I do still do targeted exercises every morning for about 30 min though.

What strikes me in all this is how we get used to a certain level of pain. Now that I have improved, headaches that I probably would have used to brush off drive me a bit crazy–a mere 1 ibuprofen banished headache. My arms used to be painful every day, but now one day is enough for me to attempt to throw in the towel (but throwing inevitably hurts so I don’t end up doing it).

The body can adapt to a crazy amount. Even this completely unnatural lifestyle I lead, sitting all the time staring at a screen. Holding my hands at weird angles. I have faith that one day, things will be better than they are now. Will I ever be what’s considered “normal”? I have my doubts.

However, I am incredibly grateful the pain levels I’ve adapted to are as minimal as they are. They could be so, so much worse. You see, I started thinking about all this after reading a post on The Other Courtney about the incredibly brave Brynn. Brynn deals with a horrendous illness on a daily basis that I, personally, can’t even imagine. It helped remind me to be grateful for the health I do have, and also spend some time marvelling at what humans are able to overcome, even just emotionally.

What are you grateful for today?

Natural Vegan Rainbow Cake

My sister turned 19 this past week. Much to my relief, she didn’t immediately go out and get drunk (19 is the legal age in BC). I like to think she had a good birthday anyway.

I realized a few days beforehand that a rainbow cake was the perfect type of cake to make for her. If you knew her, this would make sense to you. If you don’t…well, she’s a very special 19 year old. One thing I’ve discovered in the past year, though, is that what they make the food dye out of is nasty business. Not only what it’s made from, but how they test it…pass, thanks. It’s not to say I never buy premade food with food dye in it, because that wouldn’t be true. But I do try and avoid it when possible. Besides, it’s much more exciting to try and colour things naturally.

After a lot of research, I decided to double a 9″ white cake recipe and split the resulting batter into 5 parts.

  1. Pink / Red – Raspberries
  2. Orange – Carrot juice
  3. “Yellow” – Mango (It wasn’t very yellow at all)
  4. Green – Matcha powder
  5. Purple / Blue – Blueberries

For the raspberries, blueberries and mango, I put 3/4 of a cup (approximately) worth of frozen fruit into a mug and threw it into the microwave until everything was thawed and mushy. Then, I squished the fruit into a fine-mesh strainer with a spoon, draining all the juice out into the batter.

Because I was putting extra liquid into the batter, I cut out 1/4 cup of milk for each layer. Then add in 1/4 cup of milk to any layer that isn’t getting extra juice put into it (i.e. the Matcha layer).

It was SO much fun, watching the batter turn colours and then seeing how everything turned out in the end!

20140302_203936

The best part was that the berry layers actually tasted like blueberry and raspberry!

The worst part was, my measurement skills sucked, so the layers are 3 different sizes. I don’t even know how I did it, I was using a scale.

Also, the icing job went very poorly, since there just wasn’t quite enough. I shaved down the cakes since somehow, despite being baked in the same pans, they were different sizes. Regardless, I think I covered it up nicely.

20140302_160451

All I can say is, thank goodness for large coconut shavings. And cake shavings, I guess?

The icing was very very sweet, so in the end, it was a good thing there was only a thin layer on everything. It was delcious though, and you can find it over on instructables. The cake recipe turned out amazingly, even with my tinkering (we ran out of butter so I subbed in some applesauce, and I also used nearly 1/2 c less sugar). It is the Vanilla Cupcakes recipe from The Joy Of Vegan Baking, which is a cookbook I highly recommend. The recipes aren’t “healthy versions”, but they are accurate vegan replicas of the classics, which is really useful to have on hand. And I must confess, the colouring ideas weren’t my own (except for the mango…which didn’t work…), I found a lot of helpful information on Growing A Green Family.

Verdict? I highly recommend making this cake; it’s fun to make and to eat!

 

Book Review: Knit Your Own Zoo

When I saw “Knit Your Own Zoo” on Netgalley, I was pretty excited. I love animals, and I also love knitting miniature versions of them!

Image from Amazon.com

  • Authors: Sally Muir and Joanna Osbourne
  • Publisher: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers
  • Publish Date: February 11, 2014
  • 176 Pages

There are a lot of great things about this book. For one, I love the detail in the shape of each of the animals. Even from the cover picture, you can see that each of the animals has a huge amount of detail in the curves of its body, legs and head. Another thing I am impressed by is the use of pipecleaners to give shape and bendability to the limbs.

The variety of animals is also quite wonderful. There’s penguins and pandas and giraffes and seals…And before each pattern begins, there’s a few fun facts about each of the animals, which I think is a very nice touch.

All of the animals are knitted straight and then seamed together. For me, this is a sad point, because if I have to seam things, it will take me years to get around to finishing it. I admit, though, that you just can’t get the same detailing (especially some of that colour work!) if you are knitting in the round, so my laziness is entirely my loss.

I think the book might have been better if the animals were sorted by difficulty, or at least had a difficulty rating for each one. Some of the patterns are definitely harder than others, and I found that many of the animals had a lot of stitch shorthands I didn’t recognize, which was a bit overwhelming at first. However, one look at the stitch key in the back of the book assured me the mysterious stitches, in fact, were not too difficult.

My favourite animals were the Panda and the Penguin, although there were a lot of others in there I would be tempted to make as well. Is there enough awesomeness in this book to get me over my aversion to seaming? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t buy it for someone with less of an aversion!

Overall, I give it a 3.5/5.