Sunday, January 9, 2011

Holiday Gains, Post-Holiday Losses, Fresh Beginnings, and Other Clichés

Greetings, dear friends,

Please allow me to begin by wishing you all happy belated holidays and a healthful, successful, prosperous, and joyous New Year. If you're fed up of holiday overindulgence, I am hoping that all holiday sweets are now done and not overstaying their welcome either on yourselves or in your cupboards (should I hide from the Dessert Gods when I profess that I had to throw some cookies away so I wouldn't eat them?). And if you're a fan of the delightful abundance of desserts that the month of December encourages us to possess, well, I hope that some of the holidays' decadent cheer lasts well into this month initiating us into 2011.

I can't help but think of Vegan Dad's hiatus announcement a few months back when I realize that it has been two months (plus two days!) since I last wrote. I had full intentions to keep writing and covering all the exciting food-related news happening in and around my life. As it turned out, though, a couple of other aspects of my life took me in other directions. Shall I summarise?

1) Pulling together my Master's application for the University of Toronto: I've been working on this sucker for months, though I'm only just now putting the finishing touches on the application. All the bureaucratic work is done: I've filled out forms, submitted transcripts, asked for letters of reference from past professors, and paid the application fee (which I don't even lament because I get airline points on the fee. Woohoo!). I've just finished writing my statement of intent, which has taken an inordinate amount of time to complete. But it's done. After a few final tweaks following comments and advice from friends and family, I'll be sending it off. And then the wait begins.

2) Planning a working sojourn in Italy: I've been corresponding with the fabulous co-founder of Art Monastery Project, discussing the details of my accommodations--in a freaking monastery!--, what I will eat (vegans have lived on the premises before without difficulty), and the length of my stay there. In the town of Labro, in a 17th-century monastery, I will spend a few months volunteering my time as an in-house translator and a type of liaison with the Italian community. I am beyond psyched to dive into this project and live this experience that will no doubt push me outside of my comfort zone and allow me to practice speaking and writing in Italian. The 6-day schedule will be intense, with each day starting and ending with meditation and Gregorian chant, though I do look forward to sneaking in a few blog posts documenting my meals in this town situated far from the city.

3) Spending time with family and friends: This should be a redundancy, since I am of Italian origin and spending time with family is an inherent part of our culture. Nevertheless, this time of year brings us even closer together, not only because of the holidays but also because the anniversary of my father's passing (in 2007) is in December. Thankfully, the cliché about time making things better is true, to an extent: we cry a bit less, and though the pain of the loss remains, we continue to laugh and smile at the memories, and find comfort in the wisdom and seemingly lingering presence of my father. On top of this, family from Toronto visited for four days; Christmas was celebrated at our place on the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day; Boxing Day saw us headed to Ottawa with more family; New Year's Eve was spent at one of my best friends' new place, with drinks, sweets, laughter, and silliness. The New Year held much promise--and it still does; I don't despair--but, just barely a week into it, my family and I were faced with a very bleak situation: my darling canine sibling, Brandy, also known as Bijou, Beedoo, etc., was not well. Her health had deteriorated quite drastically over two months, and it was time to make a decision. On January 7, we bid fare well to a dear, sweet, loyal, beautiful soul. She'd spent most of the past few months asleep, so her absence has not fully sunk in yet; nevertheless, at this time, the memories of her bouncy puppy self, her echoing bark, how she used to hog my bed (and I would let her), and her gallop to the front door upon my return from school are enough to cause tears to leak, but not without an accompanying smile. Papa and Bijou, I miss and love you both dearly, but I am comforted at the idea that you are both in good, loving company.

My baby, mon coeur, my Bijou


Thank you for indulging me in expressing my emotions and telling you why I've been absent until today. Now, let's get back to the exciting food-related news, shall we?

1) Viva Granola is set to open a live store: You read right! Viva Granola announced last month that they'd be setting up shop--literally--at 4148 St-Laurent Boulevard, in Montreal. A fixed date for their grand opening has yet to be set, but the vegan community in Montreal eagerly awaits the official arrival of our first all-vegan store.

2) Much beloved Cook. Vegan. Lover. included a guest post on me and released her first e-cookbook: Lindsay invited me to recount my journey to veganism so that she could include it as a guest post on her food blog. I was honoured that she wanted to include me on her blog full of useful resources, delicious and inventive recipes, and sound health advice. In addition to Lindsay's inclusion of my silly face on her blog, she also celebrated the timely release of her first e-cookbook, Soups, Stews and Chili, in November. In there, you can find comforting recipes befitting chilly nights spent hibernating under a blankie, recipes perfect to restore you when hiding from winter tempests that forced you to shovel for seemingly interminable hours. Naturally, I gravitated towards the Italian Vegetable Soup, featuring the delightful flavours of chickpeas, spinach, and fire-roasted tomatoes. As the days grow longer but still colder as we dive deeper into winter, this cookbook provides quite the arsenal of warm dishes to help get you through the season. Buy it here, and keep your eyes peeled for another upcoming e-cookbook from this talented lady.

3) T minus 15 days until the release of Happy Herbivore's first cookbook: You may recall that, almost a year ago, I was testing recipes for the Happy Herbivore's very first cookbook, featuring her trademark, delicious, low- and no-fat vegan recipes. Of course, I've already tried a great many of the recipes included in the book, but I am stoked to get my hands on the actual book. It was an honour and educational experience to be behind the scenes in the making of this cookbook, and to see the fruit of Lindsay's labours in hard copy is exciting, indeed. She's already getting rave reviews for her work, so if you want to see what all the fuss is about (and I can assure you that the fuss is definitely worth checking out), treat yourself or a loved one to pre-ordered copy of her book here.


That'll be all for now. Well, that's only semi true: What's a post from Vegan in Suburbia without photos? UNLEASH THE BARRAGE!

 Sweet potato blondies from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar
Vegan whole-wheat lasagne with ricotta, made from an antiquated recipe from a PETA pamphlet I got when I first when vegan
Clearly my photography skills are lacking (and, for that, I apologize!); this Italian Vegetable Soup from Soups, Stews and Chili was hearty and perfect as a meal in itself on a cold evening in winter.
I bought five pounds of Daiya from Viva Granola. If you could have seen me removing this mother of a box from our mail box, you'd have had quite a chuckle.
The Vegetarian Times newsletter I receive daily in my inbox featured a chocolate shortbread recipe in December. I finished the last of them yesterday, a whole month after I baked them. These truly are perfect for baking and sending to loved ones living far away. They didn't melt in your mouth as shortbread is supposed to, but they were delicious dunked in coffee.
Vegan Chick'n in a Marsala and Rosemary Sauce by Vegan Dad, made with shiitake mushroom "chicken" from Viva Granola, for my Christmas Eve dinner
Turtles. Pie. ... No, for real. This pie by the brilliant Hannah Kaminsky combines the flavours of Turtles chocolates in a pie. It's... it's heaven. It's heavenly heaven and I will forsake all eloquence to tell you that this is heaven in pie form. Please make it. Or find someone to make it. Heck (is it bad to say "heaven" and "heck" in the same paragraph?), I'll make it for you. Just... just get some. Please. This is the pie that stops wars and makes people hug and love each other again.
My dessert plate at Christmas. Yes, I ate it all. I was especially spoiled this year, as the jam-filled cookies and sprinkle-covered shortbread cookies my Zia made came in two varieties: vegan and non-vegan--she made a vegan batch of each just for me! The curly, fried thing there? That's a fried "bow" made by my Nonna. Over the past few years, she has veganized some of her recipes not only so that I could eat her traditional dishes but also because she likes making dishes lighter. I am blessed. And, oh, a splendid night it was, indeed....
This Chestnut Stuffing came from yet another Vegetarian Times newsletter. I don't like chestnuts but the recipe sounded tasty. It delivered! It's tasty as is but I would recommend blessing it with gravy. I covered it with St. Hubert Brown Sauce.

Tamarind Lentils (with zucchini that I prevented from going fully bad) from Veganomicon. I'd never cooked with tamarind before but I'd bought it a few months ago when I wanted to stock up on "special" ingredients. I am glad I had it on hand because this dish is pleasantly spicy, with a lovely array of tastes to tickle your tastebuds, and it is perfect for spreading on a pita.

Last night's dinner: thick rice noodles stir fried with shiitake mushroom "chicken", broccoli, mushrooms, garlic, and sweet chili sauce. Simple yet delicious.


'Til next time, dear friends, I wish you a pleasant and warm January and, again, a very Happy New Year.

Vegan in Suburbia