Sunday, 30 October 2011

Vegan pumpkin pancakes

I don't know exactly what possessed me, but around Thanksgiving, I thought I should make something incorporating pumpkin because I wasn't going to be able to partake in the pumpkin pie this year.  I don't even really mind, because I've never been a huge fan of pumpkin pie, but I know pumpkin is really good for me, so I thought it might be fun to try a couple of recipes incorporating it.

Enter the vegan pumpkin pancakes!  We have now started having these pancakes every Sunday, they're so good!  Here are the ingredients that I use:

  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 Tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 cup coconut beverage (any type of milk or milk substitute would be fine) - plus extra (or you could use a bit of water instead, that's what I do), if the mixture isn't appropriately runny
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup, plus extra for serving with pancakes
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil, plus extra for greasing the pan
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree, canned
Mix all the dry ingredients in one bowl, then the wet ingredients (including the pumpkin), in a separate bowl.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until incorporated.  I use a whisk and get it pretty smooth.  Make sure that the batter is runny enough that it will work well for the pancakes!

This recipe makes five large pancakes (I can only eat two, so they're pretty big and oddly filling).  I 
suggest using maple syrup on them, if at all possible.  Enjoy! 

(I'll add a picture next time I make them!)

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Car-free month (or two).

The time has come to say goodbye to my car.  Well, not completely.  But kind of.  I still own my car, but have taken the plate off and switched the insurance over to storage insurance only.  No more driving, at least not with that car, until December.

Before I handed in my plates an hour ago, I did lots of driving, unfortunately.  I had lots of errands to run that would be very hard to do on foot or using public transit.  So I took a few hours today and stopped by my friend Leyna's place to pick up some suits, stop by no less than three different grocery stores (Whole Foods, Superstore and Save On Foods), along with London Drugs and the farmer's market at Lonsdale Quay (today is the last market until next spring, so I thought it would be good to stop by).

I spent most of the time driving in silence, and, of course, I was alone. I took the time to reflect on the nature of driving and what it means to our society and to me personally.  I didn't even have a car until I was 25, and used public transit until then as I was always living in a large city, so the public transit system was more than adequate to get me around.  This was true in Winnipeg, Ottawa and Vancouver.  Then, when I was working in Kamloops, I biked to work for the first few months that I worked there.  Then... I got my car.

After using public transit for my entire adult life to that point, my car represented freedom.  I no longer had to plan out my every movement, because I had a car.  All that mattered was that I had the money to fill it up with gas, as the car came with an excellent warranty.  Oh, and I had to make car payments and pay for insurance, which I still do, to this day.  My car will finally be paid off next August and I am hoping to never make a car payment again after that.  Rest assured, I will never buy another new car.

So, if getting a car means freedom to me, then making it so that I cannot drive my car has definitely resulted in a feeling of being trapped.  Or it was.  What is so funny about our society today is that we feel like we only have one choice.  I felt like when I had a car.  If I was going to go anywhere, I would obviously have to drive.  No distance was too long or too short.  I always had to think of where I would park.  When I still used to drink, I would have to plan around that as well.

But now, I have so many more options.  I could walk (short distances), jog, run, rollerblade (remember rollerblading?), bike, use public transit, carpool, use a Zip Car, or take a taxi.  Although some of the options involve a car, now that I don't have my own car, taking a cab once in a while hardly compares to the daily driving I've been doing for six years.

In the past month since one of the partners at my firm loaned me a bike lock, I've been biking to work as much as possible and not driving on weekends (except today).  I've managed to only use one tank of gas this month, which is about half as much as I normally use.  I'm looking forward to a month of saving money by not driving!

I am also looking forward to a month of living consciously.  Have you ever noticed that when you drive, you don't pay attention to much other than driving?  Which I'm quite sure is the point, but it's not a particularly pleasurable or engaging experience.  Tim always makes fun of me because I spend a lot of time when I'm driving making up back stories for other drivers.  I have been listening to podcasts a lot, which is stimulating, and I get to learn while I'm driving, but generally, city driving is a stressful waste of time for me.

Now compare that to biking to work.  When I bike to work I get exercise first thing in the morning and at the end of the work day.  I am actively thinking the entire time, because I am very careful when I'm driving.  I get to look around, appreciate (or mentally curse!) the weather.  I notice stores that I drive by every day but never really look at.  I love biking.  Every time I bike to work is such a pleasant experience.

However, I live in North Vancouver, which means that some days are not going to be good for biking.  It rains here, particularly over the winter.  And as much as I like biking, I don't like biking when it's pouring.  So I plan to bike on sunny days and cloudy days, but not when it's raining hard in the mornings.  On those days, I'm going to take public transit.

I've already been using public transit when I have to go downtown after work for classes, so I've had some experience with it.  I love public transit because you can read or listen to music or podcasts.  Or you can just stare out the window and get lost in your thoughts.

So, I'm going to try to bike to work as much as possible for the month of November and possibly December, and when I can't bike, I'm going to use public transit.  Also, October 31-November 4 is Vancouver Area Cycling Association's Bike to Work Week, so it's great that it coincided with my first week of being car-free!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Focaccia bread.

I have, once again, outdone myself.  In our harvest box this week we had three sprigs of rosemary.  I was thinking that we might make rosemary potatoes, but then we ended up making a soup that used up our potatoes, so it was back to the drawing board.  I decided to try my hand at making focaccia bread.

Here are the ingredients that I used:

  • three four inch sprigs of organic rosemary (about 1 tbsp)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/2 a package active dry yeast (I was making a half batch because we couldn't eat a full batch by ourselves)
  • 1/2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp fresh Italian seasoning
  • 1 tbsp olive oil from my jar of sundried tomatoes
I dissolved the sugar in the warm water, then poured it into a large bowl and added the yeast.  Once the yeast was frothing, I stirred in the olive oil, salt, 1/2 a tbsp of the rosemary and the Italian seasoning.  I mixed in one cup of flour, then added flour from the remaining 1/2 cup until the dough held together.  Then I turned it out onto the counter and kneaded the dough, adding flour until it reached the appropriate consistency and tackiness.

I washed out the bowl then sprayed the inside of the bowl with olive oil and put the dough in, spraying the top with oil again and covered it with a towel. When I am allowing my dough to rise, I usually put it in the oven after I've turned on the oven for a minute (and turned it off, of course) to warm it up just a little.  I also leave the light on in the oven.  I let the dough ball rise for an hour, until it had doubled, then took it out to punch it down.

I shaped the dough into a round loaf and placed it on parchment paper that had been sprayed with olive oil on a baking sheet.  I sprinkled the remaining 1/2 tbsp of rosemary over the top of the dough.  I covered the dough with a towel then again put it in the warm-ish oven with the light on for another hour, at which point it had again doubled in size.  After the hour was up, put it in the oven at 375 degrees fahrenheit for 15 minutes.  Here's what it looked like going in:
When the bread came out it was nice and golden brown:
This bread was so light and fluffy and flavourful!  I ate mine with vinegar and some more of the olive oil from my jar of sundried tomatoes, while Tim opted for the balsamic vinegar with plain olive oil, and later used two pieces to make a steak sandwich!

Going car-free for month of November.

I mentioned this in my last post, but didn't realize that I haven't actually put this up on my blog yet: I am going car-free for the month of November!  In my Introduction to Sustainability course, we are required to do a Personal Social Responsibility Plan.  Something that became abundantly obvious to me in completing this assignment is that I drive too much.  Although I drive a lot less now that I have in previous years (for a couple years Tim and I were living in different cities, so there was a lot of driving between where I lived and where he lived, then, when we moved to the Lower Mainland, I first was working in Downtown Vancouver and later in Pitt Meadows, both of which are a bit of a drive from where we live in North Vancouver), it is still too much.

I also notice that for all of my eco-sensitivity, I just take driving for granted.  I jump in my car and drive to wherever I need to be and let it be someone else's problem.  Well, now it's my problem.  I'm going to get used to biking wherever I can, and using public transit as well.  For the rest of this month I'm just going to dabble in both, but next month, it's really on!

So my first order of business was obtaining a lock for my bike.  I've been looking for a lock on Craigslist for a month or so, but have so far been unable to find one that doesn't require me driving a long distance to pick it up.  I guess now I could bike to pick it up and make an adventure out of it!  So I sent out an email at my office and asked if anyone had an extra lock, and immediately three or four people offered to check and see if they had one at home, and one of the partners brought one in after lunch that same day! As I already had my trusty repurposed seatbelt courier bag, I didn't have to worry about that either, although I am thinking after this weekend that I might need paniers.  I am either going to get some second hand or get them from U.S.E.D., the same company I got my courier bag from.  I probably won't absolutely need to get paniers, though, because I'm going to try to plan out the food and clothing that I need to bring to work so that they will already be there for the days that I bike in - I'll just bring them the day before.

So the real question that must be asked is whether all of this effort is "worth it" in the economical sense.  Biking is great exercise and both biking and using public transit are a better choice than driving for the environment, but is it cheaper and if so, does the inconvenience outweigh any savings?

First of all, I will have to buy a bus pass for the month of November.  Since I have to go downtown frequently for school in November (but only about three times per week during peak hours), it makes sense to buy a one zone pass, which costs about $81, but then purchase an Add Fare ($1.25 each time) when necessary, which should be about 12 times during November.  So using public transit will cost me about $96 for the month.  I will also have to purchase parking insurance for my car, which I have not priced yet, but I will assume it will be $20.  I will come back and correct this post if it is wildly more expensive.

However, the insurance for my car costs about $170/month.  I also end up buying two tanks of premium gasoline, which costs about $70/tank, so another $140.  I can't accurately factor in or account for the maintenance costs of my car for the month, but generally during the year I pay about $800 for maintenance, oil changes, etc., plus the extended warranty, which ended up costing about $1,000 per year for the three and a half years that it covered my car.  When you think about it, cars are just unreasonably expensive.  For the purposes of calculating the savings that will accrue from not driving for the month, I'm only going to use the absolute bottom line costs of insurance and gas.

So to use public transit for the month of November, I will end up paying a total of $116.  This would have been even less if I had just sold my car, but I'm not ready for that yet.  The costs I would have paid to operate my car for the month of November, assuming no mechanical or maintenance work was required, would have been $310.  So by using public transit for a month, I will end up saving $196.  Money well saved!


Given that I've committed to going car-free for the month of November, I thought I should start biking more, so that I'm ready to go once November rolls around.  This has been particularly wonderful because the weather has been really nice for the last few days.  I told myself that this weekend I wouldn't drive anywhere, and so instead I biked.  This was no small feat, as the majority of my weekends are generally comprised of shopping for groceries and baking.  I did all of the grocery shopping this weekend either on foot or on my bike.  While it was challenging - particularly due to the fact that I haven't been biking much recently - it was so much fun!

Yesterday morning I got up and ate some breakfast, then got ready to go to Save On Foods on Brooksbank in North Vancouver.  This store is about ten minutes by car from my home and I tend to go there occasionally because they have an awesome bulk foods section (a great selection of organic bulk foods), and this weekend I was in particular need of bulk foods because I had planned to do some baking.

The weather was fantastic for biking, not so cold your ears get frostbite and your eyes are tearing the entire time, but not warm enough that you get super sweaty.  The ride to Save On Foods was mostly downhill.  It took about twenty minutes, I would say.  I enjoyed looking around, and appreciating the weather. We are lucky in the Lower Mainland because there are lots of bike lanes so that we don't have to contend with vehicles.  I am surprisingly comfortable biking, even when there is quite a bit of traffic.

The way home is mostly uphill, along with a really steep part at Riverside on Mount Seymour Parkway. I made it up without stopping, which was all the more impressive given I had a heavy courier-type bag (my seatbelt bad that I've mentioned before) that I was carrying.

Today I had meant to get up early and go do the Grouse Grind, which Tim and I have been doing on the weekends again after my hiatus of a few weeks.  I didn't get up early enough and knew I had to go and do some grocery shopping at the local Safeway, so I walked over there instead.  This was to pick up the fruits and vegetables that we plan to use during the week.  Then I got changed into bicycling gear and biked from Parkgate in North Vancouver to Commercial Drive in East Vancouver - about 11 km each way!  I know this is less impressive for people that bike often, but it was a genuine workout for me, particularly given the fact that I had also gone biking the day before.  I met up with my friend Leyna, then went and did the rest of the grocery shopping that we needed at Drive Organics and Sweet Cherubim, which are right near where Leyna lives. The bike ride home was quite a bit of uphill and was also quite long, but I managed.  Here is a picture from the middle of the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge:

Something that I must say for biking is that it turns mundane chores and tasks into adventures.  I love it.  I'm just a little disappointed that I didn't start biking earlier in the season.  I've resolved to bike as much as I can from now on, whenever the weather is nice enough for it.  Since the weather is going to be nice for the next couple days, I'm going to give my legs a break tomorrow and bike to and from work on Tuesday!

Vegan chocolate chip cookies.

I am going to admit something to you here that you won't often hear me complain about: I am not the biggest fan in the world of commercially available vegan baked goods.  I'm not going to name any names, but I have had some since I turned vegan and although it certainly is a great answer to a sweet craving, it's just not as satisfying as I wish it was.  And really, I should know better.  I felt the same way about baked goods when I was a vegetarian, so I don't know why I would think it would be better just because now the baked goods I buy are vegan.  Maybe it is because I think that since the stores are so specialized at that point, they must have perfected their recipes.  This is illogical and incorrect.  If you make anything in massive quantities, I am starting to realize it will just never taste as good as the homemade version.

Well, this weekend I decided that I was going to experiment with vegan cookies.  Specifically chocolate chip cookies.  Here were the ingredients I used:

  • 2 and 3/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup margarine (softened) - I use Earth Balance soy free
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar (actually, it was about 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup demerrara sugar because I didn't have enough dark brown sugar, but 3/4 cup brown sugar would have worked)
  • 3/4 cup cane sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp ground chia seeds with 1/4 cup of water
  • 1 tbsp vegan milk (I used coconut milk)
  • 12 ounces (1 and 1/2 cups) dark chocolate chips (vegan) - I used the miniature ones
I combined the flour, salt and baking soda.  I was supposed to sift them together, but I never do this, I put them in a bowl and then I stir them together.  I've never had a problem with using this technique.

In a separate bowl, I blended the the softened margarine, both sugars, vanilla and chia seeds and water together until well combined (about two minutes).  Then I poured the dry ingredients over the wet ingredients and beat them until combined.  The batter was still a bit dry, so I added a bit of extra coconut milk, which made it perfect.  Then I stirred in the chocolate chips.  I placed heaping tablespoonfuls on the cookie sheets and baked at 350 degrees fahrenheit for ten minutes.

This recipe made two full cookie sheets of cookies - plus enough for me to eat a sizeable amount of it raw, which you can do with vegan cookie batter without worrying about the raw eggs!  One piece of advice that I can give is to actually press these cookies together.  The first sheet I put in the oven I didn't do this with and they fell apart a little bit.  The second sheet of cookies I actually formed each cookie by pressing them by hand so that they would hold together and they turned out perfect.  Here is a picture:
Perfect vegan chocolate chip cookies!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Thanksgiving for vegans.

My Thanksgiving plans fell through, so I found out about a week ago that I was going to have to pretty much spend Thanksgiving on my own.  While at first I was sad, I thought maybe I should take the weekend to have some "me time", get caught up on homework, and watch a few environmental and/or vegan movies.  I'm not going to detail my entire weekend in this post, because I did so much, but I will give you an idea of what a "Vegan Thanksgiving" may look like.

First of all, turkey or no turkey, family or no family, Thanksgiving is about giving thanks for both the bounty that nature has provided us, as well as for everything we have.  I kept these two concepts in mind throughout the day (and the weekend).

I started the day off with a trip to Whole Foods to get the ingredients that I needed to bake two dishes that I am going to need for a vegan potluck I am going to on Monday night. I also visited the deli department and chose five of the most delicious looking items. Then, I took a somewhat long drive out to Broadway and Yew in Vancouver to get some vegan goodies from Edible Flours, a natural vegan bakery!  I am sort of embarrassed to admit that I got a truffle, a chai chocolate, a chocolate cupcake, a vanilla gluten-free cupcake with chocolate chip cookie crumble, a maple-glazed doughnut, a chocolate cookie and a lemon cookie.  I really wanted to try everything in the store, but I "limited" myself to just those!

Once I got home, I worked on some homework for one of my sustainability courses.  We have to prepare a personal social responsibility plan and submit it in a couple weeks.  It really made me take a long hard look at what I am currently doing and how I can improve (in respect to the environment!).  I realized that the major are that I am not pulling my weight in is with respect of transportation.  So what I'm going to do is de-insure my car for the month of November.  I'll do a post about that later!

After I finished my personal social responsibility plan, I watched a movie about Monsanto and genetic modification.  Then I heated up the foods that needed heating, and it was time to eat!  Here's what my dinner looked like:
Something I'll say for vegan food: It's colourful!  And everything was so darn good!  The only thing that could make it better was something inspiring to watch.  And so guess what I watched?  An Inconvenient Truth.  I've never seen it before, and it was about time.  It was inspiring (a bit of the old rah-rah Al Gore stuff, but I'm able to see past that).  It is, of course, a bit outdated at this point, but the message remains just as pertinent.  If you haven't seen it, you can watch it here for free.

So that was my big vegan Thanksgiving.  I'm pretty sure I did more than just what I wrote in this post, but not much.  It was a pretty good day, but lonely.  To all of you celebrating Thanksgiving with your families, enjoy!  And to all of you, regardless of who you're celebrating with, happy Thanksgiving!