Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Surfacing... briefly

Me, in Queen's Park, while Maritsa tested out different settings on her fancypants camera

Dear friends,

I hope that you are all doing well! I thank you for keeping up with my academic as well as extra-curricular shenanigans. This past month has been nothing short of, well, insane. When I returned from a Thanksgiving visit in Montreal, I hopped right back into my studies and started to do research in earnest for projects and presentations that, at this point, are on the verge of being presented but by no means are on the verge of being completed. Oh, what have I gotten myself into! (I confess that I started to write that without the dangling preposition, but who on Earth says, "into what have I gotten myself!" unless they're a pretentious fool [I'm pointing at myself...]).

I feel that I should clarify that, with such a statement, I am neither complaining nor am I lamenting my decision to pursue graduate studies at this fabulous university of which I am honoured, privileged, and humbled to be a part. However, though I can't say that I didn't anticipate this amount of work, I must admit that I never expected that it would be lumped into such a short period of time. And I cannot even say that I am wading in it, or even floating in the sea of work; no, no, I am veritably drowning... but with an oxygen tank always near at hand--that would be you, precious friends and family! If it weren't for your faith, well... you know what acqueous submersion without access to oxygen equals.

Speaking of the support of loved ones, I was blessed enough to be visited this past month by my best friend and, two weeks later, my sister and my cousin. We walked, talked, laughed, and ate a lot, and these magnificent ladies were understanding and comfortable enough to indulge me in studying, bringing books of their own to savour at the local Starbucks while I studied for a couple of hours. It truly is lovely, moving, and strange to have family visit you in your new home with which they are unfamiliar, since, prior to this year, we'd shared the same space and the same small town.

The clock's tickin' towards 1.am. (edit: past 1 a.m. now), so I should get back to work (ha! I bet you thought I'd say that I should get to bed). I just wanted to check in to say that I am alive, very well, close to sane, and still cooking up a storm. A new friend and I recently had a passionate conversation about sweet potatoes, and when he said he made sweet-potato chili, I thought of those peculiar-looking orange darlings in my fridge and got to work--cooking, that is. Tonight, then, I made sweet-potato chili and Happy Herbivore cornbread. As the sweet-potato chili sits on the stove top and its flavours deepen, I'm writing and reading away about Paolo Volponi and his first novel, Memoriale. Check it out. (In English, it is The Memorandum.) It's a heavy but fascinating read.

Ok, I won't bore you; it's my research and not yours!

On that note, I'll save my full updates for my next post, probably around or after Christmas-time. Until then, darlings, I wish you a marvellous Thanksgiving, if you're south of the border, and a healthy, happy, and safe holiday season. I know you're all brilliant and considerate individuals, so I don't have to remind you to not drink and drive; instead, I will encourage you all to steal those darn keys from anyone who thinks they're "fine," and then give them a big hug.

Much love and blessings,

Vegan in Suburbia

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Floating between Summer and Autumn; floating between two homes

1:25 a.m., Thursday morning

Well, if I'm up this late and I'm not even remotely close to doing any schoolwork, I might as well be productive in some capacity, right?

Greetings, dear friends. I hope you're all adapting well to the transition from Summer to Autumn. As I sit at my desk listening to Our Lady Peace and the howling wind trying to steal the attention from the comforting murmur of the falling rain, I'm strangely at peace. I am fully aware of the workload that awaits me tomorrow, a workload I'd intended on tackling with gentle but effective strikes of a tiny pick-ax this very evening. My plans were side-tracked, I admit, by a simple desire: brownies. After biking home in the pouring rain, dousing myself in steaming shower water, telephoning my grandparents in Ottawa, making dinner, chatting with my roomie (who questioned my sanity when, as I flipped through a cookbook, I uttered the nonsensical, "I want to make cupcakes.... I want everything"), eating said dinner, taking part in a discussion on Facebook, checking e-mail--after all of that, all I could think about was how pleasing it would be to bite into a gooey, rich, decadent brownie.

So, I got to work--rather, I got to baking. A domani, schoolwork; buongiorno running in the rain tomorrow morning. Oy. I came up with a strange, admittedly flawed philosophy: in order to defeat brownie-induced guilt (who am I kidding? Do I feel guilt when indulging in sweets? Do leopards have stripes?), I opted to bake the brownies in a circular cake pan. Thus, when cutting the brownies into their quintessential squares, I'd need to, ahem, discard the remaining crescent moon shapes around the edges of the circle, right? And by discard, I do mean eat. Order is restored in brownie utopia; guilt is nonexistent. Hooray!

Procrastinating shenanigans aside, a short update is in order (I promise it'll be short). Since my last post and before school became really intense, I did my very best to take in the activities that this splendid city had to offer in the waning summer. I went to see The Shins at their sold-out show; I attended a vegan bonfire with members of the Toronto Vegetarian Association; I saw two poetry slams hosted by the Toronto Poetry Slam; I went to a pub with fellow Italian Studies classmates; I ate vegan poutine at Poutini; I got lost on several occasions trying to bike around Queen's Park instead of across it; I connected with a dear cousin over fabulous Indian food at Curry Twist; I ate an obscene amount of vegan sweets at the Toronto Vegetarian Food Festival and saw the world premiere of the film Vegucated (go see it!).

I also went to class and read several books amongst all of these activities, and I even made it back to Montreal for Thanksgiving.

For Canadian Thanksgiving, I returned to Montreal for the first time since my move to Toronto. It was absolutely lovely to be amongst family. I took the 12:30 a.m. Megabus back home so that I could have the entire day to hang out with my mum and best friend and even get some reading done. Instead, what does this genius do? Sleep. I slept from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Really? Six hours? Way to go, Christina. I don't ever sleep during the day. My best friend was so baffled that she contemplated calling my mum in order to ask her to check up on me (which my mum did do, several times, since both of my grandmothers called, as well as my aunt and cousin. Woops!).

It truly was a special weekend. It was a new, interesting experience to return to Montreal as a visitor and not as a resident. It was touching to receive such warm and welcoming greetings from loved ones. I was spoiled by more hugs than I can count; precious time catching up over cups of tea; a vegan dessert made by my dear cousin; a gourmet vegan meal in wonderful company at ChuChai preceded by drinks and followed by a long, silly, beautiful walk in downtown Montreal; laughter and memories shared over Thanksgiving dinner after arriving home at four a.m. and baking Thanksgiving dishes 'til 7:30 a.m. Never for a second do I forget how blessed I am to be surrounded by the beauty and shining light of the extraordinary souls in my life. Even when I am miles away in the urban wilderness that I now call home, I am constantly enveloped by the love and warmth of the dear ones in my life.

I'm done gushing for now. Here's some food and here are some friends, in no particular order.

Hemp-apple cappuccino muffins. I replaced all of the liquid in this recipe with cappuccino soymilk. I strongly recommend that you try this; you will not be disappointed.

Fabulous cast, crew, and vegan NHL player Mike Zigomanis answering questions from the audience following the premiere screening of the brilliant, informative, moving, and funny documentary Vegucated

Me and dear fellow veggie @alxhybridus at the Vegetarian Food Festival

Che bella città... <3

Veggie snacks, and this is after I'd already consumed a cookie and a date square

And a cupcake

And a Mile-High Brownie (consisting of a brownie topped with icing topped with marshmallow topped with a piece of brownie topped with fudge. It's the Matryoshka doll of brownies, made by KindFood)

Eager to attack my Thanksgiving plate

Evidence of my (failed) brownie theory of this evening

A fabulous and visually appealing meal prepared by my roomie/brother

In case you haven't noticed, I know no limit when it comes to dessert. This is berry crumble, apple crumble, and vanilla soy ice cream.

Nonna's layered baked zucchini delight

My mum's famous vegan stuffing. Omnomnom (if attacking fingers could talk)!

My Thanksgiving plate, with the requisite mashed-potato-and-gravy volcano (I'm eight years old)

To the left is my veggie soulmate; to the right is her soulmate, my cousin, who visited in September. Here we're dining at a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown.

Pad thai, I love you (even though this didn't even come close in terms of delight to the pad thai I've had in Montreal). Toronto, show me delicious pad thai!

Carrot-cake pancakes. Dude. Dude.

Home-made pad thai, accompanied by a bit of wine and a bit of textbook

Dandelion greens <3

This is probably one of the tastiest meals I've made for myself in Toronto, and it was one of the simplest: baked sweet potato fries and a veggie burger in fresh-baked ciabatta bread from Fresh Farms down the street. The bread was so fresh that, in a classy manner, I ripped off the butt of the bread and chowed down while walking home from the store.

Mommy baked me a maple cake! It was ridiculously tasty. Thank you, Mommacakes!

To the left: sweet potatoes with marshmallows. Marshmallows! These are Sweet and Sara beauties. Inspiration for the dish comes from the show Chuck, specifically from the Thanksgiving episode in which Ellie makes the dish for Morgan and, as a result, makes his then-girlfriend, Anna, jealous.

That's 6:36 a.m., my friends. I was so tired by the end of my cooking spree that I felt intoxicated. Haha. In case you're wondering, the reason why I baked when I arrived home at 4 a.m. was to have the kitchen liberated for my mum to cook on Thanksgiving day. You know the adage: there are too many cooks in the kitchen.

Tofurky <3

Until next time,

Vegan in Suburbia

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Big Move

Me, buying my first Toronto paper (which I have yet to read... Woops)

The Toronto skyline by the Rogers Centre

Oh, yeah. We met Nichelle Nichols. What a fabulous, elegant, polite, and down-to-Earth woman. She was here for FanExpo, which was happening in Toronto the weekend I moved here.

The CN Tower glowed orange in honour of the late Jack Layton.

Team Vani (and honourary Vani)! I love you guys.

I... kinda love Jian Ghomeshi.

Me and Katee Sackhoff. I got her autograph, too! I love you, Matthew. Thank you for making it happen!

The Big Move: it happened. On August 27, my dear sister, best friend, and I placed ourselves amongst my belongings, squeezed into my sister's 2005 Nissan Sentra, at scarcely past 5 a.m. on a dark Saturday morning. We were headed to Toronto and needed to make haste, as--may his soul rest in peace--Jack Layton's funeral was taking place in Toronto, and we didn't know what kind of traffic to expect. So off we went, equipped with snacks, high spirits, and five mixed CDs I'd prepared the day before instead of, ahem, packing, and fuelled my tonnes of caffeine and 2 hours of sleep per person. We arrived in Toronto in just over 5 hours, having made 3 stops to switch drivers and, uh, never surpassing 120 km/hr (okay, Mom?).

So, let's put things into perspective for a second: I didn't move to another country, nor did I move across the country; but I didn't move a 20-minute car ride across the city, either. The fabulous--at least it is in my eyes--city of Toronto is my home now. Ah, yes, Hogtown, T-Dot, "the 416" (although, latecomer as I am, my area code is 647)--the city that Montrealers love to hate. I've never been a part of that group (and I mean no disrespect to those who have founded as well as unfounded dislike for Toronto), not having had much, if any, experience with the city, aside from visits to Mississauga and three visits over as many years to see bands that overlooked Montreal as a tour stop. And on those three visits, I've truly adored Toronto. Ok, so I didn't adore it in the same way that I adored, say, Rome, or Paris, or Madrid; I daresay that no city in North America would make me feel that way, other than my dear Montreal, really (then again, I'm better versed in European travel than I am in North American, so what do I know?). Nonetheless, something about this city positively charmed me, enticed me, warmed my heart, even though it is because of grad school that I moved here and not because of romantic gusto for its vast and varied social and cultural terrain.

A dear friend of mine chidingly said to me, "if anyone's going to find culture in Toronto, it'll be you, Christina." I laughed and laughed, naturally, despite my being convinced that I'd already seen culture in Toronto. And I have already equipped myself with dates for poetry slams, vegetarian meet-ups, movie screenings, and yoga classes. In my eyes, Toronto is not the cold, barren place where people live to work instead of work to live; where streets are deserted at the stroke of midnight; where The Almighty Dollar takes precedence over humanity, respect, and everyday kindness. I haven't lived here long enough to be able to make vast, far-reaching judgements about the place, but I can say that Toronto is none of the above-mentioned stereotypes that many people like to ascribe to this oft-maligned city. I must admit that I have difficulty, also, distinguishing between whether my pure, absolute delight about living in Toronto is the fact that I live in an urban area as opposed to the suburbs, or, rather, I am truly enamoured of the City of Toronto itself. Well, I guess when it comes to judging whether I am a city girl or not, moving to Toronto is the "go big or go home" option. Given that I moved here specifically because I am enrolled in the School of Graduate Studies at the University of Toronto, "go home" is not even entertained as an option, as the program is one year long.

But I really love Toronto. Like, I really do love it.

One of the major aspects of this city that has enticed me is its sizeable vegetarian population. So, let's put things into a vegan perspective for a second: last week, I went to run a few errands. I'll begin by saying that all I had to do was walk out of my door, situated a mere 20 metres from a Loblaws grocery store that is open 24 hours a day--not to mention a hop, skip, and a jump away from a 24-hour Sobey's--walk south to Bloor, and, boom! there I was, amidst Koreatown in all its splendour. Admittedly, Koreatown may not be a picturesque part of town, but it sure as heck is convenient, and it boasts tonnes of well frequented ethnic restaurants. To the west of the intersection of Bloor and my street is a vegan comfort-food joint called Hogtown Vegan; to the east of that, there are Fresh, Kensington Natural Bakery, and Toronto's only vegan grocery store, Panacea. To the northeast of my place is Live, which I happened upon on a walk to the LCBO, Magic Oven, and Annapurna. Just steps from U of T's campus is my current favourite restaurant in Toronto, Vegetarian Haven

I am rambling. My point is really to say that, while running errands the other day, I decided that my goal, aside from picking up odds and ends for my place, was to get a vegan cupcake, just 'cause I can. So I did. And it was awkward eating it as I walked home, arms practically akimbo, full as they were balancing bags containing objects of different shapes and sizes. But as I all but skipped away from Fresh past Honest Ed's--a veritable monolith taking up an entire city block, and a noteworthy landmark that set the scene for the fight between Scott Pilgrim and Evil Ex #3, The Vegan in the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels--along the way home, the novelty of the situation truly hit me, and I felt wonderfully comfortable and at home.

Food evokes memories and comfort in individuals. No one doubts the heartwarming power of savouring a dish in which one delighted as a child, a dish prepared with loving hands by a parent or grandparent. Specific meals carry specific connotations at their mere mention or at the first bite, invoke the scent or aura of the place in which they were first tasted, the company of a loved one with whom they were shared. For me, to be munching inelegantly on this vegan delight was a welcome in itself. This blog was started to document my triumphs in vegan living in a suburban atmosphere, where desserts of the sort in which I delighted last week were hard to come by but are, indeed, becoming slightly more mainstream. Truly, though, in the past, if I was to indulge in a dessert, it was because I put it together with my own two hands.

So, bear with me: eating a vegan cupcake, shopping bags in hand, on my walk back to my new home in Toronto blew me away. This city leaves nothing to be desired when it comes to vegan-friendliness. And yes, seasoned Torontonians may feel free and are encouraged to correct me if I am guilty of over-romanticising the vegan-friendly stature of this city. I have been known to be extremely passionate and sometimes over-enthusiastic. But if my starstruck demeanour while sitting at Vegetarian Haven with two friends yesterday says anything, it doubtlessly expresses my adoration of this city that I would trap in a warm, suffocating embrace if I could.

I'll just stuff my face with vegan goodies this weekend at the 27th Annual Vegetarian Food Festival instead. That's enough to adequately show my love, right?

Oh, and speaking of showing love, in addition to being blessed to have a lift to Toronto from, for all intents and purposes, my two sisters, I am privileged to be living with two intelligent, compassionate, generous, and kind individuals, old friends from Montreal that packed everything up and bravely set off to Toronto in May. Add to that a coincidental meet-up with my brother-from-another-mother Matthew and friends, and two days with another friend visiting from Montreal, as well as meeting Katee Sackhoff of Battlestar Galactica fame, a meeting selflessly orchestrated by Matthew. I could not have asked for a better, warmer welcome.

I did say I was here for school, right?

Seriously, doing my Master's at U of T has been a dream of mine for several years, and to walk through its halls this past week, to hear words of advice and simple orientation instructions from people who have graduated yet enjoyed their experience enough to remain to work on campus--it has been surreal. I could not be more content, more eager, more thrilled for the challenge that will be a Master's degree.

To all of us--students, teachers, supporters of students and teachers--welcome back, and may this year be filled with triumphs, discoveries, challenges, and, heck, with love.

Love and urban vegan hugs,

Vegan in Suburbia (you can take the vegan out of suburbia, but you can't make her shut up about OMG IT'S AWESOME THAT I CAN WALK FIVE MINUTES TO BUY A VEGAN CUPCAKE)

And now, a collage of meals I whipped up while still in my mum's kitchen, where she willingly and happily washed the dishes instead of I! I can't wait for you to see my kitchen, Mommacakes! I miss you and love you and never forget for a second how blessed I was to have you as the best room-mate ever for 25 silver-lined years.

Gnocchi with pesto, grilled eggplant, and a simple salad

My Nonno's monstrous but delicious pesticide- and GMO-free tomatoes from his garden

Souflaki-style seitan kebabs made by my cousin's talented girlfriend

The beginnings of a vegan potluck: baked tomato-zucchini patties, cucumber-dill dip, sundried tomato dip, and white bean aioli, all from Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero

Notice a trend? I'm gaga for pesto.

My monstrously delicious birthday cake, Hannah Kaminsky's Maple Pecan Cake with Gingerbread Frosting, from Vegan Desserts

It was so tall and decadently dense that it needed to be laid on its side, lest it topple if placed upright.

More gnocchi with pesto

Improvised Shepherd's Pie

A vegan who is beyond delighted to be eating vegan poutine. This meal was full of inappropriate noises as I slurped up this once-in-a-blue-moon meal.
Uuuuuuuugggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Soooo goooooood.

Eggplant stuffed with couscous, almonds, and sundried tomatoes, with kale stir-fried with garlic and olive oil

An Indian feast prepared by Maritsa, Luke, and I. From left to right: naan (store-bought, sadly), lentils, potatoes, and bharta (eggplant)

Noelle's White Russian cupcakes transformed into a luscious cake. I do not exaggerate when I say that these cupcakes of hers are the tastiest cupcakes I have ever consumed.

Citrus polenta topped with cashew sauce and kale. I found the recipe in an old VegNews magazine. The citrus in the polenta was much too strong and bitter, and I needed to add more and more polenta and water to the recipe to make it edible. As it turned out, however, the cashew sauce negates the bitterness and makes this one heck of a tasty dish.

Vegan YumYum doughnuts with leftover White Russian frosting slathered atop them

Ok, this is not food, but, holy smokes, how cute is this? Turtle Friend just wants to befriend Duck Friend! *squeal* I took this photo while on a walk in the forest behind my place in the suburbs with Maritsa.

Strawberry biscuits, soft and delicious (forgive me: I no longer recall whence this recipe comes)

Whoopie Pies! Man, are these godly desserts. I brought them to a party and not a single one remained after about an hour. It's a good thing that I snatched one up before they disappeared. This recipe comes from an older issue of VegNews.

I attempted vegan polpette (the generic name used to refer to meat or vegetable balls usually held together with eggs) with zucchini flowers from my Nonni's garden. I was a bit overenthusiastic with the vital wheat gluten--which means they turned out a bit too, well, chewy, in a very elastic sense. Haha. They were delicious nonetheless. And I was in the mood for baked potatoes with sour cream and green onions, and a simple salad rounded it all off.

Noelle's heavenly White Russian cupcakes, made for a dear friend's friend's birthday (I do get, and welcome being, commissioned to make baked goods!)
Just another balanced meal of iced vanilla soy latte and a slice of my mum's birthday cake, Red Velvet Cake with Fluffy Vanilla Buttercream Frosting (from The Joy of Vegan Baking by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau). No biggie.